Skåne

The idea of Skåne is probably one of the concepts I’ve been using the longest time in my music making. In its simplest, original, form it is just about playing the tunes from the area of Skåne, which is something I’ve been doing throughout my musical life.. The idea has developed and grown more complex through time though. Some ten years ago I started searching through manuscripts and music books myself, to find ‘new’ (i.e. old tunes that are not in use within the folk scene at the moment) tunes I began to realise the problems that occur when you are to create an interpretation of a tune, based on a written source. The idea got even more complex when began questioning the contemporary (20th/21st C.) style of playing these tunes.

When looking through available transcriptions of older players (a lot of them made in the 1880’s) and texts describing their style, it is obvious that there was extensive use of microtonality and a lot of rhythmical variations and details that transcend the (imaginary) evenness of the regular quavers or semi-quavers you find in written music. However this has been very little explored and used by contemporary players of that repertoire. Rather, the main style is quite straight, and in my opinion there is not really any of the key players who make (or have made) conscious use of microtonality. (This doesn’t mean that then necessarily play with even-tempered intonation, but that’s a different question.) And so I’ve made it a task of mine to try to bring those elements back in use when playing the tunes from Skåne, which is the tunes that I’ve grown up with, and consider to be my repertoire.*

I haven’t done any proper research into they question, but I believe a lot of the explanation is to be found by looking into the fact that some of the key players in the first folk music revival, in the first half of the 20th C. came from a background in classical music, and either way had adopted the musical ideals of the classical world. Another part of it may be that Skåne is a region where the older layers of repertoire (e.g. polskas) had gone out of playing, before the majority of field recordings were made. Thus today’s playing of polskas (which, in Skåne just like in the rest of Sweden, is considered to be the tune type with the highest status, the most ‘genuine’ tune type within folk music) is based more on what is found in manuscripts, rather than repertoire learned from recordings, and in most of the manuscripts there is no information about rhythmical or intonational details.

On a greater level, the idea of Skåne is one concerned with identity, tradition, the history of Swedish folk music and the mystical/mythical connection between geography and style (discussed here). By playing the tunes from the region where I was born and still live, I fulfill many of the stereotypes of Swedish folk music, which I sometimes find a bit problematic, as many of them build on ideas I don’t believe in, or want to question.

On the other hand, it makes it easy to explore and get inspired by some of the ideas contained within these stereotypes. Like the connection between landscape and musical expression. I don’t really think this connection exists in an ‘objective’ sense, but the idea can be used for inspiration. What happens if I let my playing reflect the landscape around me? What does it mean for the music?

By fulfilling the stereotype (playing the tunes from my own region), and at the same time questioning the praxis for how it is being carried out (in this case by playing around with intonation and rhythmical details), I can get the best out of two worlds. I maintain my musical integrity and can still get accepted by the community. This is not an outspoken or thought-through strategy of mine but I think the image is not too far from the truth anyway.

*Sometimes this results in comments from the local folk music community about anti-social playing style, or that microtonality (‘quarter tones’) is something that doesn’t belong in the music of southern Sweden. When it comes to the ‘historical correctness’ of using microtones in southern repertoire, I could prove the critics wrong by quoting for instance the transcriptions of Lorens Brolin, Ola Lans and Jöns Andersson Ryberg (all found in Svenska Låtar Skåne, together with descriptions of their use of varying intonation/tonality). The critique about anti-social playing style is a bit different. It becomes a matter of individual vs. community and performing culture vs. participating culture. An example of the function/art-dichotomy at work.

Art = Freedom (function/art within myself)

 “For me, the movement from Function to Art was what I needed to free myself from some of my inner limitations.” From: The Beginning

In my notebook, I find this, from October 2013: “If I become more artistic – does that mean that I’m moving away from my roots, from the amateur community that I still strongly identify with? And if so: why? And what do I get instead?”

