Divine Villfarande barn

Spirit, mystery, transcendence

Tord Gustavsen Trio

Photo courtesy of Michael Grofsorean
Pianist Tord Gustavsen, singer Kim Rysstad, and trumpeter Arve Henriksen produce an ethereal sound.

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

For many, the pandemic was a time of isolation and loneliness but also a time of introspection and insight. Days at home gave us time to slow down and think about our values and how we fit into the world.

I remember a friend from our local Daughters of Norway lodge asking me how I managed to get up each morning and tackle the day with a renewed energy and enthusiasm, and I had a quick answer: music. Every morning after my coffee, I would listen to and sing along with Sissel’s recording of O store Gud—How Great Thou Art. It brought me a feeling that everything made sense in a time when not much really made sense.

This is the power of spiritual poetry and music, and Norway has a large treasure chest of hymns to explore. Recently, a new treasure revealed itself to me, when I received a copy of the CD Villfarande barn—Wayward child or children—recorded by vocalist Kim Rysstad. While I was familiar with many of hymns, listening to it for the first time felt like going into a new musical realm for me, as the music took away from my daily care and offered me a sense of inner peace. Since then, I listen to it often.

Villfarande barn is a collection of pietistic hymns, many with their music rooted in the folk tradition. The texts describe a world in which the individual’s fate is threatened by a dark path of perdition. In that world, life is filled with mystery and uncertainty; only virtue and faith in God can lead to salvation.

The world of these old hymns is far-removed from the one we live in today. Yet the virtuosity and beauty of the new interpretations by the three Norwegian artists bring this mysterious world closer to the contemporary listener. The delivery of the music is so immediately gripping; the emotion it conjures up somehow cannot be escaped. The music of Villfarande barn evokes a feeling that stands in sharp contrast to life today in a world racked by hurried anxiety and conflict.

Kim Rysstad’s capability as a vocalist cannot be overpraised when it comes to this recording. The singer grew up in Rysstad, a small village in the valley of Setesdal, a place well known for traditional folk music. Rysstad is at home with the repertory of the CD and delivers the songs in a way that is technically flawless while sounding perfectly natural. So crystal clear is his diction that even a non-native speaker of Norwegian like myself will understand every word. This leads to an immense enjoyment of his interpretations. But even if you cannot understand Norwegian, the beauty of the sound of the language is mesmerizing on its own.

The two jazz musicians who back up Rysstad—Tord Gustavsen on the piano and Arve Henriksen on the trumpet—bring another dimension to the recording, which is at once both traditional and modern.

Gustavsen, who recently toured the United States, started out on the piano by playing old hymns and is equally at home with the repertory as Rysstad. His improvisations flow in an original and organic manner, never taking away from the singer’s delivery. Gustavsen takes the minor tones of the songs and at times twists them into dissonance, with tones that are relatable for the contemporary listener. It is an artful accompaniment that enhances and elevates the musical experience, adding more mystery.

This sense of mystery is furthered by the sounds of Arve Henriksen’s trumpet. Well known to jazz audiences throughout the world, Henriksen is capable of producing sounds with his instrument that are unexpected yet perfect within the context of the songs he delivers with Rysstad and Gustavsen. Playing an instrument that is often associated with the brashness of its sound (it is said that the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was so disturbed by the sounds of the trumpet that he did not create one single composition for it), Henriksen delivers tones that are smooth, subtle, mesmerizing, and at times, dream-like.

Henriksen is also no stranger to the Norwegian hymn repertory—and it shows. He is a very versatile musician, who often crosses over genres. It should be noted that he often performs with Trio Mediæval, adding a new dimension to the sacred music of the Middle Ages and the hymns that they arrange and perform to audiences all over the world.

The album opens with “Nu rinner solen opp”—Now the sun is rising—a hymn that I have heard both trio groups perform. The playful sounds of Gustavsen’s piano that set the mood for what is to come—so original that it all comes as somewhat of a surprise.

Among my favorites on the album is the title song, “Villfarande barn.” The text draws the listener in with it message to the wayward child, to come home to the comfort of God. Rysstad’s voice is so pure, so soothing, that it personifies this message.

Another standout is “Lær meg å kjenne.” This hymn tells the story of a man, who like the prophet Job, has suffered immeasurable losses. But even after his suffering, he can still find meaning in life through his faith. This message has not grown old through time. With the ravages or war, fears of climate change, and anxiety about the future, it still speaks to us today. This is the gift of the divine music of Villfarande barn, bringing us a moment of hope, peace, and transcendence.

Villfarande barn is available in North America through major streaming services.

This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE.

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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.