St. Olaf Study Travelers in Norway

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Trondheim Coverage

Adresseavisen (The Address)
Saturday, June 18, Trondheim

Made a fuss over Muus

250 Norwegian-Americans made a fuss over Muus during a ceremony at the Nidaros Cathedral yesterday.

By Rolf Rolfsen (translation by Karen Hansen)

The visitors are singers and musicians from St. Olaf College, which Bernt Julius Muus founded in 1974. When he died in 1900, he was buried in the cathedral garden, and students from the school lay a wreath yesterday at the gravestone on the south side of the church.

St. Olaf College in Minnesota is the best-known teaching institution established by Norwegian-Americans in the USA. The school has its own choir, band and orchestra that earlier have visited Trondheim six times. This week the singing and playing guests have been in Snåsa, where Muus was born in 1832, and Tuesday they will play in a Christmas concert in the Nidaros Cathedral for American television. It’s expected that over five million Americans will see this program from Trondheim.

The school’s president or rector, theologian Chris Thomforde characterizes the Nidaros Cathedral as the spiritual home for students and staff of St. Olaf College, because the Cathedral was built in memory of Saint Olav, the school’s patron saint.

“Here are found the roots of our identity,” he said.

Bernt Julius Muus was also a Norwegian-American theologian. He made an impression as a minister among Norwegian emigrants in Minnesota from 1859, and later became bishop for the Norwegian synod. He established an extensive following and became the first president of St. Olaf College.

Photo caption: Remembered Muus: 250 Norwegian-Americans lay a wreath yesterday at the gravestone of Bernt Julius Muus, the Snåsan who founded St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Front left rector Chris Thomforde, cathedral dean Knut Andresen and the students Philip Knutson, Carl Holmquist and Elizabeth Hellstedt.

Trondheim Pilgrimage

June 17

Our pilgrimage is over. For all of us — Study Travelersa and the band, choir and orchestra entourage — it ended in Trondheim, for centuries the destination of pilgrims to St. Olav's burial site.

Some of us went to Stiklestad, where King Olav died in battle in 1030, and to Snåsa. “Why you go to Snåsa?” asked eminently sensible driver Ove. It’s a St. Olaf College pilgrimage. The college’s founder, Bernt Julius Muus, was born in Snåsa, and virtually every St. Olaf entourage make a stop in this tiny quiet town. And virtually every citizen comes out to hear St. Olaf ensembles when they perform here.

The guest speaker for Study Travelers in Snåsa just had to be Reidar Dittmann. If you don’t know why, read the Norway issue of the St. Olaf magazine online at You’ll understand.

All three ensembles played in Stiklestad. The band played one night in Snåsa, and the orchestra played the next. Literally, there wasn’t room in town (or host homes) for both at the same time. I’ll let the reviews in separate blog items speak for themselves.

Truly we have arrived at the end of a pilgrimage. Tired, exhilarated, part of a community. We had church on the Fram! Fram! bus last Sunday, the loveliest, most personal service I've ever been part of.

Valhalla trooped off to a conference room for church that night after dinner. We had church today at Nidaros Cathedral. I’ve lost my voice so couldn’t sing. It made me sad, for this was a magnificent congregation. But the imposed silence made me look. It made me look at John Ferguson, so familiar in the organ loft of Boe Chapel, now equally at home playing “Big Bertha” in Nidaros Cathedral. It made me look at a congregation of musicians and learners united by music, St. Olaf, heritage, curiosity, whatever. And tied forever by this common experience. It made me rejoice.

The Final Concert
The final common experience was extraordinary. Nidaros is an enormous cathedral in a city busy and sophisticated enough to ignore visiting college ensembles. But they didn’t ignore the three from St. Olaf. They came out in force and filled the place.

And how the musicians filled this space where sound reverberates for nearly six seconds! With spirit and passion, they filled it from weary bodies, raising bells, bows and voices to ring – first for those six seconds, but ultimately forever in all our hearts.

The band made a powerful benediction of “Sleep.” The choir blessed us with Grieg’s “The Blessed Morn.”

The orchestra capped the whole three weeks with Samuel Barber’s Second Essay. Expressing Barber’s feelings about war, it starts with solo flute, tuba and clarinet. The thunder clap that jolted much of the audience was as close to the real thing as instruments come. From there, Steve Amundson, in full masterful flight, drew with and from the orchestra an impossibly long, inexorable line of pure passion to a transcendent climax.

Leaving no more to be written or said.

Stiklestad Concert Review

Trønder-Avisa (The Trønder Newspaper)
Thursday, June 16, 2005

Norway Tour 2005
Actors: St. Olaf Orchestra, St. Olaf Band and St. Olaf Choir
Place: Stiklestad National Culture Center
Directors: Steven Amundsen [sic], Timothy Mahr, Anton Armstrong.
Audience: 350

Golden St. Olaf Concert

By Johns. Brandtzæg (translated by Karen Hansen)

The golden moment can often be that which remains after an experience.
By the same means that the Olav tradition lives on because of one moment — in historical context, when King Olav fell in Stiklestad — so shall the concert with St. Olaf’s choir, orchestra and band live in my memory from a small, but golden moment. It was when a young girl rose up and played a completely marvelous piccolo solo in “Stars and Stripes” in the last encore.

The concert had many high points in Borggården in Stiklestad on the finest summer day so far – even if the auto traffic outside disturbed the idyll. The first came in the opening when the symphony orchestra played “Våren” by Grieg.

The danger of becoming “National Romantic” is great in such a setting. But, really could many more beautiful orchestra pieces be found than this?

Grieg has written out of his yearning for the spring – for life. This the young musicians managed to convey, perhaps because they can best convey yearning for love and life. They played with weight and solidity; even where the violins are like gentle, playful brooks.

Three hundred fifty people sat on benches in Borggården in the middle of the day yesterday. They beamed in competition with the musicians and the singers who also looked like they were enjoying themselves.

It was an important experience on tour to play right in Stiklestad, said many. Then we can also report that half of them have roots in Norway, including the president of St Olaf’s [sic] College, Mr. Thomforde.

The music and choir tradition is especially strong there. They are reckoned to be in the top tier in the United States of America, and when Americans decide to create quality, so there shall be quality. These are all between 18 and 24 years, and two-thirds of them have music as a major.

And we noted that. This was not a school orchestra and school choir on tour. The whole thing gave the impression of being completely professional!

We could be delighted with both a festive overture by Shostakovich and a playful G. Gershwin from one of his first visits in Cuba. He adopted the Latin American rhythms and instruments in a “Cuban Overture” in rumba tempo. The orchestra shifted as easily from the Norwegian Våren as they did from Russian to Norwegian.

They showed qualities that one doesn’t expect to find in a youth orchestra – they were as precise and dynamic in tempi as in strength.

The choir came across a little weaker because they were placed far back in an open room. But, good heavens, what a beautiful sound there is in such a homogenous young choir!

Their Norwegian songs were impressive with enunciation that many could learn from, whether it was the homeland song or Pål på Haugen. At the end they sang a Negro spiritual. One could have shattered glass with the young soprano voices in the final note. They just stood there – a long time – in a powerful, ringing cadence.

We wrote in the paper yesterday about the band in concert in Snåsa Church. Let us just repeat that they impressed as greatly in Stiklestad, whether it was Valdres March or completely new music from the USA.

The newest of all [“Sleep”], in which the band both sang and played, made through simple introductions in both choir and horn clear associations with theatre music; strange – but that’s just how it was.

Those who didn’t have the opportunity to experience this yesterday, in the middle of the day in Stiklestad, have another chance in the Nidaros Cathedral this evening. It’s worth the trip!

Photo Caption: Close: There is very close contact between orchestra and audience when the presentation takes place at Borggården in Stiklestad yesterday. Here conductor, part of the symphony orchestra and part of the audience.

Foto: Espen Storhaug

A Taste of Minnesota

Trønder-Avisa (The Trønder Newspaper)
Thursday, June 16, 2005

A taste of Minnesota

SNÅSA: Yesterday Snåsa took in American forces. With music stands and instruments.

Photo caption: Don’t want to have lutefisk: “Lutefisk, no thanks,” say four good-natured music students from St. Olaf College. In front Teagen and Laura, in the middle Megan and Merry. Farthest back the hosts Heidun and Torstein at the Vinje parsonage.

By Erik Vådal (translated by Karen Hansen)

“America is an especially large part of the world that lies west of Norway. To get there you must sail over an ocean that is approximately 900 Norwegian miles wide.”

The above citation was gotten from what one perhaps could call a travel handbook, written by one of the first emigrants from Snåsa to America, Ole Rynning, and published in 1838.

120 guests
And in these days, Snåsa has received a visit from this “especially large part of the world” in the form of music students from St. Olaf College in Minnesota. With technicians, directors and leaders, things revolve around about 120 guests. They have already been in Norway a good while and have had concerts over half the country before they now “top” the tour in Snåsa and in Stiklestad, before the whole thing concludes in Trondheim with a concert in Nidaros Cathedral this coming Friday.

The tour is St. Olaf College’s marking of the centennial celebration of the dissolution of the union.

And the selection of Snåsa is not accidental. St. Olaf College, perhaps the most prestigious university west of the Mississippi, was in fact founded by pastor Bernt Julius Muus from Snåsa in 1875 [sic].

A little special for the visit in Snåsa is that the students, for the first time during the tour, are being lodged with local host families, something they say they are very happy about.

One of the many host families are the renters of the Vinje parsonage, Heidun Oldervik og Torstein Grande. They will house four young female students, Teagen, Laura, Megan and Merry. And the girls are extremely cosy, open and pleasant.

“We have had it good in Norway,” they explain, and Laura thinks she understands a little more about the mentality at St. Olaf College. “People with background from a land with so many steep mountains must be tough and hardworking,” she believes.

