Scandinavian Dance Camp

One of the key ways that we learn and enjoy Scandinavian dance and music in the United States is by going to weekend or week-long dance camps. This is also true of many other interests in the US, so there are fiddle camps and chorus camps and klezmer music camps and Balkan dance and music camps.


This is the beautiful dance hall at Ogontz, New Hampshire. In this photo we are doing an American contra dance.



Our American teachers Linda Brooks and Ross Schipper are to the left, with Bitten and Sven Olsson, who came from Sweden to teach at this camp, on the right in costume.


Eating on the deck with a view of the lake and the dance hall.


Jamming and clog dancing on the deck before dinner.


For the Scandinavian dance camps we invite really good teachers every year from Norway and Sweden, as well as fiddlers for the dance traditions to be taught, and a nyckelharpa teacher. Camps have been conducted in the Mendocino Woodlands north of San Francisco, California since 1981 or so, and in the East Coast (Nordic Fiddles and Feet, first at Buffalo Gap, West Virginia, now  moved to Ogontz, New Hampshire) since 1985. Each year about 100-120 people come together during specific weeks in the summer and spend the week learning new dances and/or tunes, or reviewing dances or tunes learned before, and eating wonderful food and having concerts and dance parties.


6 graduates of the year-long nyckelharpa/fiddle class at the Eric Sahlström Institute jamming for happy hour.


Our Washington, DC group attending Nordic Fiddles and Feet in Ogontz, New Hampshire summer 2015.


It is a bit like in the movie Brigadoon, where a community and place comes together and exists only for that week of the year. Each year people return who have been there before, with 20-30 new people trying camp for the first time. It is a lovely community, and is delightful every time. But each year is also a bit different. We think of the analogy that when you put your foot in the river it is never exactly the same twice as the water is always changing as it runs past.
People take the dances back to teach locally in their communities, and recruit and teach newer dancers to come to camp next year.

I have found it is a really good vacation for a single person. People are there to have a good time and to socialize. There are lovely people to eat with and dance with. But many who come are there as a couple, and others come with or without their non-dancing spouse.

Scandinavian Dance in the USA

I had an amazing experience at the Eric Sahlström Institute. I’m really glad I did it, and also very happy to be home in the USA.

I have been gradually adapting to life at home. What has been most helpful is the many opportunities I have had already to play nyckelharpa. The first three were the first weekend home!

  1. The Washington’s Spelmanslag, which I have played with for several years, performed on June 6th at the Swedish Ambassador’s Residence for Swedish National Day.
  2. I played two sets for Swedish dance at our Mid-Atlantic Norwegian Dancers monthly house party and will play again next weekend.
  3. I played for a hambo workshop at Glen Echo Park near Washington, DC led by Lisa Brooks and Dan Kahn. IMG_0806
  4. I attended the wonderful Nordic Fiddles and Feet Scandinavian Dance and Music Camp in New Hampshire. We had nyckelharpa classes with Ben Teitelbaum, another former ESI graduate, and six of us who were former ESI students jammed for a happy hour audience. The next post has more information about this dance camp.

Our nyckelharpa level 3 class performing with Ben at the student concert.


Ben Teitelbaum with lydia ievins and Andrea Larson, getting ready to jam.


Final concerts

We had two final concerts, one of which was sold out and the other almost full, on Thursday (21 May) and Friday (22 May) of the last week. Once again we students chose everything that would be in the concert, and then were very well prepared by our teachers in a series of rehearsals.

DSC_0006 (1)

Warming up our voices together before the concert. We sang at the beginning and end of the concert.


Bison polska by Olov Johansson, with Amy on banjo and Lirica on nyckelharpa.

DSC_0065 DSC_0077DSC_0111DSC_0103 DSC_0099

Dancing Bondpolska från Viksta with Jesper.

Dancing Bondpolska från Viksta with Jesper.

DSC_0089 I have included photos from both concerts. I appear in photos from the second night, when my daughters were in the front row with my camera.


My daughters getting off the Upptåget in Tobo!

Both concerts ended with dance evenings with wonderful music.

It was such a joy to have my daughters come to Sweden and see our final concert. We also enjoyed traveling around together in the week after the end of school. We spent time in Stockholm and in Dalarna, then flew home together on June 2.

It was an amazing year of study at the Eric Sahlström Institute. I am really glad I did it, and also very happy to be back home in the USA.

Heavy Metal Cover?

A couple of weeks before the end of school we had a musiklära (music learning) assignment to form groups and perform a “cover” of any song that is NOT folk music. I have been asked to share the results. It was quite an interesting and improbable assignment, but we had a lot of fun with it.

