Norsk Munnharpeforum

  • The Norwegian Jew's Harp Festival 2015 from September 25 till 27 in Dovre

    norsk-munnharpe-forum-festival-2015-imageOne of the liveliest Jew's harp scenes in Europe is to be found in Norway. Thanks to the efforts of the Norwegian Jew´s Harp Forum (Norsk Munnharpeforum), founded in 1998, there are numerous possibilities, year on year, to continuously exchange information regarding the Jew's harp. The forum now has just under 150 members who meet up each year in September for the Jew's harp festival.

    In September 2014 the Norwegian Jew's harp enthusiasts and enthusiasts from other European countries met on the Karljohansvern peninsula on the south coast of Norway. The Jew's harp festival has become a nationwide attraction. Along with concerts and workshops, Jew's harp players have above all the opportunity to exchange ideas about playing techniques, music pieces Jew's harps and the latest news. The festival first took place as early as 1955. Three years later, the Jew's harp specialists of Norway founded the Norwegian Jew's harp forum, with the aim of extending and spreading knowledge about the Jew's harp, cultivating the construction of Jew's harps and stabilizing the music on the Jew's harp, as well as conducting research into the instrument.

    Resulting from that a network consisting of smiths, scientists and musicians sprang up which, among other things, run and administer the website where numerous links to relevant Jew's harp websites are listed. In 2006, the double CD "Fille-Vern – Old and new masters on Norwegian Jew´s Harp tradition" (Fille-Vern. Gamle Og Nye Mestre I Norsk Munnharpetradisjon) was released, on which recordings from the archive of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation from the years 1937 to 1970 were published along with some current recordings of tunes. Furthermore, a newsletter appears four times a year, compiled by the well-known folklorist Bernhard Folkestad, and this is also published in English.

    At the international Jew's harp congress in Taucha, Germany in 2014, Bernhard Folkestad told of the many Jew's harp players that one meets at the"kappleiks" - music competitions - in Norway. These folk music competitions take place at local, regional and national level. Along with Jew's harps there are also, among other instruments, fiddles, langeleiks (zithers), flutes and accordeons to be heard. Experts judge, among other things, the standard of the playing technique, the melodic and rhythmic consistency and the interpretations of the folk melodies played. The best performers receive a prize and then advance to the next level of the competition. At national level up to ten musicians compete.

    The first Jew's harp found in Norway, is estimated to be about 800 years old. Bernhard Folkestad writes that in Norway Jew's harps had always been played and the instrument only vanished from the scene after World War II. In the 1990s musicians rediscovered the Jew's harp. Traditionally, it is melodies that are always played on the Jew's harp in Norway. In Norway dance and folk music songs are played on the Jew's harp and the feet are often used to tap out a clear and audible rhythm. According to Bernhard Folkestad, many melodies were adopted from other instruments such as the fiddle or or the langeleik (zither). The Sami, too, incorporated the Jew's harp into their cultural experience. Although it is not a traditional Sami musical instrument, the Jew's harp still received its own name, in Saami the Jew's harp is known as the "njálbmefiolaš", the mouth violin.

    The next opportunity to experience the Norwegian Jew's harp scene will arise September 25th till 27th 2015 in Dovre. There will be workshops on instrument building for Jew's harps and flutes as well as courses in playing the Jew's harp and the langeleik. More information can be found on the website of the Norwegian Jew's harp forum closer to the event. 

  • Jew's harp stories from Norway, Part III: Four protagonists of the current Munnharpe music

    Who are the people bringing Jew's harp playing back to life today? In the spectacular collection "Fille-Vern" more than 30 active people are listed who take part as musicians, smiths or researchers and as connoisseurs, if not regarded as ambassadors of the Norwegian Jew's harp. At festivals, music competitions and in forums, male and female folk musicians meet to learn new melodies and to pass on Jew's harp playing techniques to others. Three other people should be introduced as representative of many other Norwegian Jew's harp players: Bjørgulv Straume (*1938), Tom Willy Rustad (*1966) und Hallgrim Berg (*1945).

