A special Hardanger Fiddle Concert

clay county histories

Markus Krueger | Program Director  HCSCC

Syttende Mai is Norway’s Fourth of July. Well, technically it means the 17th of May, but it serves the same purpose. It’s the national holiday. And this Syttende Mai, the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County has a present for you. We will be posting online a very special Hardanger Fiddle concert inside Moorhead’s Hopperstad Stave Church.  

The event happened last July 28. It was a perfect evening and I wish you all could have been there, but the stave church isn’t that big so it was a small crowd. Let me tell you what that night was about.

A quarter century ago, Guy Paulson built a replica of Norway’s Hopperstad Stave Church. Since then, Guy developed his wood carving and collected more hobbies. A few years ago, he built a Hardanger Fiddle in honor of his father, a fiddling farmer named Kristian Paulson.

A Hardanger Fiddle looks like a violin decorated with black floral rosing designs, an elaborately carved head, a neck inlaid with mother of pearl, and instead of four strings it has eight or nine, half of which are “sympathetic strings” that drone harmoniously with the fingered notes. Each one is a handmade work of art.

To learn how to make a Hardanger Fiddle, Guy Paulson applied to the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program from the North Dakota Council on the Arts. Troyd Geist, the State Folklorist of North Dakota, is a long-time collaborator with Mr. Paulson. Troyd has a gift for inspiring, organizing and encouraging traditional artists, whether they are Native American storytellers, Bhutanese singers, or Norwegian Hardanger Fiddlers. Troyd paired Guy with a living legend among Hardanger Fiddle players and makers, a man who has done as much as anyone could to encourage the traditions of Hardanger Fiddling to continue in the United States of America – Bud Larsen. 

Troyd described the pairing of Guy Paulson and Bud Larsen in the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program as a meeting of masters. Guy Paulson, the master wood carver, became an apprentice to Bud Larsen as he and others learned to make Hardanger Fiddles. Guy created a beautiful work of art, but he doesn’t play the fiddle himself, so he asked Bud if he would play some of his father’s favorite tunes on the fiddle he made.

That gave us museum folks an idea: if Bud is coming into town to play Guy’s fiddle, what better place to record than in the stave church? And let’s invite the Fargo Spelemannslag to play, too!

Who are the Fargo Spelemannslag? They are a group of absolutely amazing local Hardanger Fiddle players. Their membership includes some virtuosos and some new to the instrument, some in high school and some with grey in their hair. They explain the traditions they share, they are the future of the Hardanger Fiddle in America, and we are blessed in our community to have them.  

The evening was perfect. The acoustics were wonderful. The music was sublime and emotionally moving. You’ll love it. Go to the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County’s Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages to watch for yourself.

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