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Norwegian Folk Music
Whether it's passing the time during the long dark nights of winter or celebrating
the short bright days of summer, there are many opportunities
for Norwegians to make music. Located partially above the Arctic
Circle in the region of Scandinavia in northern Europe, Norway
is a long, slender country about the size of Montana. Norwegians
love the outdoors, and it not hard to see why. The country's
mountainous regions spill evergreen forests down steep valleys
and the rugged, undulating coastline conceals long, narrow inlets
called fjords. Given the bountiful natural beauty, there
is no shortage of inspiration to encourage Norwegian musicians
to play and audiences to listen.
Norway holds a close cultural and historical connection with Denmark and Sweden. From 1380 to 1814 Norway was ruled by Denmark and the formal Norwegian language (one of two official languages, along with Nynorsk) is closely related to Danish. Norway was then politically aligned with Sweden until 1905, when the people declared independence and formed a constitutional monarchy that is still in place today. The indigenous people of Norway, called the Saami, have a language and culture quite separate from the rest of Norway, but one increasingly influenced by the majority.
Many of Norway's folk music traditions have been lost to time, though historical research shows an array of folk instruments and occasions where music was performed. As its dominance grew in the 1700s and 1800s, the Lutheran church discouraged many forms of music-making, including playing the fiddle, which contributed to the decline of folk traditions. The church's strong presence in Norway points to the considerable influence European music had on Norwegian folk music. Indigenous church hymns composed in Norway remain an important part of the folk song tradition.
There are several main styles of Norwegian vocal music. Lullabies (called bånsuller), children's songs, and game songs are an important component of every Norwegian's childhood. Hymns (the largest genre of vocal music) and work songs, along with children's music, are traditions where you can still hear an older Norwegian music scale, which is based on a natural scale that employs neutral tones. Longer narrative ballads have been revived in the folk tradition and often tell epics from the Viking era. The stev is a popular folk song style based primarily on early Norwegian poetry. Performers improvise on a tune by changing tempo and using parlando.
The lokk is a vocal form in which people in rural areas used to call to their cows with a combination of shouting, singing, and speaking. These vocalizations can often reach two octaves above middle C or higher. Laling is related to lokk and was used to communicate across long distances in mountainous rural areas. Another interesting vocal genre is called tralling (from "tra-la") which involves vocalizing a dance tune, much like the practice of "diddling" in Ireland and Scotland. Sometimes fiddlers will perform tralling along with a melody they play on their instrument.
The defining instrument of Norway is the fiddle. There are two types of fiddles-the European violin and an indigenous Norwegian fiddle called the hardingfele or Hardanger fiddle. On both instruments fiddle players use extensive double-stopping and drones, and change the tuning of their instrument depending on the song.
The Hardanger fiddle has symphathetic strings similar to the Indian sitar. In addition to the four main strings, these extra strings run below the finger board and vibrate when their pitch is played on one of the main strings. They produce an airy, soft sound that floats softly over the melody. Expert players are able to reach under the finger board and stop the sympathetic strings to produce even more pitches-all while bowing and fingering the melody. The langeleik is very similar to the Appalachian lap dulcimer, and for a while some scholars believed it was the ancestor of that American instrument. One melody string is supported by anywhere from three to seven drone strings, all of which are strung over a long rectangular box and strummed from side to side.
During the nineteenth century, the accordion nearly eclipsed the fiddle as the primary instrument. It still remains very popular because it is the main instrument to accompany dance. Gammeldans, a style of dance based on European forms like the mazurka, polka, and fandango, features an accordion and nowadays a bass and sometimes a guitar.
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