    Bjørgulv Straume

    Bjørgulv Straume from the area known as the Setesdal first took to the stage with a Jew's harp in a folk music competition (kappelik) at the age of 50 (1988). He was a source of amazement there due to his unmistakeable playing technique with the index finger. At that time he took first place. Shortly afterwards, he recorded a cassette which he named after the melody he created, "Luftslaget". In addition he recorded a CD with traditional music ("Frå Ætt Til Ætt", 1995) and an instruction video on how to play the Jew's harp, won the Landskappleiken in 1990 und 1991 and crossed genre borders: Straume left his mark on the extremely successful CD "Fra Senegal Til Setesdal" (1997) by the Norwegian folk singer Kirsten Bråten Berg. In the music project the two female Norwegian musicians met the two Senegalese musicians Solo Cissokho and Koame Sereba. Straume made a name for himself as a "mestersmeder", a maker of Jew's harps.

    Arne Nordheim: "Partita for munnharpe and electronica", performed by Svein Westad, Anders Røine, Tom Willy Rustad, Veronika Søum

    The national folk music competition was won by Tom Willy Rustad in the years 2005 and 2006. Jew's harp protagonists such as Bjørgulv Straume und Knut Tveit inspired his style of playing the Jew's harp. As an active folk musician, Rustad plays even more instruments, among them the diatonic accordion and the reed flute (seljefolyte). Together with the Norwegian folk group Kvarts, he produced numerous albums. In the company of the Jew's harp players Svein Westad, Veronika Søum and Anders Røine Rustad was at the performance of Arne Nordheims composition "Partita for munnharpe and electronica" on the occasion of the 15th jubilee of the Norwegian Jew's harp society in Oslo in 2013.

    Veronika Søum

    The 30-year-old Jew's harp player Veronika Søum from Numedal near Kongsberg learned to play the Jew's harp from Svein Westad. Together with Bernhard Folkestad, she worked on the instruction manual for the Jew's harp "Enkelt munnharpespel". In addition, she holds workshops in the Norsk Munnharpe Forum. Veronika primarily plays music from her own region, prior to this some melodies were only to be heard on a fiddle before she adapted them for the Munnharpe. She currently lives in Trondheim and also renders musical pieces from the local region on the Jew's harp. She runs the facebook group "Munnharpa".

    Hallgrim Berg

    While making music with the Jew's harp in Yakutia, Japan and Vietnam was and is obviously influenced by women, the Jew's harp landscape in Norway is still mainly shaped by men. Around ten percent of the members of the Norwegian Jew's harp forum (Norsk Munnharpeforum) are women, according to the Jew's harp specialist Bernhard Folkestad. The Oslo ethnologist Viggo Vestel refers to this fact in his foreword to the CD"File-Vern" and hopes that in the future this situation may change. Only once do female Jew's harp players play in a musical piece on the double CD. Tove Amundsen, Solveig Strand and Gro Offerdal play with the group Leksvoll Munnharpelag, which was founded in the year 2001 by folk musician and politician Hallgrim Berg. Berg plays the Jew's harp and reed flute (seljefolyte). In the 1960s and 1970s, he won several competitions on both instruments (Landskappleik) and also acted as a judge. Hallgrim Berg holds workshops on how to play the Jew's harp , among other things at the "Den Norske Folkermusikkveka" festival in Hallingdal.

  • Jew's harp stories from Norway, Part I: The importance of the Setesdal for the revival of the Jew's harp

    Norway's Jew's harp scene came alive again in the early to mid 90s in various parts of Norway. After the instrument had been out of favour for many years, a young generation suddenly discovered their interest in the Jew's harp. This revival started in the Setesdal region of Southern Norway. There, the Jew's harp came to people's attention again in the 1980s. Some players worked extensively on their playing technique and repertoire. The instrument gained prestige and respect. The recent revival reached many regions in the south of Norway such as the provinces Telemark, Valdres, Hallingdal and Gudbrandsdalen.

