A feast for the eyes! Blog and gig photos of the Norwegian Manx Collaboration
I’m after spending a brilliant week with traditional Norwegian musicians Margit Myhr and Erlend Apneseth, and fellow Manx musicians Tomas Callister and David Kilgallon. Our musical collaboration was initiated by Culture Vannin in late 2012 as a way of celebrating the shared heritage between Norway and the Isle of Man (which was ruled by Viking kings for centuries). Tom and I (fiddle and voice respectively) travelled to Norway in early 2013 to meet and work with Margit Myhr (voice) and Erlend Apneseth (hardanger fiddle) for the first time. Later on, David Kilgallon (piano) was added to the mix, and our group have since performed at the Festival Interceltique de Lorient 2014, recorded a demo CD, and this November were brought together again by Culture Vannin… this time, with fantastic dancers from both traditions!
Last week we delivered four concerts to school children all across the Island, performed at a (sold-out!) public concert at the Peel Centenary Centre and gave some workshops in music and dance. We had a brilliant and exhilarating time! Below, I’ve written a ‘diary’ type blog post (accompanied by lots of photos!) giving more detail about what we did and how we work together in our cross-borders collaboration…
Days 1 and 2 (in the Norwegian-Manx house):
After a gap of almost four months, the five of us were together again! Margit and Erlend both live and work in Norway; David and I both live on the Isle of Man, and though Tom is Manx he lives in Scotland. Not the simplest ensemble, geographically speaking, though this hasn’t deterred us at all! We had previously written and recorded a small number of collaborative sets in November 2013 for our very first concert together at the Erin Arts Centre (IoM) and later took these to Lorient in the summer of 2014. While we still like performing our older sets, we all thrive from the excitement of putting together new pieces of music. Aided by large quantities of coffee, cheese and chocolate (no vocal cords were harmed in the making of this project!) we created some new sets – weaving together the melodies, languages and songs of Norway and the Isle of Man.
How do we go about choosing material, or learning it? Well, usually we all arrive at rehearsals with various tunes and songs in our minds, share them with the group and the arrangements develop organically from that. For example, here is the story of one of our sets: Margit sang us a beautiful song used to accompany a Springar (couple) dance in her region of Norway (Hallingdal). The shape of the melody reminded me strongly of a Manx lullaby called Arrane y Chlean, and so we tried layering the two on top of one another to see what would happen, with the lads providing soft, shimmering fiddle drones underneath. The tunes blended beautifully, providing the occasional mildly dissonant clashes which ebbed in and out of wonderfully consonant harmony, and all of a sudden Tom was reminded of a relaxed-tempo jig that he had not long ago written which would fit well!
Though the musical traditions are very different, there are some similarities: the fact that both Norwegian and Manx music was and is used for dancing means that rhythm is key when interpreting and performing tunes. We were all very aware of this and, though we needed time to adjust to unfamiliar tunings; bowings; ornamentation; melodies; rhythms and note stresses, our musical backgrounds – learning things aurally – meant that we were able to ‘click in’ to each other’s way of working relatively quickly! Certain dance types – like polkas and waltzes – are also shared between Scandinavian and Celtic countries; this meant we could create specific tune sets with complementary Norwegian and Manx melodies.
Margit and I had the added challenge of singing in each other’s languages – she sang in Manx Gaelic and I sang in Norwegian, which was tricky but rewarding! Luckily, some of the songs were ‘tralled’ – which means that they used vocables with no particular meaning ascribed to them. Happy days!
Days 3 and 4: School concerts!
Setting up for our first concert before the children arrived – we had a visit from the TV journalist Paul Moulton at MTTV too – you can see the interview here
After two days together, we were sent by Culture Vannin (our sponsors) and the Department of Education to four concert venues to perform en-masse concerts to several hundred primary school children across the Isle of Man. The night before we gave our first concert, our special guest from Norway arrived – a traditional dancer called Vetle Springgard who performs in a group called Frikkar (check them out here). In the school concerts, he and Margit performed a couple dance together (a Springar, as mentioned above!) and Vetle also performed a spectacular solo dance involving moves that you might associate with Russian cossack dancing which had my quad muscles aching with envy! The high point of the dance was where he kicked a hat off a stick that was raised around 8 feet from the ground. As you can probably imagine, there were lots of gasps and lots of little faces gazing on in awe… followed by a few small boys puffing out their chests and saying, ‘I could do that!’ to their peers! The five of us musician also performed our collaborative material and told the pupils about the significance of the project. The Vikings are an important part of our history on the Isle of Man, and as such they almost always feature in the history curriculum in Manx primary schools. It was great to be able to show Margit, Erlend and Vetle the Island as we drove around, including Peel Castle: an important Viking fortification in the medieval period. Here they are below, enjoying the ‘warm’ weather!!
Probably my favourite moment of the schools concerts was when we asked the children if they had any questions for us, or if they could tell the difference between Erlend and Tom’s fiddles (the difference being that Erlend’s is a hardanger fiddle with 9 strings and a decorated wooden body whereas Tom’s is a standard fiddle). Almost every time, a little lad or lass would pipe up, ‘Tom’s fiddle is smaller!’ to which Tom would reply, ‘well, no… I’m just a lot bigger than Erlend!’
Day 5: The public concert at Peel Centenary Centre!
On our penultimate day together, we performed in a sell-out concert to a wonderful audience in the Peel Centenary Centre – probably my favourite place to perform on the Isle of Man! The first half of the concert explored the dance, voice and fiddle traditions of each nation – so we had great Manx dancers Gráinne Joughin and John Kilgallon performing solo and couple dances, plus Margit and Erlend performing a couple dance and the impressive Halling mentioned before! Here’s a wee picture of Vetle in full flight below, followed by plenty of snaps from the gig, including my very favourite one down at the bottom! Huge, huge thanks to Jiri Podobsky for the majority of these!
Margit, Vetle and Erlend also ran some great workshops in Norwegian song, dance and fiddle music respectively on the following day. There are some photos of this at the bottom of the post too!
If you are interested in hearing any of our music, Culture Vannin brought out a tune and songbook of the project with a 3-track CD in the back – it’s available to buy here!
….we even found a ‘Viking’ pizza in a takeaway just after our gig! I wonder what the Vikings might have made of Pepperoni?!
A snap from Vetle’s dance workshop. Excellent leaping was done by all!
Thank you for reading! 🙂