Friday, June 10, 2005

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.

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