Julane Lund & Friends: Looking Back at Norwegian-American Old-Time Fiddling in the Heartland

Julane Lund: fiddle, Norwegian Hardanger fiddle; Beth Hoven Rotto: harmony fiddle, pump organ; John Rotto: guitar, jaws harp; Leroy Larsen: tenor banjo; Bill Musser: upright bass

Candlelight Waltz, Alfred Blagen’s Hoppwaltz, Lomis-Jakup Waltz, Swamper’s Revenge on the Windfall,  Old C Waltz, Napoleon’s March,  Farewell Whiskey, Ole Johnson’s Waltz, 50/50 Polka, Aften Paa Aalhus, Norwegian Polka, Vossarull, Gus Pederson’s Waltz, South Dakota Schottische

(Photo of Julane Lund by Libby Hicks)

Libby and I had the good fortune to work for a week this past summer with Julane Lund.  Julane and I team-taught a very small fiddle class at the 25th Northeast Dulcimer Symposium in Blue Mountain Lake, NY.  Mostly, I’m afraid, we had a week long conversation about fiddling, fiddlers, fiddles, tunes, collecting, sources and influences—with the shared hope that our generous students would find all of this as interesting as we did.  And yes, we taught some tunes, Julane the Norwegian American old-time ones, me the plain old old-time variety that I know.  As someone who learned, long ago, that Appalachian fiddle tunes were mostly brought over from the British Isles with the earlier settlers and then evolved on their own for some 200 years whilst the same melodies went their separate ways in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the far-flung Commonwealth as well, I was more than a little interested to learn from Julane that this same story can be told about Norwegian fiddle music.  Not that it doesn’t stand to reason of course.

But Julane, like Alan Jabbour, Malvin Artley, the Lomaxes, and a handful of other collectors back in the day, has actually done the field work, learning tunes from old Norwegian-American fiddlers in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Canada—some in her own family--and also studying for a number of years in Norway, where she could find the sources and the evolutionary directions of the Norwegian musical heritage that was brought here by Norwegian settlers starting about 1825.  And just as you might find a Scottish fiddler here and there who scoffed at the cross-tuned West Virginia variant of something we Yanks call “Old Mother Flanagan,” whereas he knew—knew mind you—that the closest thing to that thin gruel was “Mrs. Carlyle’s Farewell to Troon,” and in proper G-major mind you! So Julane discovered that in Norway the American evolutions were sometimes viewed as “devolutions,” and moreover, that as the American-Norwegian culture here became interested in rediscovering their European roots, often the weathered tunes that the old folks had nurtured through many a blizzard and flood and blue norther were becoming misunderstood and uncherished.  Julane understood, then, the Jabbourean concept of the hour-glass.  And like Mr. Jabbour, Ms Lund can also play these melodies!  (If Alan and Julane turn out to have the same birthday, this old Humean empiricist might even take up the Charts and Signs and hang a red hand out by the road.)  Her style is clear and precise—a pleasure to listen to, but a great aid to learning a tune as well.  She hits each note with neither hesitation nor hesitance, and she can play a fine double-stop, climb the neck with the agility of an urchin in a green apple tree, and knows the bow.

And so we have here what I hope is a mere beginning, a CD with fourteen sparkling Norwegian-American old-time fiddle-dance tunes, properly sourced to old Norwegian fiddlers from the upper mid-West, a few played on that spectacular Norwegian instrument the Hardanger Fiddle, the rest on the regular fiddle; all played with verve, with delight, with “lilt,” plus Julane has written a highly informative booklet explaining the place of this music in the history of Norwegian immigration to America.  All of these tunes are fresh and new to most old-time ears, and well worth learning.  And once learned, the hour-glass will have been tipped, and none too soon, for some of the last sources for these melodies have already passed away.

 It would be fairly silly of me to pick out favorites.  They’re all real tasty tunes, with very listenable arrangements by Julane and her ensemble of backing players.  One though, I do want to mention: “Swamper’s Revenge on the Windfall.”  Julane did her best to teach this one to me last summer, and I’m more than delighted to have a “hard-copy” here at home that I can work at some more.  Probably this tune’s title, in Norwegian, is shorter.  But what a great title it is nonetheless, a veritable moving picture with the tune as its score.  I can see the flying double-bitted axe, the white chips clattering like hail on the frozen bog, the mist in the dark trees.  Ahh, the perfect moment.  Winter it is, and a tune about firewood!  The CD is too short, like winter days.  All the more it must be savored.

--Bill Hicks

To Order: www.julanefiddle.com

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December 15, 2006