Inspired by Grieg

Music arranging contest open

Photo: Colourbox
Arranging music requires both talent and training.

Lori Ann Reinhall
Editor-in-chief
The Norwegian American

Growing up in a 100% Norwegian-American Minnesota family and as a graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Bradley Ellingboe has always had a close connection to Norway and the music of Edvard Grieg.

While studying musical composition as an undergraduate at St. Olaf, Ellingboe was part of the world-famous St. Olaf Choir and went on many tours, including a trip to Norway in 1980. Later on in the summer of 1984, he attended the University of Oslo, where he was exposed to even more Grieg.

But it was at graduate school at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., where Ellingboe started looking at Grieg more seriously. For his graduate degrees, he was focusing on vocal performance and conducting, and decided to include several songs by the Norwegian composer in his graduate recital. While preparing the songs, he realized that most of them have a certain level of difficulty, a perception that has stuck with him throughout his career, which took him to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he now is a professor of music.

Making Grieg more accessible to English-speaking audiences has long been a challenge. While Grieg was the most popular composer in England in his day, most of his songs were written in Norwegian, with some translated into German, while Germany dominated the classical music tradition in Europe at the time.

“The thing with these songs is that it’s like that game of telephone where you whisper and somebody else whispers and somebody else whispers. And eventually the meaning gets all tangled up,” said Ellingboe.

But the musical scholar didn’t give up. For his scholarly work in making the songs of Edvard Grieg more accessible to the English-speaking public, he was awarded the Medal of St. Olav by the king of Norway in 1994.

For Ellingboe, getting involved with the music arranging competition sponsored by the Edvard Grieg Society of Minnesota (EGSM), a program of Norway House in Minneapolis, came naturally. With stellar qualifications and his interest in making the music of Grieg more accessible, he was the perfect candidate to head up the competition. So, when Margy Peterson, the former president of the EGSM approached him, he was immediately in.

Ellingboe

Photo courtesy of Bradley Ellingboe
Bradley Ellingboe of the University of New Mexico is heading up this year’s music arranging contest for the Edvard Grieg Society of Minnesota.

As stated by the EGSM, “the arranging competition is designed to encourage arrangers to explore the music of Edvard Grieg, Nordic folk music, and other Nordic composers. In doing so, we hope to usher in a love of these works among the next generations of musicians and music lovers.”

While the scope of the competition is broad in terms of the Nordic musical repertory, somehow everything points back to Grieg. Much of his music is based on Nordic folk tunes, and his influence on other Nordic composers was so great, that it is felt even today. The contest is also designed to inspire fresh creativity.

Specifically: “The successful applicant will have arranged either a folk song from one of the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Sweden, or music of the Sámi people) or a work of art music in the public domain by a recognized composer from a Scandinavian country.

“The arrangement should be for band, chorus, orchestra, or chamber ensemble, with an eye toward the level being suitable for good high school players.”

There are two divisions to the competition, youth and adult. The youth division is open to arrangers age 25 and younger as of March 1, 2024, while the adult division is open to arrangers age 26 and older as of March 1, 2024.

An application form may be downloaded at norwayhouse.org/egsmn-comp-2024. The completed application form may be emailed to edvardgriegsocietymn@gmail.com, along with the full scores in PDF and a recording of the work (a MIDO or MP3/MP3 audio file and/or YouTube audiovisual file). There is a $50 non-refundable application fee.

Ellingboe will be joined by two other judges, Libby Larsen, one of North America’s most widely performed composers, and Timothy Mahr, professor emeritus of music at St. Olaf College, where he conducted the St. Olaf Band and taught courses in composition, music education, and conducting for 29 years.

In each division, winners will receive cash awards in the amounts of $1,500, $1,000, and $250 for first, second, and third places, respectively. Arrangements will be made for the first-place winner to be present for a performance of their work in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, 2024.

When I asked Ellingboe whether one musical genre will somehow have an advantage over another (it is, after all, easier to arrange for one pianist to perform as opposed to entire orchestra or choir), he was quick to answer, “No—we’ll simply choose the best!”

This article originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.