Fiddler explores music to die forby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
Hardanger fiddle music is not exactly a chart topper in this country. Even so, a Minneapolis musician is devoting her life to helping audiences appreciate the centuries-old Norwegian musical tradition. Karen Torkelson Solgard is also giving the music an unmistakable American accent.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Solgard is doing more than preserving a musical form that evolved during Norway's long winters and in its isolated valleys. She adds an American influence to the fiddle music. One of her pieces begins with her singing the opening line to the American lullaby, "Kentucky Babe," and then bowing a Hardanger fiddle version of the melody.
Solgard admits Hardanger fiddle music in it's purist form is an acquired taste. "I mean to others ears from other places this is too strange, 'I don't like this, sounds like cats screeching,'" she says.
Solgard grew up on a farm near Crookston in northwestern Minnesota.
Her family found the grandparents original Hardanger fiddle in a North Dakota farmhouse attic -- in pieces. "I hate to think that one of its former owners maybe had a bad day and just smashed it or something," she says.
The restored fiddle hung on the wall for years while Solgard got her music degree from the University of Minnesota as a classically trained cellist.
She put down the cello 20 years ago to devote her life to Hardanger fiddle music.
The music is named after a region in Norway.
A Hardanger fiddle looks like a violin. But instead of four strings it has nine -- strung in two levels.
Fiddlers bow the top strings and the ones underneath vibrate sympathetically in ways that please Hardanger fiddle music lovers but may perplex first time listeners. "(The tuning of the under strings to the top strings is) a fifth, a fifth and then a fourth, yeah so, this is an octave here," Solgard says as she plucks the nine to illustrate the intervals.
Sogard says the desired result of playing a Hardanger fiddle is to create a wash of sound.
Dance halls are the incubators of Hardanger fiddle music.
The music's power to cause toes to tap and feet to move is nearly irresistible.
Solgard sits in the kitchen of her south Minneapolis home and plays what she calls a walking tune. Her feet thump out the rhythm. "I would say this music more than anything is trance inducing," she says.
The legend is that Hardanger fiddlers who have consorted with the spirits become pied piper-like figures. "That's the highest place you can go is to play yourself away," Solgard says, "And for dancers there's lots of stories that a fiddler had such power that he could keep people dancing 'til they dropped dead."
Karen Torkelson Solgard of Minneapolis intends no harm, quite the contrary. She travels the country, telling stories, giving lessons and playing the Hardanger fiddle to advance the ancient musical form created by her ancestors.
Saturday, June 30, Solgard plays at 11:15 a.m. until Noon at the St. Paul Central Public Library, 90 4th St West, St. Paul and from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Hosmer Minneapolis Public Library, 247 East 36th St, Minneapolis at two free concerts.
- All Things Considered, 06/28/2007, 5:24 p.m.