Must pay 3,000 dollars
Otherwise they are in agreement that Norwegians are not particularly different than themselves and are actually a little surprised about how “internationally” prominent Norwegian society is.

“But it is expensive,” says Megan. And we understand well that the prices get their attention when they explain that they figure to spend about 3,000 dollars each out of their own pockets for the tour.

They hint that some of the bus trips have been a little tiring, but never mind.

They’re not sorry and assert, “We would like to come back!”

Their biggest fear before the tour was having to eat lutefisk, and we see how they actually shudder at the thought. But hostess Heidun has everything on dry land: homemade pizza should fit well for four teenagers from the other side of an “ocean that is about 900 Norwegian miles wide.”

To Geiranger, On Vowels

Sunday, June 12

I’d seen the photos, heard the raves about Norway’s beauty. Photos aren’t adequate. They either fail to capture the scale or have been so “art-ified” as to be unbelievable. Words are even less satisfactory, but that’s what a blog has. What I write may not show you much, but it may tell you something: GO! See it — whatever or wherever “it” is for you — for yourself. Sooner is better.

My charming, strong, handsome and gentle cousin Mark David Stevermer died this week of liver cancer. The fact that he was in his 50’s is just numbers: he ran marathons. By Stevermer standards he should have had another 35 to 40 years. He was not long married, for the first time, and happy.

For the Marks of the world, see and do all you can while you can. The Study Travelers in Norway this month are ages 17 to 83. The St. Olaf musicians are 18 to 24. That’s the ticket! Start early; stay late.

Here’s my stab at words about Norwegian landscape:

Through two weeks of mostly grey days, when the sun appears, it’s mostly as a top light, illuminating high-mountain snow. Or it’s a spotlight turning to gold and green one distant farm or one swath of pine trees. If the sun is ever direct, it’s fleeting. sending a shaft of light down the mountainside and then letting it fade into green anonymity.

The sun is now golden, then pink or orange. It’s always present somewhere. Even when it briefly dips below the horizon, it sends enough light to make the darkest state just a dusky blue.

Blue and grey water in the fjords occasionally breaks out in sparkles when the sun quickly kisses it before promiscuously flitting away to another suitor.

I’d heard about the fjords and mountains, but the waterfalls took me by surprise. For once, “ubiquitous” fits. They pelt down mountains along any craggy pathway they find or create, then over sudden sheer drops into the fjord below or onto the road we travel.

Riding in a coach on perilous switchback roads, I’d expected gasps from people who looked too far out and down. Not so. The gasps were for the waterfalls around nearly every bend. They’ll be boring white slashes on my photos. In my memory’s eye, they are the unstoppable bringers of life from barren mountaintop to tree line and farm and fjord below.

Some waterfalls race into rocky rivers. Others lose their steam in what soil there is. As they slow, they turn dull grey slate to glistening black. The briefest bit of sunlight turns spray off the rocks into a momentary shower of diamonds.

The snow atop the mountains is often thick and smooth as royal icing, bright white shifting to grey and back as cloud shadows drift across. In other places, it looks like white paint spilled and spattered at random.

A wide, diffuse rainbow linked one mound of mountain to another across a wide valley. It was just the warm up. When we reached the ferry that would carry us, coach and all, to Geiranger, we had time to walk through the village and onto the ferry. But not before several of us spotted the half arch of a full-color rainbow that linked the side of the mountain to the surface of the fjord. Magic.

And we hadn’t even seen the best yet.

Geiranger Fjord
The boat trip through the Geiranger fjord is custom made for tourists. The taped spiel is in Norwegian, German, English and Japanese. Das macht nichts.

It was windy, sunny and cold on deck, and you couldn’t have dragged us off of it for anything.

From the largish ferry, we were dwarfs staring in awe as the towering scene changed with every turn through the fjord. Each revelation made jaws drop lower (Okay, some were kind of clenched in the cold…). But you must cast eyes on each scene again and again. Each looming giant, each sweep of forest, each capped peak changes as the light, shadow, clouds and sun shift constantly.

Norway taught me to look at every vista multiple times to see all its personalities, like a child calling, “Look at me, Mom!” “Look at me now, Mom!” “Look again, Mom…”

Norwegian Vowels and Baptisms
On a coach ride, we practiced Norwegian’s extra vowels: ø, å and æ. At the closing seminar, Mark Smith said he learned the real Norwegian vowels on the Geiranger fjord: ooh and ahh. Right you are, Mark!

Mark, claiming one quarter Norwegian heritage, “became a Viking” on this trip. He and others claim to have taken a midnight dip in the fjord/lake in Snåsa. They say they have the photos to prove it. Huff! Det var kaldt!

History in a Nutshell

June 13
On the bus. All day. Heading North.

Todd Nichol set himself a daunting task. The Fram! Fram! and Valhalla groups had both experienced one part of “Norway in a Nutshell,” a popular whirlwind tour through some of Norway’s most famous scenery. The part was the Flåm Railway, a 20-km, steepest-grade train ride atop a mountain.

Alas, the popularity of Norway in a Nutshell has turned the once remote village of Flåm into a tatty tourist trap. Cruise ships and coaches disgorge tourists who mooch through the shops, looking at the same souvenirs found everywhere else tourists gather. With the exception of inexpensive, divine ice cream, the squawking flocks eat mostly bad, overpriced food.

The task Todd set himself was to deliver “Norwegian History in a Nutshell” — 798 to 2005 in a half hour. It provided useful background for the coming days’ events in Stiklestad and Trondheim — and a good deal of levity on the coach as Todd fairly squirmed at not being able to regale us with the details that turn history into great storytelling.

You probably don’t have even a half an hour for Norwegian history. So here’s the ultra condensed version, i.e. as fast as I could type, errors included, while Todd talked.

In the beginning
Before 800 Norway had a subsistence, hunting, gathering, war-making culture. In the 790’s Norway raided a monastery in Lindesfarne. News spread like fire about pirates from the North.

“Viking” is an occupational term closest to pirates. They were small farmers on the coast who put their crops in, recruited a gang, went to sea, raided, pillaged, returned home, put their crops in, and so on. Vikings were not the only “pirates” about, but they were very good at it, which made them feared throughout Europe. They went after monasteries and churches because they were repositories of wealth. They took what they could carry off: goods, slaves, cattle. Eventually they even took armies to Europe.

This lasted about 200 years, then stopped rather suddenly: they had become Christians and had “joined” Europe (as much as Norwegians ever do; they’re still holding out against joining the EU). Essentially, they had learned they could be bought off. They went in strength to challenge the increasingly strong rulers in Europe and allowed themselves to be bought off. It became easier to trade than to steal, and there were other sources of wealth.

They had become Christians through influence from, among others, England, Germany, and Denmark through the work of sailors, chieftains, missionaries, and merchants who prized obedience. This trend was well started by 1000.

The modern Norwegian nation began to evolve when one powerful king asserted himself over smaller kings: Harald Hårfagre (the fair-haired). He was followed by Olav Trygvasson, who was particularly effective at subordinating lesser kings. He was also an advocate of forcible conversion.

This Olav is one of the fabled figures of Norwegian history. The Battle of Svolda in the Baltic was his end. Refusing to allow himself to be killed, he leapt from his ship in full armor. Some didn’t believe he’d died. Legends sprang up.

We would hear more about Olav Haraldsson (St. Olav) later in preparation for Trondheim. In short, he also had to fight for control of the land, and he never won any of his important battles. He had become Christian as a young Viking in England. He asserted strong centralized rule in Norway for a time. Wealthy landowners weren’t keen on this, and the pagans weren’t fond of his “convert or die” approach. Together they drove Olav Haraldsson out.

When a Norwegian king died (there were many, simultaneously), Olav saw his opening and returned from exile in Russia. He started his re-taking of Norway in Trøndelag because resistance to him was greatest there. In keeping with his practice of losing most of his important battles, he was killed in 1030 in Stiklestad. He was buried by the Nid River in Trondheim. Alas, people wound up regretting killing him because the Danes came and took over.

The period from about 1030 to 1130 was one of unusual peace for the Middle Ages. Norway prospered. The population grew and the nation began to adhere.

A century of civil wars began in 1130. A king became king by killing the king ahead of him, by succeeding in battle or being chosen by the people. Not exactly a formula for stability. One Svere Sigurdson claimed to be a descendent of Harald Hårfarge (kings had lots of children; some of them were legitimate.) The inventor of guerilla warfare, he could fight and read. He set off a century of civil war in which contending parties struggled for rule of Norway AND against the church (aka Rome). This was the time of the birkebeiner. Contrary to his behavior, Svere advised his son Haakon to come to terms with the church.

At beginning of 13th century, accession rules were instituted along the lines of the prevailing European pattern: eldest legitimate son, crowned by the church. This served well for 100 years.

Mighty Margrethe
In 1319 the thrones of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden were vacant, and there were difficult succession issues. Margrethe of Denmark was one of the most formidable women in history. By marrying the heir to the Norwegian throne, Haakon, and giving birth to the heir to the Danish throne, Olav, she locked up two of the three. I missed how she managed Sweden, but she did.

She kept the three kingdoms united for a good while, even after Haakon and Olav died young. Naturally, the arrangement was given to succession difficulties. In addition, the rest of Europe feared a united Scandinavia.

Dark Times
The Black Death, started by a rat in a load of wheat in the Bergen harbor, put a stop to almost everything, including most of the nobility and clergy. Norway’s decline was further hastened in the 1500’s with the Protestant Reformation. Norway wanted no part of it because Denmark imposed it on Norway, where there was no unrest against Catholicism.

The period of Danish rule has been called “400 years of the dark.” (Some of our group going through a history exhibit at Maihaugen heard a Danish woman object.).

In the 1800's Norway experienced an energetic and powerful national revival. A Norwegian language began to develop. Norwegians searched out their folk tales. They cultivated and reinvented arts, painting, carving, music. Evangelical Lutheranism revived because it taught people to think they were someone.

