Barneblad: Making Norwegian music is fun!

A monthly feature to share with kids and grandkids

Brought to you by Lori Ann Reinhall

Kjerringa med staven

Image: Bergen Kunstmuseum / Wikimedia Commons
It is believed that the children in Nikolai Astrup’s famous painting “Summer and Playing Children” were singing and dancing to the tune of “Kjerringa med staven.”

In an issue all about music, it’s only natural that this month’s Barneblad should focus on it, too. In Norway and the United States, music is a very important part of any  child’s education. The good news is that  making music is fun, and  it is especially fun if you add a Norwegian element to it.

Some  people  will say,  “I can’t sing, I  have  no rhythm, I  can’t dance, I  can’t play an instrument.” If you feel like one of those people, don’t give up! Everyone has the talent to take part in special musical activities. We all have a voice, two hands to clap, two feet to tap, and with time, there is an instrument for everyone.

Fortunately, for kids and grandkids of Norwegian Americans, there is an amazing treasure chest of Norwegian songs to explore. One of my favorites is the old folk song  “Kjerringa med staven,” translated as “The Old Woman  with a Wood Cane.” Most everyone in Norway knows this song about the funny old woman who lives high up in the mountains, who hops  over a brook, gets soaking wet, and  finally enjoys  a bowl of hot porridge. It is popular for children to dance its lively tune, and to laugh and sing along.

Right off the bat, some  of you may protest, “But I don’t speak Norwegian, Ican’t do anything with this song!” My answer is, “Of course you can!”

Kjerringa med staven

1. Melody: Many of you will have a recording of this beloved old song, if there isn’t an adult on hand to sing or play it for you (just about any instrument will do). The easiest way to get access to the melody is to find it on YouTube. We can recommend the following link: www.

2. Meaning: The first step is to learn what the song is about. Have a look at its English translation (see below) and then recite it together. A fun activity is to imagine what some of the characters—the old woman, Kari, and Ola—may have looked like, or picture the items and scenes in the song. Have a pad of paper and some crayons handy to draw and share them with each other.

3. Beat: The next step is to get a feeling for the beat of the song. In most tunes there is a downbeat, usually the first note of each line. Clap your hands or stamp your foot on each downbeat, and now you’ve got rhythm! You may even have a little drum (or make one) to beat down on for extra effect. Yes, you can play an instrument!

4. Rhythm: As you are getting to know the song better, you may want to take hands and dance around in a circle. It’s a wonderful way to break the ice and build up camaraderie with friends, both old and new. But you needn’t be a large group to do this either: pair up with your best friend, or you can dance around with your sister or brother, mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa.

5. Vocals: Now it’s time to add the vocal element to the song. If you know it in Norwegian, you can just sing along, or you can use our English translation. But if you want to be extra Norwegian, you can do it in the old folk singing tradition by adding a drone and tralling on top of that (see below).

6. Drone: A drone is a very old style of singing that goes back to the Middle Ages in Norway. All you do is stay one single note throughout the song, repeating it over and over, as in a chant. Simply take the first line of the song and sing it on one single note. After all, it is not particularly hard to learn one line of a song, and when the melody is played or sung on top of the drone, it sounds so pretty.

7. Tralling: If you are a group, you can divide into two sections. One section can take the drone, and the other the melody. Those singing the melody needn’t worry about the words either, since they will replace them with “tra-la-la-la” and so forth. This style of singing called “tralling” is also very old, and also very easy and fun. Once you get going, you are sure to want to keep doing it over and over.

Well there you have it: you’ve learned a little piece of Norwegian culture, and become a dancer, singer, and Norwe- gian musician all in the course of a few hours! Most of all, you will have learned that making Norwegian music together with your family and friends is not only easy, but loads of fun!

Kjerringa med staven

Kjerringa med staven

Free translation by Lori Ann Reinhall

English Verse 1
Old woman with a wood cane High up in Haka Valley way
Eight fresh pots of cream
Four marks of butter new
Kari churns it now
And Ola churned it too
Old woman with a wood cane

English Verse 2
Old woman with a wood crook Hopping o’er the river brook
Then she fell into it
Soaking wet she got T
hen she headed home And had her porridge hot
Old woman with a wood crook

Norsk Verse 1
Kjerringa med staven
høgt oppi Hakadalen
Åtte potter rømme, fire merker smør
Såleis kinna Kari,
Ola hadde før
Kjerringa med staven

Norsk Verse 2
Kjerringa med kjeppen
hoppa over bekken
Og så datt ho uti,
og så var ho blaut
Og så gikk ho heimatt,
og så fikk ho graut
Kjerringa med kjeppen

This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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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.