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Hardanger fiddle aficionado Andrea Een keeps a Norwegian folk tradition alive at St. Olaf

By Brent Larsen '02 and Amy Gage
May 3, 2002

Associate Professor of Music Andrea Een has been awarded the St. Olav's Medal, an award instituted by H.M. King Haakon VII on March 17, 1939, in recognition of those who promote knowledge about Norway abroad and close ties between emigrated Norwegians and the mother country.

Een plays classic Hardanger fiddle
Associate Professor of Music Andrea Een, a founding member of the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America, received the St. Olav's Medal on May 8, 2002.
Een, who has a special research interest in the Norwegian folk Hardangar fiddle, received the medal on May 8, 2002, in a ceremony presided by Norwegian Consul General Thor Johansen and his wife, Kerstin Starmark.

"It's a wonderful honor. I actually feel quite humbled by it," Een says. "The award comes from the Norwegian government and the king. It's an affirmation from Norway for their great love of the Hardangar fiddle and its powerful living folk tradition," she says.

As a founding member of the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America in 1983, Een has taught at a dozen of the group's annual workshops. At St. Olaf - which in 1979 became the only college in the United States to offer Hardanger fiddle lessons as part of the music curriculum - she has also led an Interim course to Norway that explored folk music and folklore, taught courses in ethnomusicology and taught an Elderhostel in world fiddle traditions.

A published poet and essayist, Een has won numerous honors, including the Ole Bull Award from the Ole Bull Academy in Voss, Norway, in 1987 and a designation as a Master Folk Artist Teacher by the Minnesota State Arts Board in 1998. She began composing pieces for the Hardanger fiddle in 1999. One of those, "President Thomforde's March," was performed for St. Olaf College President Christopher Thomforde during Inauguration Weekend in April 2000.

Een holds the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Violin Performance and Literature from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. She came to St. Olaf in 1977 to teach viola and violin. Soon after, however, she began to learn to play the Hardanger fiddle, whose sound had mesmerized her while she was completing her doctoral dissertation in Illinois about variants of Hardanger fiddle tunes.

"I was so excited to learn to play," Een recalls, "but I couldn't find anyone in the United States at that time to teach me." She developed mastery of the folk instrument through eight research trips to Norway - from her first visit in 1979, when she accompanied the St. Olaf Orchestra, to her most recent visit in 1999.

As the granddaughter of Norwegian immigrants, Een grew up in Mankato, Minn., learning the food traditions of her paternal grandparents' native land. "My grandmother was the bastion of the Norwegian lutefisk supper at her rural church," Een recalls. "She was a wonderful storyteller, and I remember some old stories about Norway."

In particular Een remembers a series of old photographs that relatives had sent to her grandparents after World War II. One showed a bridal procession with fiddlers playing in a cart led by horses. One of those men, Lars Skjervheim, would become one of her Hardanger teachers more than 30 years later.

When Een first heard music of the Hardanger fiddle, which has nine strings, it was the sound that captured her, not a desire to return to her familial roots. That came later, as she visited Norway and learned at the feet of the masters. "When I go there, I sit with my fiddler for hours, watching his fingers and bowing, watching his foot beat," she says. "This was an exciting experience, because I'm a classically trained violist and violinist. I had not learned by ear before, and I had not learned a folk fiddling tradition in the United States, like bluegrass."

These days, Een likes to think of herself as a bridge - not only between Norway and America but also between classical and folk musicians. "The Hardanger fiddle is music for dance, not just sitting and listening to," she says.

Understanding rhythm from a different vantage point has made her a better classical musician, she believes. That, in turn, has built a bridge with some of the people she's met in Norway. "They were surprised that an American was interested in this instrument and an American woman at that," Een says. "But they were also surprised that I was a classical violinist interested in this tradition."

That tradition is more valuable and vivid to Een because it is a living folk tradition, not a revived one. "Norway didn't become a completely independent nation until 1905," she explains, "so there was a very strong desire to preserve what was intrinsically Norwegian - and nothing is more so than the Hardanger fiddle. It's played only in southern and western Norway, and it's handed down orally, from fiddler to fiddler."

Een lights up as she describes the giant Norwegian folk festivals in which she has taken part, celebrations that sometimes last for days with hundreds of people of all ages participating. She hopes the recognition garnered from the St. Olav's Medal will attract students to St. Olaf interested in Norwegian studies and in strengthening the existing folk programs already in place.

Three of Een's Hardanger fiddle students - Kristen Dannewitz '03, Rebecca Lofft '05 and Sarah Nagell '03 - played a bridal march for the awarding of the medal May 8. That, of course, reminds Een of the long-ago photo from her grandmother of the Norwegian bridal procession, in which she spotted one of her fiddling mentors as a much younger man. "In some ways, there are some very deep connections there," she says. "Life comes full circle."

Contact David Gonnerman at 507-786-3315 or