In the 19th century there was a popular reawakening of religious and cultural life. Ever notice that Norwegians and the Irish always tell you they are? That’s because of their histories of subjugation.

1814 and the constitution were covered in other lectures. For the Viking group that took the form of a tour of Eidsvoll, where the constitution was written. What sounds dry got rave reviews.

During WWI, Norway tenuously maintained neutrality. It did export supplies to England and others to support their war efforts.

After the war there was considerable discontent in Norway, Sweden and Germany, with real potential for revolutions. Some sought answers in communism. Anti-monarchy sentiments surfaced.

In the 1920's in Norway the strategy of revolution was abandoned in favor of democracy and vigorous national identity. The linking of national socialism with democratic practices lead to the welfare state that remains in place today.

Today Norway is the third largest oil producer in the world and the largest outside the Middle East. All the oil wealth has been nationalized and is administered by the state. Much of it is in trust. About 20 to 25 years of oil remain. That’s a lot of money, but it’s a turbulent world.

Norway faces the same looming crisis that Germany and France do, though they are closer to the coming storm: the population is aging and the birth rate is falling.

Todd predicts a tip to the left in the next election, resulting in a Red-Green coalition. Todd concluded with a common expression: “Vi få se.” (We shall see.)

As with every seminar by St. Olaf faculty or guest speakers, Study Travelers had lots of questions for Todd – wide ranging, probing, perceptive, and exhibiting the intellectual curiosity that makes Study Travelers great fellow travelers.

Snåsa Review: Band

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Met with bravos in Snåsa

SNÅSA: Young, American music students were met with shouts of bravo for their music in Snåsa church yesterday evening.

Photo caption: Celebration concert: Director Timothy Mahr had to play three encores before the Snåsans would go home.

By Guri Hjulstad (translation by Karen Hansen)

Led by their charismatic director, The St. Olaf Band took the breath away from a nearly soldout church as they set in motion mostly contemporary music with their trombones, trumpets, flutes and clarinets.

And it was not only that they played; they sang and clapped and played glittering solo parts. The American students impressed also by introducing the works in nearly error-free Norwegian. And the Snåsa public answered with applause and even with shouts of “bravo” that you otherwise must go to more southerly regions to hear.

Three encores
Snåsans didn’t give up until the Americans had played three encores, with the Norwegian Valdres March to close. The popular guests had received three standing ovations.

The music selection was demanding. This was not at all familiar classical sounds; it was advanced contemporary music. And contemporary music is not always easily accessible.

It is not the melodies that captivate, but rather the rhythm and the surprising sound pictures. Suddenly a sound, a line comes in from the sideline, completely unexpected, and garners attention.

The hawk’s experiences
It helped us to know that the “The Soaring Hawk” was inspired by meditation about the hawk’s experience of the life on the earth – seen from the air.

The orchestra led us into a landscape where the trees, the tall grass, the clear water are. The musicians played with a closeness and a gleam in the eye that drew the audience along even where we did not understand everything.
On the other hand, we understood quite quickly that Matthew Nudelle is an eminent and charming trombone soloist. With a fantastic solo, he played the instrument from cellar to attic at the same time that he communicated with the audience. Then Snåsans shouted “bravo” in return.

Very demanding
Afterward, the band set in motion a symphony, Symphony No. 2, with music that describes both the outer realm and humankind’s inner world, with mystical dreams.

It was very demanding, said Ben Wareham during intermission. He sat in front of the pulpit in the church, and therefore didn’t have contact with the musicians farther back. He quite simply couldn’t hear them.

“I had to guess,” said the young music student. Director Timothy Mahr expressed thanks for the radiant reception the Americans had received in Snåsa – “Snåsa is our second home,” said Mahr.

War and Omitted History

June 12, Bergen to Geiranger
June 5, Erik Cleven at Maihaugen

Narrow Escape
Enroute from Bergen to Geiranger on June 12 we encountered Årensdalnes and Molde, both destroyed by Germany bombing in WWII.

What strategic importance could these two small coastal towns have? During the Nazi occupation, King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav, along with some of the nation’s gold, were in flight. The Germans just missed the royal party, destroying Årensdalnes and Molde on the escape route. The strategic importance was psychological. The royal family was a rallying factor for Norwegians, and the Nazis wanted to deal a blow to Norwegian resistance and morale by capturing or killing them.

War Memorials
In towns of all sizes one finds war memorials: at the entrance to the church in Molde, a lonely obelisk on a hill in Geiranger, an even more remote carved memorial at an island rest stop on the route to Kristiansund. The dead of WWII and the Napoleonic wars are remembered in quietly poignant ways.

Where is WWI? While Norway was officially neutral, many were killed, especially sailors in a blockade and those transporting goods to support England and others’ efforts against the Germans. They’re simply not mentioned.

What's Missing?
During his challenging lecture at Maihaugen on June 5, Erik Cleven asked what was missing from the history exhibit we’d just seen, "Langsomt ble landet vårt eget." (The literal translation is "Slowly the land became our own." The exhibit folks' translation is: "We won the land.")

Study Travelers identified two absences: the Sami people (Norway’s native people) and the new immigrants. Erik added WWI and used the three absences to point out the importance of history exhibits, books and shows.

The way cultures tell their stories – including some things and omitting others – helps determine how people think about who they are and how they approach the futre. The downside of leaving important things out is potentially not being able to deal effectively with the consequences. Essentially, what you don’t know (or don’t acknowledge) can hurt you.

How will Norway deal with refugees and immigrants in the future? They are colorfully diversifying a once largely homogenous society. How with the Sami? How is Norway changing with the increasing consumerism and declining interest among a wealthy populace in filling volunteer and civic roles? Who will do the hard work of democracy?

Erik teaches at the Namsen School for Humanistic Studies. His role is leading six-week, intense training for conflicted parties of the most serious sort (e.g. the Balkans) on how to talk, work and live together. In his experience, people from differing backgrounds have a natural tendency to get along, to integrate, if left to their own devices. Erik contends that it’s politicians and power seekers who get in the way of this tendency by sowing seeds of suspicion, even hatred.

In Eric’s experience, you can’t resolve conflict or build peace unless all parties know each other’s stories. Therein lies the risk of leaving out significant parts of Norway’s story from a major history exhibit.

I’ve been meeting vibrant, intelligent, cultured Norwegians – professors, writers, musicians, bus drivers. There is every possibility they will figure out their problems. Erik Cleven, a St. Olaf alum, is among those beacons of possibility.

Bergen Concert Review

Bergens Tidende, 12. juni 2005 (The Bergen Times)

Happy encounter with strong American ideals

Impressions of Norwegian culture, but something more, too

by Espen Selvik (translated by Karen Hansen)

St. Olaf College has established itself in its sphere as one of the leaders in the USA; that is something we Norwegians ought to take note of with pleasure. The ties to the homeland have always been strong, and it is an event when St. Olaf College offers band (symphonic band instrumentation), choir and symphony orchestra in the same concert. The program was well chosen, stage changes went quickly, and the sections were not too long.

The St. Olaf Band has splendid forces including all the special instruments and sonority hardly any Norwegian bands approach. At the same time, this section was a little monotone; I missed the truly quiet music that creates good contrasts and doesn’t play for effects alone.

At the same time, the director’s own “The Soaring Hawk” had some good touches of originality. The St. Olaf Orchestra also offered good qualities, and as an example George Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture” really took off like a shot. Pleasant and warm string sound, good soloists and an interpretation characterized by great musical vitality reigned.

Director Steven Amundson communicated sensitively with the musicians and created fresh and extroverted interpretations. My favorite, however, was the St. Olaf Choir. With a fine mixed choir and young, but cultivated voices, Anton Armstrong has developed an ensemble of truly high level. Bach’s demanding “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied” was charmingly lively, even if the wide vibrato cost a little in distinct enunciation.

The Pentecost hymn “Velsignede Morgen” from Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” was however one of the concert's definite high points. The phrasing was brimming with life and warmth, and the sound was muted, but extremely beautiful and effective.

“Sanctus” by Frank Martin and “Lux Aurumque” by Eric Whitacre were two other memorable works that were presented in an exemplary manner. An encore was inevitable, and the choir responded with a gripping version of “Norge, mitt Norge.”

The band, orchestra and choir have definitively appropriated Norwegian repertoire and interpretive practice; and at the same time the ensembles have fascinating additional qualities. St. Olaf College uses large forces, something that gives the sound fullness and breadth. Here at home we are not always faithful to such an ideal.

Another asset is the directors’ definite artistic leadership. They are highly competent people who don’t just lead, but rather communicate in a truly effective and appealing manner. In so doing, they lift the amateurs’ performances at times up to a professional level. A third factor is the blending of respect for their Norwegian origins with the will to still make their own artistic choices. Because of that, Norwegian music doesn’t harden into hackneyed interpretation, but rather gives an impression of something more. This was a concert both to reflect upon and to delight in.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Kristiansund: Cod, Choir

June 13 and 14
Kristiansund and Salted Cod

The farther north we traveled, the brighter and warmer it got. What a relief after many grey days, a few of them wet, all of them cold. After a second long day of travel by coach and ferry, we arrived June 13 in Kristiansund, an Atlantic coastal town.

An everyday sort of place, Kristiansund makes its best impression from the water or the high hill where several Study Travelers watched the sun set, sort of. Brightly colored wooden houses climb the banks, dramatic high bridges link the islands, and every sort of seagoing vessel, from smelly fishing boats to luxury cruise ships, is anchored in the harbor.

Kristiansund is best known for the salted cod exported around the world since the 1600’s. We had a guided tour of the Salt Cod Museum and Tin Factory June 14. The photos and guide made it abundantly clear that the women did the back-breaking, bone-numbing work of cleaning the fish in the sea in March, then stacked and rearranged the fish so they would dry properly. The men stood on dry land, watching, counting, judging, weighing. It’s telling that the quayside statue is of a fisherwoman.

