Friday at Skeppis

One of my favorite new albums is the brand-new Ek-Ahlberg-Roswall record Vintern, which is brilliant on oh-so-many levels. And we enjoy Niklas Rowall as one of our regular-if-infrequent teachers. So we were all excited that his band was going to play in Stockholm on a date we could actually get there, so we could see them in real life. But then the date got even more exciting: we-the-ESI-class were offered the opportunity to play a couple of short sets during the breaks. Cool!

Daniel-and-Emma-and-Niklas’s concert was at least as amazing as their record. Super-tight band, interesting arrangements, great tune selection — also great stage presence, and wonderful to watch how much fun they have playing together. Their dance sets were also brilliant, and I had a very nice evening on the dance floor.

Our ESI sets, which had gotten a little less rehearsal time than I had expected, went quite well too — I was proud of us. I think it helped that we had all just had a practice session at playing for dancing. The second of our two 20-minute sets, in particular, I thought had more relaxed playing and more smiling faces and more gazes torn away from nyckelharpa keys than we have had in any previous performance. Yaay, team!

Gunnar and Maria came to the concert and took us home with them — Mills and I visited them in August, but this was Andrea’s first chance to see them since that serendipitous meeting in Brattleboro a couple years ago. They were of course lovely hosts, beginning with their heroic willingness to go to a folk concert in town late on a Friday night. It was great to see them again. And also fun to have someone we knew in the audience when we played.

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Practice spel till dans

Since several of us have been wanting to get more practice at playing for dancing, and our dancers are ever-obliging, a couple of folks organized a dance evening where anyone who wanted to play could sign up for a 15-minute slot. Andrea and I signed up, since of course we are scouting for opportunities to practice before Umefolk, and also I signed up for a solo set on harpa because it sounded a little scary.

I was impressed by how well everyone played, and by how many of us took up the challenge. There was some really great dance music, in every single set, all evening! Everyone did a great job of managing whatever nervousness came up. Reviews say my solo went fine too, even “Trollrikepolskan” (a bit of a stretch at dance tempo), and that I totally got away with playing one of my own schottises. (Well, OK, one review and it’s from Andrea. That counts.)

I didn’t get a lot of pics because I was mostly busy dancing. But I would say the event was an unqualified success, and there is a rumor that there will be more to come.

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Peter comes to visit

My cousin came up from Stockholm to see me in my current habitat, and we had a lovely afternoon together. We went for a long walk in the beautiful sunlight, we toured the school and played ping-pong for a while, we had fika, we talked about lots of stuff. It was neat to have a real live visitor from the outside world!

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ESI is the current host of the annual midwinter spelmansstämma for Tierps kommun, so we had a houseful of (mostly) nyckelharpa players again. Fun sessions, yaay! There was a signup list to play for dancing in the evening, so Andrea and I signed up. The paper did note that all the time slots were after the official close of the event, but we were still a little surprised to discover that they meant it: the place was pretty well cleared out by then. Most of the folks signed up therefore bailed. Meanwhile some of our classmates had said they’d come and dance, so we played a nice practice set anyway, and it was fun.

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In memoriam

Since I’ve been here, we’ve lost some amazing musicians and wonderful people from both sides of the Atlantic.

From the nyckelharpa world,

Hasse Gille (d. 12/31/12)

Nyckelharpa builder and extraordinary musician. He had been in the hospital for much of the time since his visit to our class as guest teacher in September, and in ill health for many years, but his loss was/is still a widely felt shock. I was honored to be able to attend his funeral this afternoon and hear more stories and music shared around his memory.

Tage Larsson (d. 11/28/12)

Builder extraordinaire of more than 500 (!) harpas. I had enjoyed meeting him and playing one of his instruments in Borås in August. The community of nyckelharpa builders seemed somewhat stunned by the news, and dedicated some time at their early-December meeting to sharing photos and reminiscences.

(pic from Tage’s site)

From back home,

Nat Hewitt (d. 11/23/12)

Brilliant contradance fiddler from New England. The Boston Globe obit offers an engaging bio. Nat always had such a twinkle and brought such life to everything he did, it is hard to believe he could be gone.

(pic by Seth Houston)

Carolyn Pulis (d. 11/3/12)

Fiddler and dancer and dear friend back in NYC. The NYT obit offers a brief sketch. Carolyn was one of our Swedish fiddling buddies, a graceful dancer, and a true inspiration in the determination with which she met her several final years of severe health challenges. I think of her often and feel that our year here is in some way partly dedicated to her, since she would have loved to join us.

(pic by John Hall)

Arthur Cornelius (d. 10/6/12) and Samuel Green (d. 9/24/12), members of the ECD dance community in Boston and Western MA respectively, were supporters of our Kickstarter project to make this whole trip possible. In both cases I knew their wives better from the dance community than I knew them, because they were dancing less by the time I became more active in that scene, but I knew them well enough to have warm memories of friendly folk. Much sympathy and love to their families, and thanks for all you have done for us.

While I’m at it,

Scott Rose (d. 5/28/12)

Boston-area contradancer and dear friend from way back, was part of my inspiration for making this whole adventure happen this year. He had always been healthy and active, and then suddenly in 1/2012 he was hospitalized for something obscure that took months to identify, and then even more suddenly he was gone. It made me think harder about how I might better stop maybe-someday-ing about this idea and get moving. I visited him several times in the hospital while I was working on logistics for applying to ESI, so I think of the two as being linked. I missed his memorial celebration in August because it was just after I arrived in Sweden. Much love to Meredith and 7-year-old Leslie.

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Field trip to Wik

A mere hour’s drive south of us, there’s another one-year music course at the Wiks folkhögskola. Theirs is more of a world-music program, with plenty of percussionists and nary a nyckelharpa in sight. But every year our two classes get a day-long opportunity to meet up and work together in small groups and see what kinds of collaboration emerge. The concept is inspired: cross-genre exposure, meeting new musicians, visiting another folk school, getting practice with creating arrangements in advance and with others, mini performances. The execution, however, seemed to retain a few wrinkles.

On our end, we paired up a couple weeks in advance, and then each pair chose a corresponding group of 3 Wik students based solely on their names and instruments. Andrea and I elected to work together, since we don’t do that so often here. We picked the group with a bass clarinet, which also happened to be the only one that was sure not to involve a drum set. Our entire class worked hard at advance prep, made a special point of sending them mp3s ahead of time (two from each ESI group) so the Wik students could learn the melodies, worked out other parts and arrangement ideas — in short, treated the whole thing like an active assignment.

We received no prep materials in exchange — and when we arrived, only one of our three collaborators showed any signs of having listened to our mp3s at all. (I gather that other groups met with more active partners.) So we used a lot of time teaching melodies, which seemed like a poor use of resources. Also I was disappointed that working with a “piano” player meant, in our case, that we were shunted to the overflow parking (the library rather than one of the music rooms) with a keyboard-shaped object, when there were real pianos in most of the other rooms.

All of these handicaps notwithstanding, it was a pleasant day with genial folks. I thought we managed to get some interesting work done and create some creditable music together, albeit not necessarily during the designated performance time at the end of the afternoon.

The one tune our Wik group brought was a sort of Swedish-Balkan tune. They didn’t know what it was, had recently gotten it in a class chapter about Balkan music and thought maybe their teacher had made it. Since two of the three parts sounded awfully familiar (except for the Swedish lyrics about eating crayfish, and choosing what I thought was the harmony line as the melody), I ran it by some friends back home and came back with a concurring diagnosis: Macedonian, often just danced as a lesnoto. That tune has probably not seen too many nyckelharpas before. :)

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