Nordic music delivers ancestral messages

Nordic+music+delivers+ancestral+messages

Jackie Jahfetson

The sudden tap of the bow on Emilia Amper’s nyckelharpa
resonated a rich Nordic tone. The rhythm danced on the instrument as the Swedish folk musician
began to sway her body with the beat of a wooden box. Her soft voice echoed a folk tune
unknown to the English tongue. It lyriced a time of war and when hatred was the only way to
revolution. But the Nordic voice cried out a universal message for tolerance and peace. With simple little “oh’s” and “ah’s,”
Amper captured not only a musical curiosity but an interest in her heritage as well.

A crowd of Scandinavian
descendants and folk-music lovers gathered Saturday night at the Forest Roberts Theatre (FRT)
to hear Sweden’s most sought out folk musician, Emilia Amper. The star was joined by three other
musicians: fiddle player Erika
Risinger, cellist Anders Löfberg and percussionist Olle Linder. Hosted by Arts Midwest
Folkefest and the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center (BUPHC), the concert consisted of folk compositions, old and new, and kept the
audience foot-tapping throughout the night.

Each song entitled a story
involving devastating events such as World War I and personal
experiences like “Johanna’s Bike Ride,” where Amper’s friend got into a near-fatal
bicycle accident. Though the weight of these
stories appeared heavy and
melancholy, Amper delivered a harmonious performance. Other pieces were more light and inspirational such as her piece called “Spelpuma,” which was written to celebrate women
musicians and inspire women’s work nationally. One traditional Swedish folk tune involved Amper and her cellist Löfberg setting their instruments down and jumping onto center stage to showcase their Nordic dance moves while the other
musicians accompanied.

After two years of preparation, it’s difficult to explain what this tour means to a full-time
freelance musician, Amper said. Now that the group is finally here, the exposure to so many “beautiful” kids has been rewarding, Amper said, adding, it’s also
different than other tours.

“Very often [when] you’re on tour and you come to a new place [to] play a concert, you’re like, ‘Oh my God. This was
really nice.’ And then you have to leave again,” Amper said. “This is so nice that you can actually stay and feel at home and find your
favorite coffee spot or whatever. It’s really nice.”

Amper and her three accompanying musicians spent the week revealing their music to kids at different schools around the
Marquette area, such as Lakefield Elementary School. It’s been
a pleasure playing for children who have so much energy as audience members and it’s also nice to
perform for a mixed crowd,
she said.

Though all of Amper’s
music was written in Swedish, the
messages she delivered in
her performances were easily transcribed. For audience
members like Margo Rantanen of Ishpeming, you could feel the emotion behind the song and
Amper did “very well” at explaining the meaning behind each
of her songs. As a Finnish
descendant, Rantanen appreciated the history Amper included with her Swedish immigrant
composition, Rantanen said.

“I thought it was wonderful. I thank God for my grandson who invited me to come because
I would’ve missed this otherwise,” Rantanen said. “She was
awesome.”

Though it’s been a long road for the nyckelharpa world champion, she recalls the moment when she discovered the multi-faceted
instrument at 10 years old. Growing up in Småland—the southeast
part of Sweden—her parents didn’t have any musical background but young Amper was
always singing and in tune with music, she said. When her
teachers displayed different types
of instruments, she was immediately drawn to the nyckelharpa.
“It was just a lucky coincidence the fiddle teacher was a folk
musician and happened to play the nyckelharpa as well. She gave me the fiddle or nyckelharpa and I was like, ‘Ah. That one,’” Amper said. “I went home to my parents like, ‘I’m going to start playing nyckelharpa.’ And they were like, ‘That’s great honey. What is that?’ They had no idea but they
supported me so much.”

Since then, Amper went on
to music camps, studied music at the University in Trondheim and the Royal University College of Music in Stockholm where she received bachelor’s in musicology and Swedish folk music/nyckelharpa. It was during her first bachelor’s that she discovered her calling and has been a full-time freelance musician since 2011. She also has a Nordic master in folk music.

Her long list of influences from the surrounding Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Finland and Norway helped to craft her Nordic sound. Nordic folk music is very different from its counter opponent, Celtic music, she said. Many people consider the two
to be intertwined, and though they share similar elements,
Nordic folk is far different from Celtic, Amper said.
With 27 years of playing the nyckelharpa, Amper said there’s still so much she wants to
accomplish. Being an artist, the job
is never completed. There’s more emotional meaning to it
compared to other jobs where you have a set of things to
accomplish and you’re done. As a
musician, the work is closer to your
soul, she said, adding, it’s a
“constant development or journey” and it’s important to reflect from time to time.
“It’s kind of frustrating to be a musician because you’re like,
Ah. I just want to be a little bit better.

I just want to learn a little bit more.’ But when you are a
professional musician, you have to love that frustration because that
is what it is to be a professional musician,” she said, “I will die and go into my grave with the thought, ‘Oh no. I want to play one more song.’ That’s life. You’re never finished.”