Salted cod is a high-priced delicacy in the Caribbean, South America, Portugal and beyond. When I walked into a café, thinking to try the local stewed version, the smell spun me right back out the door. Others were braver, reporting that they wouldn't turn it down if offered again. They are not planning to make it at home.

Kristiansund and the St. Olaf Choir
Another splendid concert with applausen å dømme, this time at a controversially modern church. Its architecture evokes images of mountains and ski jumping. Given this landscape and culture, it makes sense. More important, it was a good place for the choir to sing: clear, clean, and resonant enough to let sopranos soar and basses rumble.

Before the second encore, the mayor made a gracious speech in English and presented flowers. Anton Armstrong responded in English, interpreted by a member of the choir. When he gave credit to the young man for the choir’s fine Norwegian pronunciation, Anton said to him, “You WILL translate that.”

Learning and Laughing Outside the Classroom
Before dinner and the concert, John Ferguson presented a seminar for Valhalla and Fram! Fram! on the exegesis of music, teasing out the question of whether music without text can have meaning. This led to discussion of absolute music and program music.

I could go on and on from my notes, but the clearest sign that John stimulated his listeners was a conversation in the pew behind me during the concert intermission. Andrew was pumping fellow Valhalla member (Rev.) Ron for more explanation of exegesis. That led to literature, methods of interpreting scripture, examples of absolute and program music.

For stimulating company, you can’t beat Study Travelers drawn to learning in the context of travel experiences. As counterpoint, the walk home had us in stitches as tales flew about who REALLY ran a noted institution and other foibles of the lofty and learned.

Surrogate and Original Moms and Dads
We’re stilling looking out for each other. I have a stash of flu/cold remedies donated by surrogate moms and dads. An eye doctor in the Valhalla group is tending to a choir member’s scratched eye. Her parents, in the Fram! Fram! group, met Dr. Clyde tonight at the joint dinner June 14.

The Eagles’ Way to Molde

June 13

The climb out of Geiranger on switchback roads was just the warm-up. We climbed from summer to winter. High in the mountains the snowplow had been through recently. In places, the snow banks flanking the narrow road were nearly as tall as the bus. Stopping at a mountain-top café/gift shop (few opportunities to sell Norwegian sweaters are missed here), we bundled up and experienced “season lag.”

We found bicyclists resting and, serendipitously, the band and orchestra having lunch. Among the family reunions was the Mahrs'. For the second time, they were all together: conductor Tim with his wife, Jill, and two daughters, and Jeneane and Don Mahr, who was celebrating his 70th birthday.

No Brakes
We took Ånesveien (the Eagles’ Way) down the mountain. The height may be that of eagles, but downward progress is that of snails. Looking out the windows, we saw the switchbacks and the band and orchestra buses below, creeping like colorful centipedes. Were the parents’ hearts in their throats as mine was, watching the progress of such precious cargo?

Engineering marvels that they are, these mountain roads are narrow; vehicles that meet execute a slow dance of backing, yielding, proceeding.

At the bottom, applausen å dømme acknowledged drivers Trond and Ove. Queried about his technique, Ove revealed that he’d made the whole trip down using gears only, never touching the brakes.

A spectacular green valley opened before us as we drove along a rapids-only river. Joanie on the Fram! Fram! bus said, “Just when you think you’ve seen the most beautiful part of Norway, you go some place else. It gets better every day.”

Molde Charms Students
We stopped in Molde for a break in the sunshine. Students were unloading equipment and rehearsing for the joint concert on June 13. The seaside setting with sharply angled mountains is beautiful, but the long-term cost of the Germans’ bombing is a modern-looking town.

What the town lacks in historic charm, the citizens made up for in hospitality. They feted the three music groups with a meal and post-concert cruise to watch the midnight sunset.

Geiranger: Must We Leave?

June 12 and 13
Do We Have to Leave?

In Geiranger there was nothing to do. And no one wanted to leave. You don’t need to DO anything in this village at the head of one of Norway’s headliner fjords; just BE there. It doesn’t hurt that the only culinary game in town, the Geiranger Hotel, serves lavish gourmet buffets.

The village stretches from the waterfront up a steep hill to the Geiranger Hotel and beyond up the mountain. At most hours a ferry or cruise ship rests in port, having released American, British, German and Japanese visitors.

The town’s signature feature is a waterfall that originates at the top of the mountain, rushing between houses perched terrace-style near the switchback road. The waterfall dashes under the road and races around its own switchback in the forest of tall slender pines.

Nearly every house has a view of the waterfall. From every location you hear the rushing white noise. Do the villagers have trouble sleeping in silent places elsewhere?

Many of us were sleep-deprived, but still outside until 11:30 or later June 12, taking photos, walking up the mountain road or climbing the rocks overlooking the waterfall in the lower part of the village.

Sunset turned the bottom of the clouds orange-pink. Still water at the edge of the waterfall reflected the salmon color as if the water were on fire.

A Village Church and a Prayer
Overlooking the fjord is a small white wooden church of the size and sort that serves about 85% of the population – although a much smaller percentage attends. Large urban cathedrals are the exception rather than the rule here.

On our way out of town, our two Study Travel groups stopped at the church to ponder the gravestones. Though one dated from 1812, most gravestones are new. In previous centuries graves were less well marked, and generations of family were buried one on top of the other.

Inside the church, rosemaling colors adorn the intricately carved pulpit, altar rail and chairs. Todd Nichol exorted the men to sit on one side and the women on the other, as they would have done years ago. The alacrity with which the men complied was un-Norwegian. In earlier days, the men would have been hanging around outside while bells tolled repeatedly, trying to get them to come in for the service.

Church historian Todd Nichol, who is ordained, talked about church life, then put religion into practice. One Study Travel has a dying relative back home. Todd kneeled, facing the altar, as the priest would do and led us in “Our Father.” John Ferguson played an organ prelude and postlude.

Everyone’s in Bergen

June 11

Two days could hardly be more different. June 11 was full of artistic beauty – a music seminar, recital and joint concert – while June 12 was abundant with natural glory – the drive and ferry rides from Bergen to Geiranger.

June 11: Artistic Abundance
Early Saturday morning, most of the 95 Study Travelers attended an optional seminar at The Grieg Academy, a school for college and master’s degree level musicians.

Our guest speaker, Harald Bjørkøy, is a professor at the academy. He’s one of three brothers who are tenors and who hold three major vocal teaching posts in Norway. Dan Dressen introduced Harold as part of the Bjørkby music mafia.

Bjørkøy played excerpts from an opera we’d never heard. Neither had any Norwegians until recently, when Bjørkøy and others got the opera recorded on CD and then into production. This is part of ongoing work to record and perform the works of forgotten Norwegian composers. These days there is respectable interest in and attention to contemporary Norwegian composers. Yet, a virtual black hole exists with regard to 19th-century music other than Grieg’s.

The opera excerpt we heard was engaging and colorful, accessible and appealing. Based on one of the kings Olav, its story line is classic opera: love, war, power, death, betrayal.

Bjørkøy and a faculty pianist played a firecracker of a piece in the tradition of Schubert Lieder. Four students sang quartets with beautifully cultivated voices. They were thrilled to receive complimentary tickets to the joint concert that night.

Personal Contact Trumps Technology
Previously I mentioned Dan Dressen’s work to establish a library of Nordic song at St. Olaf. Bjørkøy showed us about 10 photocopied, bound books of Norwegian songs that had been published long ago, but had disappeared from the cultural scene. He promised to make a set for Dan to augment the Nordic song library at St. Olaf. This re-discovered repertoire will serve St. Olaf students and other scholars with “new” literature for study and performance.

As we left, Bjørkby and Dressen were hatching a scheme to bring Bjørkøy to campus for master classes, study and performance. In this day of e-mail, when it’s easy to contact colleagues around the world, it’s still face-to-face conversation among scholars that really moves education and research forward – to the ultimate benefit of students.

Other examples of the power of personal contact: St. Olaf President Chris Thomforde was also in town for the concert and Study Travel. He visited his counterpart at the University of Bergen and discussed potential educational exchanges. While in Oslo, John Ferguson met with Harald Herresthal, professor of organ at Norges Musikhøgskole about opportunities for St. Olaf and Norwegian students.

Festival Atmosphere in Bergen
During free time, many Study Travelers and students intermingled with the international crowd around the Bryggen and the harbor. Several old sailing ships were docked. Their modern-day crews looked like they’d sailed in from a previous century. Crafts booths, dried-fish tasting, and folk music created a festival atmosphere on a mostly sunny day.

Marketplace Lunch
The best lunch in Bergen on a sunny day (or a rainy one if you’ve given up) is at the harbor market. A salmon and shrimp sandwich and fresh fruit from the stalls make an inexpensive, healthy meal in a country noted for the high cost of food and more emphasis on meat and bread than on fruits and vegetables. Todd Nichol says you can travel the whole United States and never find a strawberry as flavorful as Norwegian strawberries. Having sampled, I agree.

Troldhaugen: Grieg’s Home and Cottage
Besides time and Internet access, the biggest challenge to blogging is conveying aural and visual experience in words. You can’t capture the grandeur of fjord and mountains even in photos much less in words. How then to convey the quality of the artistic experiences of June 11?

The seminar at The Grieg Academy would have been a day’s worth of highlight. There was more to come. The three Study Travel groups traveled to Troldhaugen, Edvard and Nina Grieg’s home in the outskirts of Bergen.

In keeping with his interest in folk music, Grieg incorporated peasant elements, such as wood-plank walls.

