Singing correctly in Norwegian

Professor Dan Dressen. Courtesy of St. Olaf College.

For more than a decade, St. Olaf Professor of Music Dan Dressen has been collecting Nordic songs for St. Olaf’s music library in Northfield, Minn. making a little-known repertoire available to singers piece by piece.

He explains that a great number of Norwegian song composers are virtually unknown to American singers, and while the name of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg is familiar to many, only “about a dozen [of Grieg’s roughly 170 songs] are heard in this country with any kind of regularity.”

While Dressen’s collection helps connect singers with unfamiliar material, one problem is that few people are familiar with the Norwegian language.

While numerous diction resources exist for more commonly sung languages such as English, Italian, French, and German, Dressen notes that “there is very little help for the Nordic languages.” And while widely accepted practices exist regarding the lingual style in which languages like French and German are sung, Norwegian has no such system. These problems prompted Dressen to embark on another project — creating a Norwegian lyric diction guide.

The online resource will employ a contemporary East Norwegian pronunciation that one would most commonly encounter in Oslo in the early 21st century. This summer Dressen traveled to Oslo, where he worked closely with Norwegian soprano Marianne Hirsti on the diction guide for two weeks. The project is supported by the Ella and Kaare Nygaard Foundation, and Dressen hopes to launch the guide sometime in the fall.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.