MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block with music for a new year and for wintertime, a Nordic winter celebration.
(Soundbite of Nordic music)
Nordic wintertime music from three musicians who are not Scandinavian themselves, but who love the music and have played together for many years -Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley and Charlie Pilzer. They all live near Washington DC and they came by our studios with a whole bunch of fiddles and a string bass to talk and to play. Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley on violin. And on bass, Charlie Pilzer.
Their latest album is called "Hambo in the Snow."
Mr. CHARLIE PILZNER (Musician): Hambo is a Swedish dance, and it's in 3/4 time, but it's not a waltz. Hambo is fairly recent. It's the mid- to late-1800s.
Ms. ANDREA HOAG (Musician): Actually about the same time the waltz became popular in Europe, but if you go back in European music, there were many ways to count to three.
BLOCK: Okay, now what you played for us, that was a hambo, Andrea?
Ms. HOAG: That was a Christmas tune that we played in a hambo style.
BLOCK: A hambo style. Okay, well, what would be another different way of counting to three that you could show us?
Ms. HOAG: We thought about playing "Auld Lang Syne" in a few different three rhythms. Should we do that?
Ms. LORETTA KELLEY (Musician): Great.
Ms. HOAG: So this will be as a waltz first of all.
(Soundbite of song, "Auld Lang Syne")
Ms. HOAG: So as a hambo, you're going to feel a lot more one and two and three.
Ms. HOAG: Yeah, a little bouncier and a little more - with waltz, especially the classic Viennese waltz, you're hearing one two three, one two three. And with hambo, you're hearing one-two, three and one-two, three.
(Soundbite of song "Auld Lang Syne")
Ms. HOAG: And then we could take it as a different style of polska. Polska is an old form of 3/4 that's found in many varieties around Sweden, and hambo is one type of polska. So here would be another one.
(Soundbite of song "Auld Lang Syne")
BLOCK: And with all of them, the idea is you've got to get off your chair and start dancing, right?
Ms. HOAG: Well, one would hope so, yes.
Mr. PILZER: In Scandinavia, you're playing probably in a small place, a house, you know, one of them nice wood houses, candles all over the place. And there's a real bond that develops between the dancers and the musicians.
BLOCK: Is there a song you do that really for you has strong memories with wintertime in Scandinavia somewhere? Loretta?
Ms. KELLEY: That leads into one of our favorite tunes, "Hambo in the Snow." And Andrea can talk about it.
Ms. HOAG: This is also the title tune of our new album and I wrote it for a friend whose husband had died too soon, and just thinking of how the loved ones stay with you. And when you're playing traditional music, it's very much that way, that all the musicians and dancers who've gone before are around you just like the snow surrounds you.
(Soundbite of song, "Hambo in the Snow")
BLOCK: So Andrea, that was an original tune that you wrote. Most of the songs you do, though, are traditional. And Loretta, I wanted to ask you, you brought in these Hardanger - you have two of them, I think, in your case - Hardanger fiddles. And they've got all sorts of beautiful inlay all up and down the fingerboard it looks like.
Ms. KELLEY: It has pen and ink drawings on the front and back and the sides, and the fingerboard is inlaid with mother of pearl. But the most distinctive feature of the instrument is that it has sympathetic strings. You don't play them, but I'll just give you a sound.
(Soundbite of music)
BLOCK: These sympathetic strings, if you hold your violin sideways, we have the four strings going over the bridge and then underneath them maybe, what? An inch or so? These four other strings.
Ms. KELLEY: Yeah, half an inch or so. They run in a groove underneath the fingerboard.
BLOCK: What's fun about playing the Hardanger fiddle for you?
Ms. KELLEY: Well, it just sounds so beautiful. I am just fascinated by overtones and harmonics and it creates a very rich sound. It sounds like you are sitting on a Norwegian hillside and playing and hearing the echo coming back from across the valley, across the mountains, even though you're indoors, maybe on a winter's evening inside the little tiny cabin, it still sounds like you're outdoors.
BLOCK: You do a song on the album just by yourself. I'm probably going to butcher the Norwegian here -
(Speaking foreign language.)
Ms. KELLEY: Oh, that's very good. In English it means “The Bells of St. Thomas.” And this tune, like most of the Norwegian and Swedish traditional tunes has a story that goes with it. And the story tells of a church many, many, many years ago that was dismantled because no one was going to it anymore and the bells were transported down the mountain to another church, but they had to cross a frozen lake. And halfway across, the ice broke and one of the two bells fell into the water. And so ever since then, they've thought that the one bell has sounded mournful, like it was crying for its lost sister.
BLOCK: What a great story. Can you play a little bit?
Ms. KELLEY: Yes.
(Soundbite of song, “The Bells of St. Thomas”)
BLOCK: That's the Hardanger fiddle with Loretta Kelly. And we heard the overtones in those sort of chimey resonances you were talking about there. How old is that violin?
Ms. KELLEY: This one was made in 1937 in Norway.
BLOCK: And looking now, I just noticed that at the top, the scroll of your violin - what is that? It looks like a figurehead.
Ms. KELLEY: It's a traditional mythological creature. I think it's the lion from the coat of arms of the Norwegian flag, but some people say it's a dragon.
Ms. HOAG: Our friend Bill, who plays Hardanger fiddle, used to say not only do you have to tune eight or nine strings, but this creature is staring at you while you attempt to do it.
BLOCK: That's right. Intimidating you.
We're listening to some Nordic wintertime music with Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley and Charlie Pilzer. Do the three of you have something else you want to play for us, something wintery to get us into the mood for the new year?
Ms. KELLEY: Yeah, we'll play (speaking foreign language), which is a wedding march from a little village called Irya(ph) in the deep woods of Dolarna in Sweden.
BLOCK: When we think wedding march, we think oh, a very happy and triumphant and you can hear that in this but I think also those qualities of the deep woods and the long dark winter, that must be something you're so aware of when you're in Scandinavia at this time of year, of how terribly little daylight there is and how precious it must be, I would think. Charlie?
Mr. PILZER: You know, it actually isn't quite like that. If you're lucky, you can see the Northern Lights. You can see the stars and you have this brilliant sort of night sky visible all the time, and people put candles in their windows, so you'll see glows of light out of every house, out of every shop, out of every building.
Ms. KELLEY: In Sweden and Norway, there is snow everywhere. And the snow lights up the night like a searchlight, practically. It feels so light to be outside at night in the snow. And the candles everywhere and the feasting and the partying and seeing all your friends, it's really beautiful.
Ms. HOAG: I remember driving through the little village on a winter's night and seeing the church lit up. And that was really pretty much what you could see of the village emerging from this long stretch of dark woods. So that's what I think of when I play the tune.
BLOCK: Oh, it's sounds lovely.
(Soundbite of music)
Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley on violin. Charlie Pilzer on string base. Thank you so much for coming in and happy New Year.
Ms. HOAG: Happy New Year to you.
Ms. KELLEY: Happy New Year.
Mr. PILZER: Thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: Their CD is called “Hambo in the Snow.” It's been nominated for a Grammy in the best traditional world music album category. And you can hear more music from that CD along with photographs of these Hardanger fiddles we've been talking about at our Web site, NPR.org.