Photos of his buddies and heroes, such as Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mozart, adorn a corner wall. Family portraits show the composer and his wife as people from not so long ago. The most compelling portrait of Grieg is unfinished. Grieg fired the artist, probably because the portrait came too close to the truth. In it, Grieg’s very handsome face shows signs of the illness that plagued him. On the other hand, he dedicated a piece to the artist who truly captured Nina's spirit in his portrait.

If Ole Bull’s home on Lysøen (The Isle of Light) is a shrine to himself and testimony to his world travels as the pop star of his day, Grieg’s is more understated. Nonetheless it’s grand enough to convey the stature of the composer who still overshadows all others from Norway.

Below the crest of hill on which the house sits is Grieg’s cottage. His desk faces a picture window that peers through pines to the fjord. It reminds me of Churchill’s cottage on the grounds of Chartwell and Dickens’ writing room overlooking the sea at Margate. Professors Charles Forsberg and John Ferguson, both gifted composers and arrangers, commented they would write more and be more famous if they had a place like that!

St. Olaf Recital at Troldhaugen
A small concert hall at Troldhaugen was the venue for a faculty recital and lecture demonstration. All seats sweep down to the focal point: a grand piano in front of the floor-to-ceiling window that serves as the backdrop for all performances.

Study Travelers, having seen the faculty leaders as teachers, now heard them as performers. They were wowed. Charles Forsberg played several of Grieg’s “Lyric Pieces” for piano and accompanied Dan solo and Dan and Margaret in duet. Margaret demonstrated a traditional style of folk singing, unadorned by vibrato.

We sang Norwegian songs and learned their background. We’re here in the perpetual light of midsummer. Yet darkness and longing comes through in many songs, the consequence of long weeks at sea, summers spent alone tending sheep, winter darkness, and the isolation of people who lived short, hard lives, never leaving the valleys in which they were born.

Valhalla sang a customized version of “Um! Yah! Yah!” about their Study Travel experience and the students’ concerts. Not to be outdone, Fram! Fram! has their response ready: “Beautiful Norway” set to the tune of “Beautiful Savior.” They debuted it on the bus and John Ferguson provided an instant "scholarly" review.

Bergen Concert: “A Happy Encounter with Strong American Ideals”
After dinner (and for the Viking group an uproarious final exam), we entered Grieghallen’s hall. Used by the Bergen Philharmonic and other orchestras, the acoustics naturally served the St. Olaf Orchestra best.

Seeing the red acoustical and decorative ceiling, John Ferguson speculated that the Lego company was a major donor. The hall is modern, yet feels close and intimate with the first row of seats on the stage floor.

The Study Travelers plus Oles in town for the occasion sat front and center. Sure, we started the standing ovations, but applausen å dømme (thunderous applause) came from the whole hall.

Excerpts from the June 12 Bergens Tidene review convey the success:
"Happy encounter with strong American ideals: Impressions of Norwegian culture, but something more, too

"The band, orchestra and choir have definitively appropriated Norwegian repertoire and interpretive practice; and at the same time the ensembles have fascinating additional qualities. St. Olaf College uses large forces, something that gives the sound fullness and breadth. Here at home we are not always faithful to such an ideal.

"Another asset is the directors’ definite artistic leadership. They are highly competent people who don’t just lead, but rather communicate in a truly effective and appealing manner. In so doing, they lift the amateurs’ performances at times up to a professional level. A third factor is the blending of respect for their Norwegian origins with the will to still make their own artistic choices. Because of that, Norwegian music doesn’t harden into hackneyed interpretation, but rather gives an impression of something more. This was a concert both to reflect upon and to delight in."

Celebrating with Ice Cream
On the walk back to the hotel, a small crowd of Study Travelers gathered impromptu at Bon Appetit, an ice cream and burgers place doing brisk business at 11 p.m., as were bars and restaurants. We’re a pretty wholesome lot, celebrating the splendors of music, camaraderie and midsummer nights with ice cream.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Bergen, Touching Choir, Composers…

June 9

Yesterday the third Study Travel group, “Fram! Fram! Fjords and Fortunes,” arrived in Oslo, led by professors John Ferguson and Todd Nichol. The full contingent of musicians and Study Travelers in Norway numbers 325.

The St. Olaf Band, Choir and Orchestra arrived in Bergen this afternoon for a couple well-earned days off before the big joint concert at Grieghallen.

The Valhalla Study Travel group arrived in Bergen yesterday after a breath-taking drive through mountains and fjords. Margaret O’Leary introduced us to central Bergen with a brief walking tour, followed by Hotel Rosenkrantz’s lavish buffet dinner.

This morning Charles Forsberg gave his third lecture on composers and the influences upon them (journeys, place, conflicts and tension, assimilation, and texts). To illustrate, he used the Shostakovitch, Barber, Bernstein, Grieg and Gershwin works the orchestra plays and the Frank Martin Sanctus the choir sings on this tour. It was an enlightening music history lesson, glimpse into composers’ lives, and preparation for the Bergen concert all in one. Best of all, musicians and non-musicians alike soaked up knowledge and insight from one of St. Olaf’s stellar faculty performers and composers.

Afterwards, we trooped out of the comfortable meeting room for a two-hour walking tour in the rain. Guide Målfrid Krohn Sletten, a fifth-generation descendent of German immigrants, held our attention with tales of trade, immigration, fire, buildings, gardens, churches and quirky urban development – while we held our umbrellas.

Later, some of us were warming up in the hotel lounge, baking waffles (vafler) and making tea, when the Viking group arrived from Stavanger. The night before, they’d sat close enough to touch St. Olaf Choir members during a concert in the Domkirken. They raved about sitting virtually between Anton Armstrong and the choir, experiencing both the immediacy of the singing and the return of the sound from the back of the cathedral.

In an earlier blog entry, I wrote of “strangers for all of five minutes” and the characteristic warmth of Study Travelers. Today I could see in the Viking group, with which I started in Oslo, the continued development of esprit de corps full of humor and born of shared adventures.

A few minutes after arriving at Hotel Rosenkrantz, Edyth, so quiet at the beginning in Oslo, was entertaining everyone (German tourists included) with Norwegian, American and St. Olaf songs on the piano.

Others joined Margaret O’Leary and me in the lounge. Some Viking members were writing questions for their final exam. About the content of the lectures, I asked? No, about who stole the Kleenex, and other group tales.

These two Study Travel groups, together just ten and eight days each, are already planning reunions. Tonight a bunch of them are sprawled out in the sixth floor lounge, laughing it up and “studying” for their finals.

Dan Dressen, Solveig Zempel, Le Ann Finger, Margaret O'Leary and I had an unofficial welcome-to-Bergen party for President Chris Thomforde tonight. He arrived today, joining in the energy and positive buzz created by Study Travelers and the students.

It’s not all levity. Study Travelers watch out for each other, whether it’s those who walk more slowly than the others or a purse left behind in a lecture hall.

I was ill with food poisoning in Lillehammer. Coincidentally, I switched from staffing Viking to Valhalla. When the Viking group arrived today in Bergen, I learned that some had been very concerned when I “disappeared.” They thought I was so ill that I had stayed behind alone in the hotel. Thank goodness I hadn’t, because more time with such people is just what a doctor would order.

National Romanticism, Lillehammer-Voss

June 7
Lillehammer to Voss

One needs only a window to be captivated while traveling from Lillehammer — located on Norway’s longest lake — to Voss, with snow-capped mountains top lit by the sun and reflected in glass-clear water.

But Study Travel is about more than the sights. It’s about learning in context. Where better, then, for Margaret O’Leary to present a seminar on Norwegian National Romanticism as we rode through the very landscape that movement celebrated.

Norway has a strong streak of nationalism, fueled by centuries of rule by other nations: Denmark, Sweden, Germany. Throughout the 1800’s, Norwegians focused on defining themselves as Norwegian. This led to the Norwegian National Romanticism, which portrays nature as pure and untainted. The culture of the remote rural countryside is considered unspoiled. Paintings depict enormous natural landscapes with small people: clean, healthy and wearing bunads. It’s hardly a realistic picture: bunads are for special occasions, and many rural people were hungry and poor.

National Romantic composers drew inspiration from folk music, especially for voice and violin. Rosemaling became popular.

Asbjørnson and Moe, inspired by the Brothers Grimm, collected folk tales previously passed from generation to generation. They maintained the tales while standardizing the language.

Danish had been the language of power and education. Two approaches emerged in response to the strong desire for a Norwegian language. Bokmål, which we study at St. Olaf, was developed by “Norwegianizing” Danish. Linguist Ivar Åsen collected samples of dialect and developed Nynorsk (literally new Norwegian), which 15% of school children today use as their first language. Both Bokmål and Nynorsk are official languages. Norwegians learn to write both, but most speak regional dialects.

In any language or period, the sources of inspiration — whether of art or awe — are justifiably legendary in Norway.

Aftenposten on the Anniversary

June 8

Aftenposten’s Kultur section profiled three young Norwegian soloists who perform on a new double CD from SIMAX: “Våre fem store” (Our Five Greats).

Who have the creators of the CD deemed Norway’s five greats? Edvard Grieg, Johan Svendsen, Johan Halvorsen, Harald Sæverud and Geirr Tveit. For background, see my blog about Dan Dressen’s lecture on Norwegian composers.

Performers are the Oslo Filharmoniske Orkester with conductor Michael Jurowski and soloists. Norge 2005, the organization that planned the country’s centennial, supported the CD project financially. Program chief Anders Ringen said, “Music was part of the nation-building around 1905, so it was completely natural and important to contribute to this project.”

The front page of the Kultur section carries a photo of a princess on stilts, part of Oslo’s entertainment during the June 7 festivities. Inside, an editorial notes that Stortinget (Parliament) and the king stood at the center of the dissolution of the union in 1905, and appropriately did so again during the centennial ceremonies.

Spontaneous applause greeted King Harald and his family along the way from the palace to Parliament, evidence of the people’s good wishes for the monarch after operations and illness.

