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Five musicians play piano, upright bass, recorder, two fiddles, and a mandolin
Spælimenninir performs traditional folk miusic from Scandinavia and the Faroe Islands during the American Folklife Center's Homegrown Concert Series, April 12, 2023. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress. Note: Privacy and publicity rights for individuals depicted may apply.

Homegrown Plus: Spaelimenninir’s Scandinavian Folk Music

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In April 2023, the American Folklife Center hosted a Homegrown concert here at the Library of Congress featuring Spælimenninir, a Scandinavian folk music ensemble based in the Faroe Islands. Spælimenninir likes to say their music is as familiar as an old time barn dance and as exotic as the landscape of the Faroe Islands, the band’s home in the North Atlantic. Spælimenninir’s repertoire is music of the Nordic countries drawing on traditions centuries old and compositions new as today. The current line-up of Spælimenninir includes one native Faroese, three Danes, and two Americans, who sing and play many instruments, including fiddle, recorder, piano, guitar, mandolin, nyckelharpa, and acoustic bass. The multinational background of the members and combination of instruments make the music unique; no other band in the world sounds like Spælimenninir. The sound reflects each member’s heritage and illustrates the links between the music traditions of the Scandinavian countries and the United States, and we were very pleased to feature them in the Homegrown concert series. Like other blogs in the Homegrown Plus series, this one includes a concert video and a video interview with some of the performers, plus links and connections to Library of Congress collections.

Five musicians play piano, upright bass, recorder, fiddle, nyckelharpa, and guitar
Spælimenninir performs traditional folk music from Scandinavia and the Faroe Islands during the American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series, April 12, 2023. Photo by Stephen Winick/Library of Congress.

One particularly nice touch in this concert by Spælimenninir is that they took the opportunity to take the Archive Challenge. As you’ll see at about 0:31:24 of this video, while Charlie was in the Faroe Islands rehearsing for this tour, he kept in touch with me by text. I sent him links to some of our Scandinavian collections, and he found some dance music the band members remembered from childhood! They created their own arrangement of the tunes, which you can see as part of the concert. See the whole concert video in the player below!

During the interview, three members of Spælimenninir chatted with me about Faroese traditions and their connections to the rest of Scandinavia. We discussed the history of the band and spoke about the unique makeup of Spælimenninir as a group containing American as well as Scandinavian members, and how that influences their style and repertoire. We touched also on the iconically Faroese tradition of “ballad dancing;” even though they don’t practice it as a group, it’s one of the best known Faroese traditions and they all participate in it as community members and singers. Watch our wide-ranging discussion in the player below!

 

Collection Connections and Links

A portrait of Lars Kristensen plying the Nyckelharpa
Lars Kristensen of Spælimenninir performs traditional folk music from Scandinavia and the Faroe Islands during the American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series, April 12, 2023. Photo by Stephen Winick/Library of Congress.

The members of Spælimenninir, Kristian Blak (piano), Sharon Weiss (Recorder), Ívar Bærentsen (Guitar/Mandolin), Erling Olsen (Fiddle), Lars Kristensen (Fiddle/Nyckelharpa), and Charlie Pilzer (Bass), have been traveling and performing together for more than 45 years. When not rehearsing or performing with the band, Charlie lives right here in the Washington, D.C. area and has many friends at the Library of Congress. So it’s not THAT surprising that our first “Collection Connection” should be another Spælimenninir concert here at the Library, just 20 years ago.  See an excerpt of that concert in the player below!

Back when Spælimenninir played here in 2003, the Library of Congress created a learning guide for teachers and students to find out more about Scandinavian traditions. A pdf guide as well as other resources can be found at the guide page at this link!

In their 2023 concert, Spælimenninir played one item they sourced from the Library of Congress website. It’s a children’s song and dance tune sometimes called “Ris Ras Filliongongong,” and is so well known in Denmark that there’s a bar named after it in Aarhus. Another name for the tune is “Ace of Diamonds,” and under that name it was recorded by Prince’s Band for the Columbia Records Elementary School Series in 1912. That recording is part of the National Jukebox, and you can find it at this link.

We also have many online resources related to Scandinavian music and culture. Find some of them below!

Concert Videos

AFC’s concert and interview with Swedish folk singing group Kongero.

AFC’s concert and interview with Swedish singer Emma Björling and guitarist Petrus Johansson

AFC’s concert of Swedish and Norwegian fiddle music with Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley

AFC’s concert of Norwegian American dance music with the Berntsons

Field Collections

AFC’s Chicago Ethnic Arts Collection (1977) has materials from several Scandinavian communities:

AFC’s W.P.A. California Folk Music Project collection (1939) also has Scandinavian songs and music.

AFC’s In the 1930s and 1940s, Sidney Robertson Cowell and Helene Stratman Thomas spearheaded collecting efforts in the Midwest. Copies of their recordings went to both the American Folklife Center and the University of Wisconsin. They are now online at this link on the UW website.  We recommend you use the browse feature to browse by language.  You’ll find over 50 Scandinavian folksongs and tunes, including Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian material.

Folklorist Jim Leary’s lecture on AFC’s Midwestern field collections includes commentary on Scandinavian music.

Essays and Guides

Find guides to Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Icelandic collections at AFC’s Research Guides Headquarters.

Find an essay about Swedish materials across several Library of Congress divisions at this link.

Find an essay with embedded audio of Icelandic American Song at the Performing Arts Encyclopedia.

Find an essay with embedded audio of Swedish American Song at the Performing Arts Encyclopedia.

Three musicians play piano, upright bass, and recorder.
Spælimenninir performs traditional folk miusic from Scandinavia and the Faroe Islands during the American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series, April 12, 2023. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

Thanks!

As always, thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. The idea of the Homegrown Plus series is to gather concert videos, video interviews with the musicians, and connections to Library of Congress collections together in one place for our subscribers. (Find the whole Homegrown Plus series here!)

For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress.

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