The answer I give myself is that I get freedom. In me, Art and Freedom means very much the same thing. What I experienced when I started thinking about myself as an artist, was an increased freedom. I would allow myself to do new things, to make musical experiments that I didn’t dare to do before. I started playing music in new ways and I started thinking of music in new ways. And when I realised that seeing music as art increased my freedom, of course that perspective became even more interesting and appealing. As I felt it, I made huge developments, and increased my action space greatly, just by changing how I think of my own musical practice. The feeling was really powerful, like I had found the key to a new world.

At the same time, attaching the lable art to my own music created a distance between myself and my past, a distance between myself and the ameteur community where I come from. When I was making use of my art-connected freedom, I had a strong feeling of moving away from the way music is being made in the community of my past. Since I have been physically, geographically and socially removed from that community most of the time, while studying at NoFo I still don’t know anything about the long term consequences of this distanciation.

The world of Swedish folk music – a very short, one sided, and rough description

This description does in no way give a complete picture of the Swedish folk music scene. It focuses on the amateur community and the main point is just to briefly show how the art/function-dichotomy is at work within this community (together with a lot of other Romantic ideas about music).

The Swedish folk music scene is very much a music scene with a strong culture of participating. A lot of the people involved in the scene are more concerned with playing themselves (or with dancing) than with listening to other people playing in a traditional concert setting. And when it comes to concerts, there is a great recognition of solo players who represent a body of traditional, regional, material. The ideal, for amateurs and professionals alike, is to play tunes from your own home region: there is still a very strong idea about the connection between geographical origin and musical style.

 If you can state the geographical ‘origin’ of a tune, that supposedly says all you need to know about the tune. And if you then play tunes from ‘your own’ area, you will, almost automagically, play them more or less in the right way, whereas if you play tunes from some other area you’re bound to fail. This idea gets stronger in some certain ‘high status’ areas like parts of Dalarna and Hälsingland, where you ‘should’ preferably have lived in the village for generations, to be able to play the tunes in the right way.

Another of these mystical (romantic) ideas is that the music is something you must have ‘in the blood’. And you either have it or you don’t. Even among some groups of musicians, there is little recognition of the power of practicing.

Of course these ideas are duly questioned, and most people would not agree with what I just described, but parts, and left overs, of this thinking keeps popping up everywhere and all the time, both within and outside the folk scene when talking about folk music.

In the amateur millieu there is also a great deal of scepticism towards musicians who educate themselves. Even among people who could be considered more liberal, and more open towards the educated folk musicians, their openness is often built on certain criteria. It demands that the educated musician doesn’t move to far away from what could be considered ‘real’ folk music. The music must follow recognisable patterns (e.g. 32-bar tunes with AABB-forms) and shouldn’t deviate too much from familiar tonality and harmonisation.

In general, as an educated folk musician, in the folk community, you are often acknowledged by your ability to follow in line with tradition, rather than by your ability to evolve it. If you move too far away, people might say ‘it’s good, but it’s not folk music’.* All this very much reflects the function/art dichotomy.

This whole scepticism is also often based on the idea that folk music is not something which can be taught, and especially not in the dry, sterile safeness of a music academy, but it is something which has to be lived and experienced. (For a great example of this way of thinking, read here. That blogpost also shows that this discussion seems to occur in every country where you allow the folk music to enter the educational institutions.)
Of course it is very different between different parts of the folk music world, how much these ideas are at work, and how strongly they are part of the communitys understanding of folk music and of themselves. And I have a huge respect and for the amateur community and the ideas present there; they are very much a part of my background, where I come from. Especially the power and relevance of experience is something I can hold as perfectly valid, and also an area where I used to see (academic) education as being quite problematic. However, my experiences at the Sibelius Academy, and in general what Ive learned throughout my NoFo studies, have made me realise that it is perfectly possible to learn a lot through experiencing also within the frames of education.

Of course, the experiences you can get within the frames of an Academy, and the experiences you can get outside it, are sometimes quite different. In the end the best way to learn a lot is to take part in both.

*This is very much based on my own experiences in my own local folk music community, but also on conversation with fellow students and how they are responded to in their own home communities.