Lofty words and sentiment seemed to carry the day:

“Today Norway and Sweden are considerably more important to each other economically than the two lands sometimes were for each other before 1905.”

“We are more alike, for good or ill – than some others in our region.”

So as not to insult the Swedes, the Norwegians have taken care to “mark” the anniversary of the dissolution of the union, rather than “celebrate” it. So, the front-page photo of a jubilant footballer and this quotation made me laugh: “We put the Swedes in their place.”

THE 100th Anniversary Day

June 7, 2005
Voss, Kristiansand, Lillehammer, Oslo

On 7. juni 1905 Norwegians achieved full independence. They’d long been on the path, completing a constitution in 1814 and establishing a parliament in 1884. Complex negotiations in 1905 averted war and led to the peaceful dissolution of the union with Sweden. Norway could now conduct its own foreign policy, the mark of a full independent nation.

Oslo Kicks Off with Song
On June 7, 2005, the day’s festivities started early in Oslo, 6-ish, with a men’s chorus singing outdoors in early sunshine, overlooking the Domkirken. The daylong partying in Oslo included an Oslo-Fjord-side concert with thousands of people jamming the otherwise wide open plaza.

Cannons and the St. Olaf Choir
The Viking Study Travel group traveled to Kristiansand, where the St. Olaf Choir was part of that south coast city’s ceremonies. The St. Olaf Choir sang during a lunchtime ceremony — after a 21-cannon salute shook the ground and the air, and a lone cannon shot replied from the fortress.

Live Radio from Norway via Mobile Phone
While the Valhalla Study Travel group took the scenic Flåm Railway, I stayed with the coach so I could do an interview with Minnesota Public Radio. Mobile phone service in Norway is remarkable. At 1:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m. CST), deep in fjord country and surrounded by towering mountains, I talked with morning show host Kathy Wurzer in St. Paul about Norway’s centennial, the student groups’ performances and Study Travel as if we were next door.

St. Olaf Band and Orchestra Help Voss Mark the Centennial
The St. Olaf Band and Orchestra were major parts of Voss’s ceremonies. The band played in a new amphitheater on the ground where St. Olav brought Christianity to Voss in the 11th century.

Nowadays the ground is a football (soccer) pitch. Each year, Voss hosts a tournament that draws 5,000 young footballers and their families. The winners receive the Voss Cup, a hand-carved wooden bowl on a stand. On this occasion conductor Tim Mahr received a Voss Cup from city officials grateful for the band’s concert on that hallowed ground.

Cold and Rainy Band Concerts in Voss and Lillehammer
It’s not likely the band members were thinking of either history or football as they played for 600-some people at lunchtime. Troopers that they are, they endured cold, windy conditions. Music flew off their stands into the fields, and clarinetists and oboists worried about instruments cracking.

This is a game lot. During their afternoon concert in Lillehammer on June 5, rain reigned. The next day’s regional daily newspaper carried a story describing the St. Olaf Band as the main attraction during an afternoon chockablock with band concerts.

The article notes that after thunderous applause many of the listeners wanted to hear more at that evening’s indoor band and orchestra concert at Maihaugen. The photo shows Tim Mahr smiling and conducting band members obscured by umbrellas. The caption reads: “Director Timothy Mahr and the St. Olaf College Band didn’t let themselves be stopped by the rainy weather, and served the public band music at its best.”

Valhalla Through the Vales
In Voss on June 7, the St. Olaf Orchestra played indoors to an audience that included the Valhalla group. Our travel day had been stunning: switchback roads over mountaintops, tunnels up to 24 kilometers long, spring flowers growing right side up and sideways, miles-long waterfalls pelting down mountainsides, and fjords — some frozen, most glassy and still.

I recalled guest speaker Ole O. Moen’s question and answer: “Why would anyone leave such a beautiful land?” “Hunger.”

Orchestra Snug, Dry and Bilingual
At the Voss Kino (movie theater) the orchestra’s challenges were a small stage and dry acoustics – so different from the nearly three-second reverberation in Hamar Domkirken. Nonetheless, the students played their hearts out. After Shostakovitch’s "Festive Overture" and Tchaikovsky’s "Romeo and Juliet," they yielded the stage to local ceremonies that included the mayor and young local musicians.

Voss is not a large town, but the talent pool is rich, including one of Norway’s best young singers of traditional folk songs and a leading Hardanger fiddle player. A 15-year-old trumpet player opened with "Våren" by Grieg. Every wind player could envy this slight youth’s lung capacity. Where most would have to breathe, he just kept going, making long, smooth phrases.

Two local girls dressed in bunads gave bilingual introductions. During the St. Olaf orchestra and band concerts, pairs of St. Olaf students give brief program notes in Norwegian. (The program is printed in English.) Three of the four students were in Norwegian classes with me at St. Olaf. Their professors can be proud.

Steve Amundson, whose ancestors all came from Norway, amuses the crowd with his short speech in Norwegian.

St. Olaf’s Andrea Een, wearing her St. Olaf medal, played two movements of Peter Hamlin’s concerto for Hardanger fiddle and orchestra, demonstrating the continuance of Hardanger fiddle playing in America and its use by a contemporary American composer.

Stars and Stripes Front and Center in Norway
Norwegian flags flanked the small theater stage, and a worn 44-star United States flag hung front and center above the musicians. During the mayor’s speech we learned that in 1893 Norwegian emigrants had sent the flag to Voss from America to encourage the Norwegians in their work towards independence.

Voss went all out to make the St. Olaf Band and Orchestra major parts of their big day. At concert’s end, the mayor presented for the St. Olaf music department an exquisite, hand-carved and stained fjord horse by a local artist. Look for this beautiful work the next time you’re in Christiansen Hall of Music at St. Olaf.

We had heard from guest speaker Ole Moen how strong and deep the ties are between Norway and the United States. On June 7, we saw and heard musical and personal manifestations of those ties.

Norwegian and American Friendship

June 6, Lillehammer
A snippet of June 2 in Oslo

Professor Ole O. Moen said he’d speak for 45 minutes. An hour and a half later, the Valhalla Study Travel group wasn’t ready to let him go.

This blog entry was going to be short. It isn’t. Some of the content seems blunt, but the manner in which Ole Moen delivered it epitomized a cherished friendship in which honesty is possible without offense. And Jon Roar Bjørkvold’s comment at the end is a beacon of optimism.

Moen is associate professor of American civilization at the Institute for British and American Studies at the University of Oslo in Blindern. He is a leader of the European Association for American Studies and the Nordic Association for American Studies. There’s a lot more to his credentials, but, in summary, he knows a good deal more about America than most of us do.

He opened his lecture on the relationship between Norway and the United States with Norwegian emigration. Two push factors were growing hunger as the Norwegian population burgeoned and farms shrank and “a Teutonic hunger for land.” Pull factors included 1) the American dream, 2) letters from America that sometimes included paid tickets, 3) waves of economic opportunities and the need for labor, and 4) democratic ideals.

Moen named shared values that connected Norway and America during waves of immigration, as they do today:
· Strong-willed, independent people, who desire freedom
· Self righteousness
· Self complacence
· Self conceit.

Differences he pointed out include Norwegian Janteloven. The opposite of the American attitude that you’re as good as anyone else, Janteloven is about modesty (sometimes false), envying those who are doing better than you are, and not speaking up unless you have something to say. Moen has taught American and Norwegian students in the States and Norway. American students speak up (“the perfect right to be an idiot”), whereas it’s hard to get Norwegian students to speak their minds.

Many factors have kept Norwegian-American relations strong:
* The America letters
* Music traditions at American colleges founded by Norwegian immigrants
* Museums such as Vesterheim in Iowa, which Moen calls one of the best ethnic museums in the world
* Pride in American brethren, including Thorstein Veblen, though the importance of his economic theory is overlooked because of his personal lifestyle
* Post-WWII Marshall Aid for European Recovery Program
* Norway’s spearheading and headquartering of NATO in its early years
* Norwegian Trygve Lie’s service as the first United Nations secretary. Chosen in part because he was acceptable to the United States, he had to step down because the Russians thought he was too pro-American.

From Moen’s perspective, how do Americans look at Norway? "American brainwashing" that "America is best" leads to lack of respect for and curiosity about other cultures — an inability to understand that people might actually prefer their own countries to America.

Moen received two Fulbright Scholarships. Senator Fulbright called it a “devastating proposition” that if things are different from what we are used to, they must be inferior. That’s why Fulbright Scholarships are long enough for participants to learn the language and culture well.

(Two of St. Olaf’s four recipients of Fulbright Scholarships this year are Norwegian majors who will study in Norway. St. Olaf requires all students to take three or four semesters of a foreign language, and two-thirds of the students study abroad. Kudos!)

Moen posits that Americans’ fear of foreign languages and ethnic organizations is fear of fragmentation, of falling apart. This is part of super-nationalism that puts shared, overarching values above ethnicity.

Super-nationalism is a source of America’s success, but unchecked it can take a bad turn. Moen cited examples: the McCarthy era, the post-9/11 period, and conformity (the tyranny of the majority).

What about the current relationship?

As a small country, Norway is dependent upon the world community. England intervened to endorse the Norwegian constitution in 1814 and independence in 1905 because F. Nansen had friends in England. England (and the U.S.) also saved Norway during WWII.

Small countries must rely on laws, and they need institutions such as the United Nations. When a country becomes powerful, it doesn’t have to rely on law. During the Cold War, Soviet power kept U.S. power in check. Most empires need a check on arrogance and power. Moen asked us to consider the fates of the Roman and British empires.

He opined that if Norway had as much power as the U.S. does, they wouldn’t do nearly as well with it.

Moen is concerned about the present level of anti-Americanism in Europe, which is really anti-Bush-ism. We are experiencing no anti-Americanism. Europeans, like others around the world, are able to distinguish between a people and the actions of their government.

