The Eric Sahlström Institute is THE place to study nyckelharpa, especially the year-long course (actually a school-year or 9-months course August through May). After retiring from being a working scientist, I attended this year-long nyckelharpa course. It was truly wonderful to have the opportunity to focus on nyckelharpa in the context of Swedish music and dance.

I have always loved music and dance. I have been dancing my whole life, folk dancing since college (UC Berkeley, Ashkenaz!), and avidly Scandinavian dancing since 2003. I have played clarinet since I was 12 (I still play) and sing in a variety of choir settings (my alto voice is adequate for choir singing). I began nyckelharpa studies at the end of 2005. Coming as I do from a woodwind background I have paid particular attention to learning about bowing, but it needs more work. My goal is to take my nyckelharpa playing to a higher level, with a more Swedish sound, and to use what I learn in the course as a basis for playing Swedish folk music the rest of my life. I hope to continue to play for my own enjoyment, and for dances.

Eric Sahlström Institutet

Eric Sahlström Institutet


I explain the choice of the name www.soniasvikt.org in the page called “What is Svikt?

I will try to explain what our schedule is like and what this education is like. What isn’t captured in the schedule is the fact that the content is very intense and thorough, and our teachers are really superb at educating us in this way.

We have classes daily M-F, 9 AM to 4:20 PM:
8:10 breakfast
9:00 lesson
10:30 fika
10:40 lesson
12:10 lunch
13:00 lesson
15:00 fika
15:20 lesson
16:20 end

For the dancers, they generally go every day until 4:20 PM. They have little homework, and aren’t practicing musical instruments.

For the musicians, one or more days a week we are scheduled to work on our own, usually at the end of the day. We spend a lot of time practicing in the evenings and weekends, and it is very helpful to be able to begin that earlier in the day. We also have a weekly, scheduled hour for us to exercise together as a class.

Musician “lessons” consist of:

  1. Regular lessons: work with teachers, learning techniques, learning tunes, discussing the music. We have three main teachers, Ditte Andersson, Olov Johansson, and Sonia Sahlström and will usually have all three each week. They teach one at a time, not together, but are very well coordinated. We also have guest teachers, some regularly and others just once per year. A regular guest teacher is Mia Marin. All of the teachers are wonderful. They each bring something different and interesting.
  2. Individual, private lessons, two each with each teacher in the fall, again in the spring. They are spaced two weeks apart with each teacher, so we can follow up on whatever we worked on in the first lesson.
  3. We play solo for the class, and discuss what that is like, what could use improvement, etc. We also play solo for the dance class, and as a group.
  4. Arranging, including chords, compositions, making a second voice or accompaniment. There is usually homework in arranging, usually transcribing a tune and adding a second voice or accompaniment. We then turn that in written on paper, and play it in class and discuss.
  5. Concerts involve a very thorough planning and rehearsal process, teaching us very important things about performing.
  6. We do an individual project in the winter, intended to take 3 hours a week over 10 weeks to put together. We produce a written document, and present the findings or results to the class in 20-30 minute presentations that include playing 5 tunes for each other on our main instrument.
  7. We also had presentations on aspects of being a free-lance musician and the business aspects of this.
  8. We had a discussion of audio equipment, microphones for the nyckelharpa, and other nuts and bolts of performing.

Together with the dancers, we also have:

  1. Dance: every other week we spend a day dancing with the entire class
  2. Music theory: reading music, chords, rhythms, transcription of tunes. There is often homework in music theory class, e.g. transcribing a tune.
  3. Singing
  4. Voice training, including vocal presentation, e.g. announcing tunes at a concert
  5. Folk music history, including a trip to a local church with medieval paintings of nyckelharpa-playing angels, discussion of Swedish Christmas traditions, and three days with the amazing Magnus Gustafsson.
  6. Dancer-musician interaction: We have had some sessions playing for the dancers and discussing the interaction. There is a regular blog post about this very interesting phenomenon! Musicians also take turns playing solo for the entire class, with critique and suggestions for improving at this particular skill.
  7. The Winter and Spring concerts are done together with the dancers (the autumn concert was musicians only).

Our time in the evenings and weekends is free except for practicing and homework, but our location is remote so getting to other events is done mostly on the weekends. For example, my trips to the Norrköping dance group are on Sundays. If we do go to other events, for example Sunday evenings at Skeppis in Stockholm, we get back to Tobo very late.

This year we have 11 dancers and 9 music students. We are a very international group this year. Of the 9 music students, 6 of us play nyckelharpa and 3 play violin. Four are from Sweden, one Norway, one Switzerland, one Japan, and two from the USA.

Of the 11 dancers, five are from Sweden, one USA, two Britain, one Finland, one Denmark, and one Germany.

Seventeen of us live here in the annex to the main building. We each have our own room and bath. The others commute from Stockholm, Upplands Väsby or Uppsala. The school provides breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, but we shop, cook, eat, and clean up our own dinners, and all food on weekends. We have a shared double kitchen in the annex. It can be a lot of fun, but can be quite crowded if we all try to make our dinners at the same time.

We have three weeks off during the term, one each in the fall, winter and spring. And we have a 2.5-week break over Christmas-New Years. These breaks are much-needed and very refreshing!

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Dance teachers Ami Dregelid and Andreas Berchtold.

Our amazing teachers, Olov Johansson, Ditte Andersson, and Sonia Sahlström.

Our amazing teachers, Olov Johansson, Ditte Andersson, and Sonia Sahlström.


3 Comments|Add your own comment below

  1. Hello Sonia,

    Jill passed your blog onto me. We are visiting Virginia & Stewart on the way back from Penticton in British Columbia where we attended an Austin-Healey meet. We drove up in my 1960 Austin-Healey and have had a great time so far.

    It sounds like you are having a great time and I am happy for you (I’ve always been happy for you in case you may have forgotten).

    I am really happy you have chosen to do this for yourself as it is important to do for oneself.

    Lots of love and e-mail only if you have the time.

    Peter Roberts.

  2. Hi Sonja,

    I’ve been following your blog for quite some time now and I really enjoy your posts. I’m a nyckelharpa player from Germany and I stumbled over your blog while I was looking for more Information about the ESI. 🙂

    As a nyckelharpa player, I would find it very interesting if you could find the time to write a bit more about the lessons and teaching. What is your weekly schedule? How are the lessons organized? Are there only group lessons or single lessons, too? Are you expected to do homework? (If yes, what kind? Praciticing, sure, but is there also some more theoretical stuff, like music theory or do you have to write essays etc.) Are there exams?
    What subjects do you learn about? From your posts I’ve gathered that you have lessons in Dance, Playing and History… but is there more? Maybe something on composition etc?

    These kinda things. I know, that are a lot of questions, but if you have the time, more blog posts about that kinda stuff would be really appreciated 🙂

    What I find interesting about your blog is that it seems like you have quite a lot of free time, since you write about going to different places, festivals etc. How much free time do you actually have? Is my impression wrong?
    I previously heard from others that the curriculum at ESI is very strict and that you basically have lessons all around the clock… ^^”

    Anyway, thank you for your blog! And please also keep posting about your adventures in Sweden that are not about the ESI and the teaching there 😉
    I hope my comment doesn’t sound like I don’t find them interesting, because I certainly do! 🙂

    Take care,

    1. Thank you Björn for your interest and thoughtful comment. I have just uploaded a post covering your questions. I think I will also put this content into the “About” page.

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