Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Long time, no write ...

The KickStarter campaign was a success which I am very, very thankful for!! I went to Sweden last year and captured many hours wonderful  film footage of Peter Puma Hedlund, Pelle Björnlert, Christer Wesström and Thore Härdelin. I then worked for many months with my material and currently the first round of editing proofs is in Sweden with each respective musician who is to comment on what stays and what goes. The deadline for answers back to me is July first. Then I will get back to work and finish the job with hopes of having four new titles in my Swedish Folk Music Treasures series by the end of 2015.

Following is an article I was asked to write by a Swedish Music Publication. The photo is me with Pelle Björnlert and Johan Hedin who participates in Pelle's film:

Swedish Folk Music Treasures

by Rita Flodén Leydon
©2014 Rita Leydon

If you had suggested to me twenty years ago that I would one day be making films I would have brushed the comment off as being absurd. But here I am, doing just that. Many things happened that led me to become a one woman production team focusing single-mindedly on documenting mature masters of the nyckelharpa and fiddle: the tradition bearers of music primarily from Uppland and surrounding areas. Music does not seem to observe borders.

In a business sense, this pursuit of mine is absurd for there is no market to speak of for my products (DVD films) and thus, no measurable income from my efforts. So why do it? Because it needs to be done. It is vitally important that our treasure trove of shared musical heritage be documented and preserved for study by future generations before it becomes lost in the vast background noise we refer to as “world music”. I do it for love. This music is part of the loam that holds our roots.

A little background. I was born in Stockholm and spent my first ten years in Sweden. In 1960 my parents moved the family to USA and never looked back. I however, nurtured a longing for what was lost to me. About 25 years into my marriage I told my husband Chris that if I didn’t learn to dance the hambo my soul would shrivel up and die. So we took up Swedish dancing. We both thrived. This led to a keen awareness of the music that powered us around the dance floor and eventually to a crazy contraption called a nyckelharpa. It was love at first sight and we dove right into the deep end of a whole new discipline. It was a sink or swim situation. We eagerly embraced the steep learning curve and are still at it. Discovering Swedish dance and music allowed me the chance to reconnect with my roots. I was home.

I signed up for several summer sessions of nyckelharpa instruction at Ekebyholm in Rimbo where I met lots of other players and great teachers. This is where I met Peter Puma Hedlund and the rest is history as they say. He shared a dream he had about making a series of teaching DVDs on how to play nyckelharpa. I nonchalantly suggested we work together to make this happen even though I barely knew what a DVD was. He agreed and we became partners.  The result was a set of three teaching DVDs that have spread nyckelharpa literacy and playing literally around the world one person at a time. This was quite an achievement and I should have stopped with that. But by then I knew how film cameras worked and I had learned DVD programming and production plus I had all this great equipment.

Peter took me under his wing and as part of my education, he introduced me to many wonderful older musicians who had been instrumental in his own musical evolution: mentors and idols, people he loved and revered. He opened doors and led me to his own inner circle of precious relationships. He wanted me to understand the depth of reverence and thankfulness he felt for his own personal musical roots. I was a good student. I was totally smitten by all the gentle souls I met who played heavenly music for me in their kitchens and parlors. I yearned to share these experiences with friends back home in America—share with lovers and students of Swedish music everywhere. Music doesn’t come from black dots on lined paper, it pours from the heart and soul of the person making the music and directly into the receptive ear of a listener who is stirred and inspired in turn. I wanted others to experience similar intimate kitchen or parlor moments and the way to do it was with film.

I figured someone must surely already be documenting this authentic treasure trove for study by future generations. But no, no such efforts seemed to be underway. Really? How could this be? These musicians were not getting any younger. I sensed a tinge of extreme urgency. An germ of an idea formed and quickly developed into action on my part. My first subject was going to be Curt Tallroth, the last remaining brother in a family of famously rowdy musicians. Olov Johansson of Väsen had been mentored by Curt in his youth and had agreed to play with Curt in my film. Then the unthinkable happened. All of a sudden Curt died! Oh no! I panicked. There was no time to lose. In quick succession I arranged to film the handful of mature masters I considered crucial to document. First up was Nisse Nordström playing with Puma. This was followed by Tore Lindqvist, Hasse Gille, Styrbjörn Bergelt, Sture Sahlström, Anders Liljefors, Bosse Larsson, Mats Andersson, and Björn Ståbi, until I had made nine films which I released on DVD for anyone to purchase. Time has passed and we have lost four of these Musical Treasures. I am ever grateful that I was granted access to their world with my paraphernalia and allowed to film to my hearts content in order to share them with others.

I took a several year hiatus from my work because Chris and I sold our farm in Pennsylvania, packed up and moved west to Colorado where we built a home high in the Rocky Mountains. Recently I returned from a new filming trip to Sweden where I filmed four additional musicians whom I felt worthy of documentation: Pelle Björnlert, Christer Wesström, Thore Härdelin and my old friend Peter Puma Hedlund. In the intervening years, our “older” musicians seem to have gotten younger, or maybe I am the one who has gotten older. In any case, time moves on and the young canons become the new old masters and mentors of yet another generation of younger players. It has always been this way. This is partly what defines and characterizes music as traditional. It ages and changes and passes on to the youngsters who do it all over again and again and yet again.

I am currently happily engaged in the task of spending hours and hours editing my newly captured footage and trusting that in a year or so four new DVDs will emerge and join the other nine titles in my series which I call Swedish Folk Music Treasures.

I am the first to agree that my scope is limited. My area of interest has been Uppland and the nyckelharpa primarily. This has been such a fertile field with so very much to harvest that I have not had a chance to spread my wings much further. I am one person with limited resources. There is ample room for another to arise and take up this same task: step to the plate and begin documenting elderly musicians in other areas of Sweden. We all know our land is full of rich traditions in all its far reaching corners. The musical landscape is changing fast all around us and I fear that the older regional dialects of musical expression may disappear if we don’t shine a light on them and make sure others are aware of the rich cultural heritage that is ours to discover, treasure and be proud of.

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