Norway’s National Folk Instrument
The Hardanger fiddle (Hardingfele in Norwegian) is similar to the violin, although with black pen-and-ink drawings, mother-of-pearl inlay, and a scroll topped with the carved head of a dragon, the Hardanger fiddle looks very different from a violin. What makes the Hardanger fiddle distinctive is the set of four or five sympathetic strings that run underneath the fingerboard. These strings are not bowed, but add echoing overtones to the sound. The instrument originated in the area around the Hardanger fjord of Norway. The oldest known fiddle of this type dates from around 1651. At right, a modern Hardanger fiddle made by Wisconsin craftsman Ron Poast. Learn more about Hardanger fiddles and the Hardanger fiddle repertoire at the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America.
The Twin Cities Hardingfelelag includes five to ten players, some new to this instrument and some advanced players, some long-time folk music players, and some with decades of classical violin training. While it’s not strictly traditional, we often also have a fine guitarist playing with us. Many of us have Norwegian heritage, and for most performances we wear bunad (Norwegian traditional festive costume) and other traditional clothing from the regions of our heritage or from places in Norway with special meaning for us. The group provides dance music at Scandinavian dances and events in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul and greater Minnesota such as: The Nordic Ball, The Scandinavian Ball, Syttende Mai Festival, Norway Day, Nisswa-Stämman, Scandinavian Folk Music Festival, Minneapolis Arts Festival, the American Swedish Institute’s events, and the Festival of Nations. We also play at private concerts, weddings, retirement homes, fundraisers, and meetings of groups or clubs devoted to Scandinavian music or Scandinavian culture.
The Twin Cities Hardingfelelag plays dance music from Norway, both bygdedans (regional dance tunes) and gammaldans (newer folk dance tunes). Some of our bygdedans music features the asymmetric rhythms characteristic of the Valdres region of Norway. Other tunes are waltzes and schottisches with familiar folk music rhythms and catchy melodies. Our repertoire includes tunes in many folk music dance styles including the three-beat springar (“running dance”), pols (polska), and vals (waltz); the lively reinlender (schottische); the stately four-beat gangar (“walking dance”) and bruremarsj (wedding march); and the even-meter rudl (rull).
In May 2005, the group was featured on the Norwegian NRK radio program “Alltid Folkemusikk.” In June 2006 the group made its first trip to Beitostølen, Norway to participate in the annual Landskappleik, a competition in dance and Hardanger fiddle. More recently, the group continues to play regularly at folk festivals, Scandinavian holidays, and folk music gatherings in the upper Midwest.
In 1996, Norwegian master fiddler Olav Jørgen Hegge of Valdres, Norway founded the Twin Cities Hardingfelelag. Olav Jørgen was regarded by many as the leading tradition-bearer of the Hardanger fiddle and the dance style from the Valdres valley in Norway. He played and danced for more than 35 years. In Norway, Olav was a music and dance judge at local and regional competitions, and judged the national competition in Hardanger fiddling. He taught Hardanger fiddle at the University of Oslo and at the Ole Bull Academy in Voss in Western Norway. In 1994 he was featured in a Norwegian television program and an hour-long program was devoted to him on Norwegian radio in 1995. He was a recipient of the 1996 Saga Prize awarded by Saga Petroleum, naming him as a master teacher for young musicians. With his wife Mary, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Olav taught dance from the Valdres region of Norway at workshops in Norway, Sweden, and the United States. Olav Jørgen Hegge’s untimely death on August 26, 2005 strengthened our resolve to continue the Hardanger fiddle tradition he so lovingly taught.