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Five people outdoors holding musical instruments
The Berntsons: Karl Berntson Lundeberg, Andrea Hoag, Eleanor Berntson Lundeberg, Loretta Kelley, Charlie Pilzer. Photo courtesy of the Berntsons.

Homegrown Plus: The Berntsons, Andrea Hoag, and Loretta Kelley

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We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus series with a couple of classic concerts of Scandinavian music.  Way back in 2009 we presented the Berntsons, a Norwegian American band who learned their music in rural Wisconsin before moving to Virginia. The Berntsons were joined onstage by the trio of Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley, and Charlie Pilzer. Among them they played pump organ, fiddle, Hardanger fiddle, six-string and twelve-string guitars, and double bass. Six years later, Hoag and Kelley returned with their fiddles for a program we called “A Tour of Norwegian and Swedish Fiddle Styles.” Among them, the Berntsons, Hoag, Kelley, and Pilzer have earned Grammy awards and nominations, they’ve played on concert stages and at folk festivals nationwide, and, most importantly, they are preserving a living tradition of Nordic folk music for us to enjoy. Back in those days, we were recording interviews primarily on audio, but we did ask for extended essays on the performers. So in this post, you’ll find both concert videos along with photos and the essays provided by the musicians.

The Bernstons

For the Berntsons, it all began around 1900, when Norwegian immigrant Bernt Berntson Bradskerud purchased a violin in a northern Wisconsin logging camp and gave it to his son, Bennie. Then ten years old, Bennie began playing his violin, learning Scandinavian folk tunes from fiddlers in his rural Wisconsin immigrant community, especially his musical uncle and cousins. For the next thirty years, Bennie played all night long at house parties and community dances that featured the Scandinavian waltzes, schottisches, and square dances which became the backbone of the repertoire for the Berntsons.

In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, Bennie Berntson’s son Maurice, playing guitar, and his daughter Eleanore, playing pump organ, joined the family music circle. Cousin Benny Smith played banjo, cousin Jimmy Severude played violin and the band was frequently augmented with local fiddlers and friends who joined in on cold winter evenings. The addition of Eleanore’s pump organ, playing melodies as well as chording, blended with the violins to produce a strikingly warm, rich sound. Maurice further enhanced the mix by playing the violin melodies on the guitar, a unique twist to traditional Norwegian folk music instrumentation.

The pump organ itself presented the Berntson family with a subtle social issue in that particular time and place. Traditional Norwegian folk music was intended for dancing….many conservative Norwegian Lutherans looked on dancing as an abomination, and dance music was literally regarded as “the music of the Devil.” The rural folk dances were of course lively affairs where drunkenness and fighting were all part of the scene, and even though the Berntson family was by nature a quiet and mild mannered bunch, the minister of the local Norwegian Lutheran Church was not the person one wanted to see pulling into the driveway when a music session was underway. The organ was considered by many to be an instrument for playing hymns and religious music, and to use this sacred instrument in the playing of the Devil’s music was, in the minds of some, a moral outrage.

Five people outdoors holding musical instruments
The Berntsons: Karl Berntson Lundeberg, Andrea Hoag, Eleanor Berntson Lundeberg, Loretta Kelley, Charlie Pilzer. Photo courtesy of the Berntsons.

So, being the rather reserved folk they were, the Berntsons discreetly navigated the perilous moral waters of Norwegian folk dance music by playing amongst themselves and their many musician friends in small gatherings, honing their musical craft and gradually incorporating subtle elements of music which they heard on the radio. The music of the Grand Ole Opry, German Polka music, early country music and other popular music of those years began showing up, especially in Maurice Berntson’s guitar picking style; Maurice often played extra grace notes and turnaround licks which gave his playing a jaunty sound. Eleanore’s style of playing reflected both her brother’s rhythmic playfulness and her father’s very mellow violin playing style. Although the pump organ functions in somewhat the same fashion as would an accordion, Eleanore’s playing is more rustic and charming than many Scandinavian accordion styles.

In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Eleanore’s son Karl began playing the family music, and a second guitar was brought into the musical picture. While Maurice played the melodies on his guitar, Karl provided a bass line and chording. At full strength , the Berntsons could feature several fiddles, pump organ, banjo, and two guitars. The music had come a long way from Bennie Berntson’s solo fiddle in the early 1900s.

Our 2009 Berntsons concert featured the same traditional repertoire which has been played now by four generations of Berntson family musicians. The group included Eleanore Berntson Lundeberg, who has been playing this repertoire on the same 1916 Beckwith pump organ for over seventy years. Eleanore has transcribed scores of the old Scandinavian folk tunes which she learned from her father, preserving this rich trove of music for future generations. Her son Karl Fredrik Berntson Lundeberg, who played 12-string guitar, is a CBS/Sony recording artist, a piano player, and an award winning composer. He says he owes any musical success he has had in the world to the early experiences of learning and playing guitar with the Berntson family as a young boy. Karl’s daughter Marika Lundeberg kept up the tradition by joining the family band on guitar. On double bass, the group was joined by

And, just as in the old days, in addition to the mix of older and younger generations of Berntson family musicians, there were friends and neighbors in the group as well: fiddlers Loretta Kelley and Andrea Hoag, and bass player Charlie Pilzer. Charlie began his involvement with Scandinavian music in 1978, when he met and joined the Faroe Islands-based band Spælimenninir, whose Homegrown Concert you can find here. Spælimenninir’s repertoire is pan-Scandinavian, and Charlie’s work with them made him ideally qualified to play with Andrea and Loretta, on a pair of highly acclaimed CDs of traditional and recently-composed Scandinavian tunes, Hambo in the Barn (1996) and Hambo in the Snow (2006), the latter of which was nominated for a 2007 GRAMMY Award as Best Traditional World Music Album. Andrea and Loretta are featured performers in the next video, so I’ll tell you more about them below.  Right now, you can watch the Berntsons’ concert in the player immediately below!

Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley

Two women play violins
Loretta Kelley (left) and Andrea Hoag, performers of Scandinavian traditional music, present a tour of Norwegian and Swedish fiddle styles during Homegrown Concert Series hosted by the American Folklife Center in the Whittall Pavilion, Feb. 18, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley are among the United States’ foremost performers of Scandinavian traditional music. Each of them has spent years studying with tradition-bearers in Scandinavia, and honing their own techniques at home. They have many acclaimed recordings, including the aforementioned “Hambo in the Snow” (with Charlie Pilzer), which was nominated for a 2007 GRAMMY Award as Best Traditional World Music Album.

As the recipient of a fellowship from the Skandia Music Foundation, Andrea Hoag studied at Sweden’s respected Malungs Folkhögskola, becoming the first non-Swede to earn the certificate in Folk Violin Pedagogy, in 1984. Her program included in-depth study with elder tradition-bearers Pekkos Gustaf and Nils Agenmark, masters of the complex, demanding Bingsjö fiddling dialect; Leif Göras and Jonny Soling of Orsa; singers Maria, Britta, and Anna Röjås of Boda; Kalle Almlöf and Ville Toors of Malung; and Påhl Olle of Östbjörka, who is acknowledged as the foremost creator of the Swedish close-harmony playing style. Since that time, Andrea has taken every opportunity to work with several generations of fiddlers from many parts of Sweden, and has been called “like Pekkos Gustaf come to life again” for her faithfulness to the elder generation’s style. Hoag has long been acknowledged as a stateside expert of Swedish fiddle tradition. Her teaching credentials include the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Weeks, the Swannanoa Gathering, and the Berklee College of Music. She was director of the Seattle Skandia Spelmanslag for seven years, and led the group on an acclaimed performing tour to Sweden. She has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and Performance Today, at the Kennedy Center and Library of Congress, and at numerous venues around the U.S., Sweden, and beyond. With a particular interest in in-depth musical conversations, She has collaborated across genres with many respected artists, from blues harmonica virtuoso Phil Wiggins to Kathak dancer Brinda Guha.

A woman playing Hardanger fiddle
Loretta Kelley performs during a tour of Norwegian and Swedish fiddle styles as part of the Homegrown Concert Series hosted by the American Folklife Center in the Whittall Pavilion, Feb. 18, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Since 1979 Loretta Kelley has made over twenty five trips to Norway to study with master hardingfele players. In 1979, while attending the Folk High School in Rauland in West Telemark, she studied privately for six months with Arne Øygarden, the leader of the Falkeriset Spelemannslag (fiddler’s group) and a bearer of West Telemark tradition. In 1993 she received a grant from the American-Scandinavian Foundation to study for six weeks with the Løndal-Fykerud tradition bearer Einar Løndal of Tuddal, Telemark, and in 2001 she spent eight weeks in Tinn, Telemark, studying the Dahle tradition of hardingfele playing with the master fiddler Olav Øyaland, sponsored by a grant from the Norway-America Association. In addition she has studied intensively with the important tradition bearers Hauk and Knut Buen in Telemark, Jens A. Myro in Hallingdal, and Olav Jørgen Hegge of Øystre Slidre, Valdres, as well as made numerous study visits with Gunnar Dahle, Leif Rygg, Hallvard Bjørgum, Knut Myrann, and many others. In cooperation with Knut Buen, the Telemark virtuoso hardingfele player, Loretta has authored a booklet, “Knut Buen’s Telemarkspel,” of transcriptions of the tunes from Buen’s teaching cassette. She has contributed chapters to books about Norwegian music published in Norway, and has also written articles in print and online. She has served as consultant and wrote extensive liner notes for an anthology of Knut Buen’s playing, “As Quick as Fire,” published on CD by Rounder Records in 1996.

Find the Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley concert below!

Collection Connections and Links

The American Folklife Center has many online resources related to Scandinavian music and culture. Find some of them below! But first, you might want to visit the artists’ websites:

Find the Berntsons online here

Find Andrea Hoag online here

Find Loretta Kelley online here

Find the Hoag, Kelley, and Pilzer website here

Concert Videos

AFC concert and interview with Spælimenninir, a pan-Scandinavian group featuring Charlie Pilzer

AFC’s concert and interview with Scandinavian string trio Northern Resonance

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

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 Montana Folklife Survey Collection (1979) includes Norwegian traditions, including photos and recordings of Hardanger fiddler Anund Roheim.

Wisconsin Folksong Collection, 1937-1946. 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.

The Botkin Plus blog featuring folklorist Jim Leary’s lecture and interview on AFC’s Midwestern field collections includes audio of Scandinavian music, plus Jim’s commentary.

Two women playing violins
Andrea Hoag (left) and Loretta Kelley, performers of Scandinavian traditional music, present a tour of Norwegian and Swedish fiddle styles during Homegrown Concert Series hosted by the American Folklife Center in the Whittall Pavilion, Feb. 18, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Essays and Guides

Find guides to Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, 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 Swedish American Song at the Performing Arts Encyclopedia.

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

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.

Comments

  1. Loretta Kelly is a natonal treasure! Every year, she brings her Hardanger Fiddle Association of America to Folklore Village for 4 days of workshops, music and dance. I consider it one of the true pleasures of my work at Folklore Village to host Loretta, and the other fiddlers every year. Imagine 40 Hardanger fiddles playing together! But Loretta is the best, and hearing her play those old, mysterious tunes is a highlight of my year~

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