Overview of Scandinavian Fiddling
Carl Rahkonen © 2003

I. Scandinavia is generally thought of as Norway, Sweden and Denmark.  Finland and Iceland are typically also included, though as a group all five are usually referred to as “Nordic” countries.

II. The “center” of Scandinavian Fiddling is in Norway and Sweden; tunes from Denmark, Finland and Iceland are also played throughout Scandinavia, but are peripheral.

III. In Norway and Sweden there is a “parallel” tradition of folk music played on instruments related to the fiddle:  In Norway it’s the hardingfele and in Sweden the nyckelharpa.  Many traditional fiddle players also play these instruments.

IV. There are at least two layers of folk music for Scandinavia:

4.1 The older layer has the polska as the main form.  This music is typically played unaccompanied, in fiddle duos, or ensembles.  Frequently, the additional fiddlers improvise harmony parts.

4.2 The newer layer uses more contemporary instruments, such as the accordion, and has newer dance forms such as the schotishe, waltzes, polkas, etc.

V. Scandinavian fiddling is very closely tied to dancing, especially in North America.  There are “flat” fiddle contests in Norway, but no Scandinavian style contests in North America.  Almost all fiddle events, especially in North America, feature Scandinavian dancing as the major component.

VI. Some Scandinavian immigrant communities have preserved traditions that their ancestors brought to North America.  But many of the finest Norwegian and Swedish fiddlers in North American have studied contemporary fiddling in Norway and Sweden, rather than leaning it from North American immigrants.  The Scandinavian Music and Dance camps in the United States: Northern Week at Ashokan in New York, Nordic Fiddles and Feet in Buffalo Gap, WV, the Folklore Village Swedish Weekend (Dodgeville, WI), and  Scandia Camp Mendocino in California always bring instructors in from Norway and Sweden.  Finnish-Americans have more generally played immigrant folk music, disseminated in their local communities and at Finnish Festivals, like the annual FinnFest.  Their music comes generally from the newer layer of Scandinavian folk music.

VII.  There are many excellent Scandinavian fiddlers in the United States.  The ones I have personally met include: Andrea Hoag, who plays Swedish fiddle, and Loretta Kelley, a Norwegian hardanger fiddle expert, both from Tacoma Park, MD.  They play for the Scandia DC Spelmannslag.  Matt Fichtenbaum in Boston, David Kaynor in Montague Center, MA; Laurie Hart in Ithaca; George Wilson in Albany; Bruce Sagan in Ann Arbor; Debbie Hokkanen in Winchester, VA; Gay Kohl in Belle Vernon, PA; Elizabeth (Becky) Weis in St. Paul; and Cheryl Paschke in Minneapolis.

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