Aftenposten, a right-of-center newspaper, came out against the U.S. war in Iraq. Within NATO, Norway is sometimes considered too eager to please the U.S. — a lackey. Yet, the Netherlands and Norway are the most critical (70 to 80%) of the present U.S. administration.

For 30 years, Moen has been doing commentary on America for Norwegian media. He was on television for 28 days straight after September 11, 2001, when the outpouring of sympathy was tremendous. It is Bush’s virtual unilateralism in Iraq that has offended European allies, especially France and Germany.

Present grievances against the U.S. include not signing the Kyoto Accords, the land mine treaty and the law of the seas, plus insisting on exemption from the International Tribunal. Moen compared these grievances to those Thomas Jefferson listed against England. They mean we look at things differently, mainly because of size.

During television interviews, Moen has said of allies’ criticism of U.S. policies, “If you have a good friend who goes astray, you tell him.”

Moen was honest with Study Travelers. His deep knowledge and long personal relationship with America and Americans made his forthrightness feel to me like friend talking to cherished friend with care and concern.

In Oslo, musicologist and author Jon Roar Bjørkvold spoke to the Viking group about the power of music. He was choked up much of the time, as were many of us.

He, too, noted Norwegian concern about America’s direction, saying, “We love America. We don’t want to lose America.” Of the St Olaf Band, Choir and Orchestra at Oslo Konserthuset, he said, “THIS is the America we love.”

Pride and Prejudice in Music

June 4, 2005

For his opening lecture, Dan Dressen, professor of music, introduced Viking Study Travelers to Norwegian composers not known well outside Norway. To the group’s credit, we named several composers other than Grieg.

Employing what he has learned from his own study and performance of Norwegian music, Dan is developing a pan-Nordic library of song at St. Olaf. As Dan played excerpts, I scribbled stars next to titles of pieces I can’t wait to recommend to repertoire committees so I get to play them and more Minnesotan get to hear them.

In preparation for this lecture, Study Travelers had read “Pride and Prejudice,” an article about composers who were the equals of the major, known composers, but who are still little known outside (and even inside) the Nordic countries.

Here’s Dan’s list, and a few notes, that you can use to discover some of these gems for yourself. In some cases, it may be hard to find recordings through commercial outlets. Given Dan’s growing resource of Nordic music at St. Olaf, he’s just the person to contact for help!

Farten Valen, 1887-1952. A recluse, Valen’s genius has been overlooked as one of the first neo-romantics. He is known for fugues that, in perfect counterpoint, allowed the dissonances for which Bach adjusted.

Ludvig Irgens-Jensen, 1884-1965. The excerpt Dan played from “The Drovers” suite was one I checked for “must play someday!” Irgens-Jensen was a neo-classicist, who like Bartok and Stravinsky, fought the “beast of Romanticism.”

Harald Sæverud, 1897-1992. Dan calls Sæverud the most distinctive composer since Grieg. The creator of nine symphonies, he “played” with tonality. The St. Olaf Orchestra has been performing one movement, "Five Hop Dance," of Sæverud’s non-romanticized setting of Peer Gynt (Op. 28, No. 1). Both orchestra and audience are having a good time with the angular energy of this witty piece. Gotta get this suite on my music stand soon…

David Monrud Johansen, 1888-1974

Eivind Groven

Geirr Tveit, 1908-1981

Pauline Hull, 1890-1969. A cultural tour de force, Hull was in her day the grande dame of Norwegian artistic society. She wrote neo-classical music – and devastatingly honest reviews of fellow musicians’ performances.

Alf Hurumb, 1882-1972, and Bjarre Brustad, 1895-1978. Neo-classical

Knut Nystedt, 1915. One of the greats of choral and church music, Nystedt’s works often appear on St. Olaf Choir programs. "Be Not Afraid" is soothing many a soul as part of the choir’s program in Norway. The choir has also been winning hearts with "Norge, mitt Norge" (Norway, my Norway) by Alfred Paulsen in a Ken Jennings arrangement, and drawing delighted laughter with their spunky performance of "Pål på haugen" (Paul on the Hill) arranged by choir alumnus Bradley Ellingboe.

Egil Hovland, 1921. The St. Olaf Band is playing Hovland’s 1966 "Fanfare og koral" on tour. In 1977, trombonist and now conductor Timothy Mahr and I played this as students under the direction of Norwegian guest conductor Odd Lysebo, who has helped with this and other St. Olaf tours. To boot, at least three Study Travelers, plus the band’s present manager, were members of the St. Olaf Band during the 1966 tour of Norway – which also included "Fanfare og koral." Music and Norway and St. Olaf connect many of us across time.

Arne Nordheim, 1931. The recording of his violin music, performed by Peder Herresthal, won Norway’s equivalent of the Grammy Award.

Pat-Olin Thommason, 1946, won the Nordic Prize in the 1990’s and, according to Dan, is Norway’s most important composer today. Thommason considers all sounds available in the palette of music, especially in today’s culture of random access to any and all things.

Dan summarized by saying that in the diaspora of Norwegian-Americans in the Midwest the view of Norway is about a century old. He set out to debunk the myth that Norwegian music is Grieg and to show that the Norwegian musical palette is much broader and very modern in use of techniques and cultural perspective. He succeeded!

Viking Study Travelers will hear the Norwegian works the band, choir and orchestra are performing with greater understanding of their cultural context and importance beyond Norway.

Norwegian Literary Giants

May 31, 2005

It takes a good storyteller and brave teacher to present the opening lecture to a group of jetlagged Study Travelers on the day they arrive. Solveig Zempel, professor of Norwegian, was up to the task, and the Viking Study Travelers were remarkably alert.

Except for Norwegian language classes, I rarely see my colleagues teach. It was a treat to hear Solveig’s tale of Norwegian writers who have had — and are having — an effect outside Norway.

She summarized a core objective of this Study Travel program: to challenge some of the preconceived notions from the Norwegian Diaspora and to fill in details of our knowledge about Norway.

Three Norwegian writers who have stood the test of time are Henrik Ibsen, Knut Hamsen and Sigrid Undset. Solveig said it takes two things for a writer to make it big outside Norway: a good translation and getting noticed.

Henrik Ibsen (1828 Skeien-1906 Oslo) scored on both counts. He is considered the father of modern drama, and the frequency of his works being performed is second only to those of Shakespeare. He developed the retrospective technique, and his work often focused on outward reality – with celebrated attention to staging detail, visuals and atmosphere.

Estranged from Norway, Ibsen lived much of his life in Italy and Germany. He continued to write about Norway, and he returned late in life. George Bernard Shaw made him known to English audiences. James Joyce was a fan, and Wittgenstein learned Norwegian just so he could read Ibsen.

Knut Hamsen’s breakthrough novel Hunger, which literally saved the author from hunger, is considered one of the 20th century’s most influential novels. Pre-Kafke, Hamsen reflected inner reality and wrote of angst and madness. Bertholt Brecht and Thomas Mann were among his admirers. Because he supported the Nazis, Norwegians don’t recognize him as they otherwise would. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920.

Sigrid Undset is best known for Kristin Lavransdatter — modern writing about medieval times. Solveig recommends the translation by Tina Noneley (Penguin Classics). The recipient of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1928, Undset wrote 36 books. Her subjects include dualities such as men and women, guilt and responsibility, duty and love.

Her mother was Danish. Her Norwegian father died when she was 11. Undset married a divorced man from whom she separated when she converted to Catholicism.

An outspoken opponent of the Nazis, she fled to live to the United States when the Nazis occupied Norway in 1940. Her home in Lillehammer was a stop on the city tour for the Viking and Valhalla Study Travel groups. From guide Mia Langemyr we learned that Germans occupied Undset’s house in Lillehammer and destroyed part of the interior.

In 1945, she returned to Norway, disillusioned. Her son had died in 1940, and she’d lost her daughter and mother.

Since the recent death of her daughter-in-law, a newly found manuscript has been published. Twelve Years stops in mid-sentence, where Undset left off.

Hot Writers Today
Solveig alerted us to today’s hot writers who might stand the test of time. My apologies for misspelled names; I was taking notes as fast as I could.

Jostein Gårder (1952), a high school philosophy teacher, took the literary (and film) world by storm with Sofies verden (Sofie’s World), which traces a young woman’s thoughts about philosophers. Twenty-six million books are in print in 53 languages. Gårder also writes novels (including Solitary Mystery), short stories and children’s books.

Lynn Ullmann is a journalist who has written three novels about families, death and redemption.

Erlend Loe is a young author well known to students of Norwegian at St. Olaf. His use of everyday language, subject matter of personal struggle, and wry humor connect well with college students. It’s a great learning tool and confidence booster for foreign language students to be able to comprehend and discuss contemporary literature. Look for his works in translation, too. A few of his works: Fakta om Finnland, Tatt av kvinnen, Naiv.Super and Kurt Quo Vadis.

More Glimpses of Contemporary Norway
Reading the literature of a country is a great way to gain insight into a culture. Here are more authors Solveig recommends to give you access to the voices of contemporary Norway:

Joen Foss, a literary heir to Samuel Beckett and Harold Printer. His works have been translated in to 35 languages.

Jan Shasta, author of novels and short stories about modern life and interdependency
Lars Sovik Kristiansen, author of The Half Brother, a generational novel

Erik Fosness Hansen

Mette-Louise (yes, the Norwegian princess), whose book Why the Royals Don’t Wear Crowns is beautifully illustrated by Sven Nyhus. It's available from the St. Olaf Bookstore. as are many of the other books listed here.

Tatt av kvinnen by Erlend Loe is in my book bag on this trip. If you’re reading this blog, I think you, too, will enjoy some of the Norwegian writers Solveig introduced or re-introduced to Study Travelers.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Strangers for All of Five Minutes

June 1-4

Study Travelers are a remarkable lot, regardless of program destination or subject matter. From the time the group meets, everyone’s “in” with these welcoming, easy-going folks. It matters not whether you went to St. Olaf, sent your children there, or signed up because of an ad. You can sit down with anyone and be part of amazing tales of travel and full lives, or stimulating follow-up conversations to the lectures and guided site visits.

