Swedish folk duo lydia and Andrea play Saturday at La Grua
Care to sing along? A-one! A-two! And ...
"Om jag hade en hammare!"
Or how about this old fave:
"Var har alla blommor gått?"
What's that? You don't speak (or sing) Swedish?
Oh, sorry. Those are, respectively, "If I Had a Hammer" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"
Of course, there's a big difference between Swedish folk music and American folk music translated into Swedish. But it'll all become clear Saturday afternoon in the La Grua Center in Stonington when the duo lydia and Andrea performs actual Swedish and Scandinavian folk tunes. The music is eminently danceable and melodic — sharing traits with American folk music — but there are also strong traces of 19th-century European classical music.
Larson and ievins have been playing as a duo for 10 years. Andrea Larson plays standard fiddle, and lydia ievens (no caps, please) plays five-string fiddle and the nyckelharpa (a traditional Swedish instrument in which the musician depresses keys to change the pitch of the string).
Each grew up in a household that was not only musical but in many ways influenced the sonic direction that ultimately led to their partnership. ievins' parents were in an international folk dance group, and amongst frequently played household records were indigenous Madedonian and Breton albums. Similarly, Larsons' mother taught international folk and modern dance, and her father performed in an early music ensemble.
And, from an early age, perhaps tellingly, Andrea and lydia both actually owned the same "Folk Fiddling from Sweden" album.
The number of musicians in the U.S. playing traditional Swedish music is pretty small, so it's no surprise the two met and ended up starting to play together. And while they separately teach and perform with other musicians, ievins and Larson went together in 2012-13 to Tobo, Sweden, to study at the prestigious Eric Sahlström Institute, which is named after the man who might be thought of as the Miles Davis of the nyckelharpa. Togther and separately, they've been back several times.
Documenting their artistic growth and experiences, Larson and ievins have released two recordings: "Fica" and "Trip to Tobo."
Over the past weekend, Larson and ievins answered questions about the music and their work. Answers have been edited for space.
On some of the distinctions of Swedish folk music:
Larson: Swedish music takes remarkable turns in tonality and rhythm, and the duo style we play is breathtaking. It's like one voice that can sing in harmony with itself.
ievins: I especially love the rich double-fiddle harmonies that many people associate with Swedish fiddling, though in fact those are relatively new and date back only a 100 years or so.
On the value of traveling to Sweden to study the music, as opposed to simply assimilating style and technique in the States:
Larson: I definitely recommend immersion! There's so much to be seen and heard that cannot be recorded or written down. Language, landscape, regional economy, religion, population density — all of those things are reflected in traditional music ... If, for example, you seek to learn a tune from a YouTube video, it's likely you already know how to play an instrument. But an amateur often misinterprets very basic things like the shape of a note or whether it's accented or not. And the biggest mistake is that thinking the notes are the most important part!
ievins: (At the Sahlström Institute) we were continually impressed by amazing folks we got to study with; our notebooks are full of ideas from masters. I would disagree with the idea that one can become virtuosic (on an instrument or in a style) without first-hand access to the bearers of the tradition. Without that guidance, you aren't even aware of what you haven't learned to listen for.
On the spirit and interaction of the Swedish folk music community here in the States:
ievins: One of the side effects of having a successful Kickstarter campaign to finance our first trip to Sweden has been that we feel responsible for bringing back what we've learned and sharing it in useful ways. We've also taken up a mission to spread the popular slangpolska dance and associated tunes here in America. And, for Scandi-interested musicians, we've created an intensive course called Trad Weekend, a holistic experience in which we strive to convey some of the lessons we've found most revelatory about playing for Scandinavian dancers.
Larson: Those of us playing Scandinavian music in the States all know each other, work together and meet at camps to renew and review our repertoire. If we hear a tradition-bearer is coming from Sweden, one of us will throw a party and perhaps some tunes will be played.
On what people can expect from Saturday's concert:
Larson: Unexpected beauty. The first time I went to Greece, I couldn't believe how beautiful it was, even though I'd been told it would be. Live music is the same way and Swedish music is the same way. People know it's going to be beautiful, they just don't know how.
ievins: I'd say come and see!
lydia and Andrea, 5 p.m. Saturday, La Grua Center, 32 Water St., Stonington; $10; (860) 535-2300, lagruacenter.org.