    In the 1960s, activists from the Norwegian folk institutions had already begun to take the initiative to prevent the art of playing and building the Jew's harp from dying out. The musicologist and former head of the Norwegian Folk Museum Reidar Sevåg encouraged the reproduction of old Jew's harps. Hundreds of instruments were created based on the prototype of historical Jew's harps. They should have a warm sound and produce sounds which lasted for a long while - at least that was how one imagined the sound of the old Norwegian Jew's harps. The short documentary film, "Munnharpa", made in the 1960s, shows step by step how these Jew's harps were made. In the 1980s it was still difficult to purchase Norwegian Jew's harps on which the old melodies could be played. So musicians turned back to the traditional manufacturing techniques and turned their attention to the instrument itself in order to be able to play the old melodies in the present day. Today there is once again a lively and many-faceted Jew's harp culture in Norway. The Norwegian Jew's harp expert Bernhard Folkestad has collected some of these models with wooden boxes.

    Munnharpe - Norwegian Jew's Harps Munnharpe - Norwegian Jew's Harps, Collection Bernhard Folkestad, Photo: Mattis Folkestad

    According to the archaeologist Gjermund Kolltveit, Jew's harps have been played in Norway since the Middle Ages. Most of them and also the written proof we have today about the use of Jew's harp goes back to the 18th century. However, the folk music researchers in Norway have to accept the fact that the sources and the information regarding the history of the Norwegian Jew's harp are sparse. Even in those regions where there is now a lively Jew's harp landscape, its history lies in darkness. Consequenty, little is known about the exact circumstances of the early culture of the Jew's harp.

    Fille-vern - gamle og nye mestere i norsk munnharpetradisjon

    One impressive recording regarding the facets of the playing of the Jew's harp in Norway is the successful CD "Fille-Vern. Gamle og nye mestre i norsk munnharpetradisjon". The first of the two CDs contains archive material from Norwegian Radio. The earliest recording originates from 1937, the most recent comes from the 1970s. There is a great deal of background information to be had concerning the dances and songs as well as a number of additional transcripts. This CD encourages people to play the old songs once more and to stimulate players to play the Jew's harp themselves. Today Svein Westad is the Jew's harp best known player and activist in Norway. In the notes to the CD he says: I, for myself, came across the Jew's harp in the 1980s. At first, I played around with an Austrian Jew's harp. But my enthusiasm for the instrument really began when I was listening to a radio programme on folk instruments presented by the Norwegian musicologist Reidar Sevag. I was astonished when I heard the Jew's Harp player Mikkjel Kavenes playing the tune 'Fille-Vern'".Mikkjel Kavenes (1872-1939) lived in Setesdal in southern Norway. He is said to have not only been been an outstanding Jew's harp player but also a good blacksmith. Recordings of some Jew's harp pieces which he made in 1938 can be heard on the CD.

    In Setesdal there is already a long, unbroken tradition of playing the Jew's harp. On "Fille-Vern" other Jew's harp players and Jew's harp smiths from the second half of the twentieth century are documented. Some of them, such as Andreas Rysstad and Knut Brokkeare, are represented through recordings on the CD. Many of the pieces were adapted from fiddle melodies. At the same time, many Jew's harp melodies can also be traced back to so-called "tralling". "Tralling" (also known as "trulling") is a form of singing syllables which make no sense. One can compare it to the the free warbling of a melody.

    Bjørgulv Straume - Jew's Harp Maker

    One of the best-known Setesdaler purveyors of the Jew's harp tradition is Bjørgulv Straume. Straume's workshop produces not only good Jew's harps, Straume is also a good musician, as one can hear on "Fille-Vern" and on the CD "Hrynhent", which Straume recorded with the pianist Øystein Kikut.

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