For example, during the dinner at Terra Restaurant before the Oslo concert, I learned about a Texas couple’s two-and-a-half year assignment in Paris. David had trained Algerians to operate and repair a gas plant, while Mitzi took intensive French lessons.

Their companion, Sid, is minister of music at a large United Methodist church in Texas. The freelance orchestra he hires has performed two of St. Olaf Orchestra conductor Steve Amundson’s pieces. The St. Olaf Choir will perform at that 1,800-seat church on tour in 2006.

Sid wants Steve’s next composition hot off the press. He offered to sponsor the orchestra anytime, and he means it.

Last night, June 3, in Lillehammer, our table swapped tales of funny and peculiar travel experiences. Our Norwegian bus driver, Magne, joined in, and I interpreted. When a new road from Oslo to Sweden cut his farm land in two, he gave up farming in favor of driving coaches all over Europe.

Today, June 4, over an exquisite salmon lunch, a cluster of us discussed the universality of singing, language and early instruments, music teaching techniques, and the similarities and differences of singing and playing instruments.

You couldn’t ask for better companions than a group drawn together by travel and learning!

Asking Advice, Kissing the Frog

June 1, Oslo

In “Journeys for Mind, Body and Spirit” (; click Study Travel), I wrote about ways to get the most out of travel, including using personal contacts and asking local people’s advice. That paid off in Oslo. After the seminar by Per Egil Hegge, professors Solveig Zempel and Dan Dressen were off to meet a Norwegian couple for lunch. They invited me along.

When we asked the Norwegians for a recommendation, they chose a restaurant I’d walked by and rejected numerous times because it looks like a tourist trap done up to seem old and authentic. In fact, it IS old and authentic, and we shared a lovely meal of traditional smørbrød in the sunny outdoor courtyard.

The husband is a musicologist who specializes in jazz and composition at the University of Tromsø. His wife just completed her doctorate in pedagogy. They’d flown in to hear the band, choir and orchestra in Oslo. We talked about music, education, travel, life and the St. Olaf students who will study at the University of Tromsønext year.

Kiss What?
We accepted their invitation to tag along to the Kyss Frosken (Kiss the Frog) exhibit at the National Gallery, something else we would have missed without a local recommendation.

The “frog” is a winding, green plastic tube that fills the back courtyard of the National Gallery. It’s as contemporary as the gallery building is traditional.

The exhibits in the frog are intriguing: edgy videos, a spooky diorama of crows, a giant papier-maché frog. The Super Loo’s at the entrance made me smile: one each in French red, white and blue. A sign topped each one: Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité. Public toilets as ironic art?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Speaking of Norway: Per Egil Hegge

June 1, 2005 -- Oslo

It seemed like a simple assignment to write a blog each day or so. But what to do and write when each day, so full and long in the summer light, flies by?

Take June 1 for example. The Study Travel group with the theme "Viking: Seafarers and Settlers" started the day with a two-hour coach tour of Oslo, expanding upon the previous day’s walking tour.

Per Egil Hegge, the morning’s guest speaker, and I awaited the group’s arrival at Folkets Hus (the People’s House) for Hegge’s lecture, “A Coup d’Etat by Means of a Subordinate Clause.”

I’d met Mr. Hegge in Oslo in October 2003 when I was scouting for the three Study Travel programs now underway. Everyone in Norway knows this recently retired editor of Aftenposten, Norway’s major daily newspaper. He was twice a foreign correspondent in Washington, D.C., and once each in Moscow and London. After just a short time in Moscow, the Soviets banished him in 1971. I’d asked him in 2003, “What did you do? Tell the truth?” He replied, “They didn’t think so.”

Hegge has written books on Soviet and American politics, the 1905 dissolution of the union with Sweden (Det var i 1905), the Norwegian medical profession (a critique called Og så må du ikke stille spørsmal (And So You May Not Ask Questions)), and Norwegian grammar and punctuation. Imagine this: he writes a popular column on grammar and language use. People now approach him in restaurants and on the street to debate fine points with him, as often and passionately as they did when he was writing political commentary.

In an article I wrote for the St. Olaf magazine's Norway issue, “Oslo, City of Light,” I called Hegge "quick-witted in multiple languages." His lecture for Study Travelers exemplified his prowess. He both educated and entertained with the inside story of the personalities and politics surrounding Norway’s break out of the union with Sweden. Names and dates and legalities became personalities and human tales. For example, one of the players was Sigurd Ibsen, son of Henrik, who was sent to Stockholm as Norwegian prime minister to Sweden. Like his father, he had no social graces — a most undiplomatic diplomat. Particularly adept at telling baudy jokes to entertain the King, it was his wife who eased social and political situations.

In Hegge’s telling of the tale, King Oskar II became a person rather than a portrait. For all the constitutional, legal maneuvering that went into Norway’s attempted declaration of independence, it was personal insult that caused a crisis along the way.

As the ruler of Sweden and Norway, the Swedish king had studied Norwegian, spoke and wrote it well, and had worked to understand and appreciate Norwegian culture. He took personal offense at the Norwegians’ attempt to break with Sweden. In addition to keeping Swedish and Norwegian military forces from firing a first shot, diplomats had to patch things up personally with the King, who later gave a heartfelt and gracious abdication speech. Of course, that’s just one excerpt from the complex tale.

So as not to insult the Swedes, this year the Norwegians are “marking” the anniversary of the dissolution of the union with Sweden, rather than “celebrating” it. Per Egil Hegge told us there IS reason to celebrate, namely that the dissolution did not result in war — a first in world history.

Today the Norwegians and Swedes are on the best of terms, telling jokes on each other much as Minnesotans and Iowans do. Hegge asked us to imagine what it would still be like today if these close neighbors had gone to war in 1905.

Heavens, I’ve only gotten to noon on June 1! More later on outdoor dining, Kiss the Frog, hearing the band, choir and orchestra in Oslo Konserthuset, famous and overlooked Norwegian writers and composers, and publicly emotive Norwegians.

Ha det hyggelig.

Oslo and the Concert


Concert Preparations in Oslo
Dan Dressen (Study Travel co-leader and music department chair) and I stopped by Oslo Konserthuset in the afternoon. Those students not rehearsing were doing their crew jobs or listening in the hall. One bassoonist was light-headed. After the airline’s mishandling of her French horn, an orchestra member and the manager were off to a repair shop to get the bell back in shape so she could assemble her horn for the concert. All was well, and remarkable aplomb reigned.

Oles Open in Oslo
Jet lag is irrelevant when performance adrenaline flows. Sure, I was excited to hear the band, choir and orchestra in Oslo's major concert hall. I felt a burst of pride seeing first-year student Tim Rehborg, my former clarinet student, on stage. Imagine what the parents in the audience felt!

It was touchingly decorous when all rose for the Queen’s entrance (and every departure and entrance thereafter). She was flanked by St. Olaf representatives Lois Rand and Jan McDaniel and three security staff. Trendy haircut aside, the woman in the security trio was a compact bundle of don’t-mess-with-me.

It’s their tradition, but it took the audience by surprise when the band opened with national anthems “Ja, vi elsker” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The singing was lusty, despite choked throats. Tears rolled down the Queen’s cheeks, mine, and others, Norwegian and American alike.

Once off and playing, the three ensembles grabbed the audience and never let go, captivating us with their musical prowess and energy. Conductors Steve Amundson, Anton Armstrong and Tim Mahr are masters of the first order, and each appeared to be in a state of flow. They were the most beautiful of choreographers, their whole bodies dancing and their eyes inspiring the students to both fire and tenderness beyond their years.

In the end, it was the audience that didn’t want to let go. Queen Sonja was in my line of sight, her face lit by a smile through the whole concert.

Following Up
In Hamar on June 3 at rehearsal, Tim and Steve gave heartfelt thanks to the students for the opening concert. Tim told the band how complimentary the Queen had been about their performance and, choking on the words, said he’ll never forget what she said about his piece “Soaring Hawk.”

Steve had his own story of tears. Steve gets choked up pretty easily. His wife, Jane, never does. The orchestra’s performance of Barber's "Second Essay" in Hamar Domkirken brought Jane to tears; Steve knew he and the orchestra had accomplished something great.

Are We All Wet?
Does this sound like a rather wet, weepy tour? Well, the weather, certainly. Mostly grey and from damp to outright wet. But the smiles and the excitement among the students and the Study Travelers are like the days and nights here: long and full of light. Where there is music and learning and discovery from dawn to midnight dusk, how could it be otherwise?

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Fresh Eyes

God dag fra Oslo.

A bit bleary, the Viking Study Travel group, led by professors Dan Dressen, music, and Solveig Zempel, Norwegian, arrived this morning in Oslo with the first wave of band and orchestra members accompanying us from Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Oslo.

I was seated next to Christine, a flute player from Vadnais Heights, Minn. A member of the St. Olaf Band, she's making her first trip outside North America.

Having started by working in France and Germany when I was 18, I never tire of immersing myself in other cultures. Each experience hooks me deeper. But, seated next to this wide-eyed, excited first-timer — holding herself back from shooting a whole roll of film from the airplane window — I gazed at the land, first green, then ice-flecked. Then the sea, then clouds, then the sunrise, then ships, then the unmistakable patchwork green of Europe. I looked away from my Norwegian novel and dictionary and felt again the rush of another adventure in culture and learning and life.

Christine's first trip abroad, with flute in hand. My 14th, or so, with clarinet in hand. She'll never forget her first. May she have so many that she, too, starts to lose track of the number, but never of the joy, the buzz, or the awestruck gratitude for the privilege.