We had ABBA:

DSC_0005 (1) DSC_0004 DSC_0011 (2)

Other tunes:

DSC_0006 (2)

Here Comes the Sun ( the Beatles)


I was in a group doing a heavy metal cover (what? in nyckelharpa school?). We did Manowar – Metal Warriors, “Wimps and posers, leave the hall!”. Apparently I have good hair for head banging.

DSC_0033 DSC_0029


Lotta was our amazing lead singer

DSC_0034 (1)

DSC_0045 DSC_0039

Last Day of School

Swedish has a great word, avslutning, to describe what we did on our final day. They are special final activities, but may or may not include a ceremony. On our final morning of school we met for the first time in the upstairs music classroom. Music students in all prior years have used the larger upstairs classroom. But this year we have been downstairs in what was the library, to be away from the hammering sounds on the roof.  Our class has never seen the building without the scaffolding over it.

We met for an hour with our three main music teachers, Ditte Andersson, Olov Johansson, and Sonia Sahlström. We played tunes together, one from each teacher, and talked about the year we spent together. It was really lovely. The dance students met at the same time with their teachers in another room.

Then we gathered in the big salon with the dancers and all teachers for a final ceremony with diplomas. Teachers played and sang and danced for us all. We played Schubert’s March Militaire together, which we had played in Musiklära ensemble. This is a school tradition for avslutning.

After that we enjoyed a really nice lunch together. I ran off to meet my daughters coming on the train, but came back and had some.

DSC_0007 (1)

We gave Olov a T-shirt with a silverbasharpa painted on it by Amy.


The dancers gave their teachers some beautiful posters they had made by hand.


All together in the large salon.


Meeting with the teachers in the upstairs classroom.

DSC_0002 (1)


I’m giving Olov a big hug when he gives me my certificate.


Playing Clarinet

Music and dance students at the ESI are encouraged to bring additional instruments if they have them. I brought my clarinet to Sweden at the urging of Cajsa Ekstav, who said it would be good to play in musiklära (music learning) classes while I am here. Musiklära includes music theory, but goes beyond just theory. In musiklära we sight-read music and practice together in ensembles. We have two levels to accommodate those who have never read music before and those who have done it for many years. I have used sheet music for clarinet for a long time, both when the music is notated for B-flat clarinet and when it is written in concert pitch and I need to transpose. I can also read sheet music and play nyckelharpa, although I am more accustomed to learning by ear on nyckelharpa.


I originally thought I would practice both nyckelharpa AND clarinet while I was here, but that was too ambitious. With all the homework for both musiklära and arranging class there wasn’t time for clarinet practice too. My focus has been on nyckelharpa and I have been practicing every day. For the final day of arranging class we were encouraged to bring alternate instruments. We had a really fun time creating an arrangement together of a tune that was new to us, Svängrumpa from Skåne. Now we are playing that in the final concert. The first part is in A major, which puts it in B major (5 sharps) for me. I had to get much more comfortable with B major!

We also plan to play Schubert’s Marche Militaire together with the teachers on our final day together, the avslutning. So in order to get my lip muscles in shape for all that playing, and not embarrass myself, I am practicing my clarinet daily. There is a long tradition of Uppland clarinet players, including Curt Tallroth, Olov Johansson’s teacher. I bought a couple of booklets of Swedish tunes for clarinet at the Oktoberstämma, and have been playing through some of those. They are unfortunately written in concert pitch, so require transposition if I want to learn them in a key that others might play. So I am again practicing sight reading while transposing.


Playing clarinet in Svängrumpa; Amy is playing the banjo!

Studying in Swedish

Near the start of this year at the Eric Sahlström Institute, I discussed what it is like to study in another language. (My native language is English and I am studying music entirely in Swedish.) This is an update on how it has been.


I had hoped and expected to be much better at understanding and speaking Swedish by this time at the end of the course. I understand a lot of written and spoken Swedish at this point, but there is nearly always something I don’t understand. I still have difficulty with regional accents, especially Skåne, and muffled speech. Also, I remain uncomfortable and slow at speaking. I dream often in Swedish, so I think my unconscious mind knows much more Swedish than my conscious mind can use.

My learning curve was strong at the beginning, but somewhere along the way I stalled out. It was around February-March, maybe when my boyfriend and I broke up, or when I got overtired. Perhaps I am being too hard on myself about this, but I had higher expectations and it has been a source of frustration to continue to struggle so much.

When I visited Paris I noted that I remain more fluent in French than in Swedish, despite not having used French in years. I learned French when I was in high school and read many books in French and spoke with some fluency (including during a several month trip to Switzerland) during that time. When I struggle for words, French still sometimes comes up rather than Swedish (although sometimes it goes the other way and Swedish pops out when I want French). It could be age-related; I was young when I learned French, now not so young.


Another possible reason why I didn’t get better than this is that I didn’t make enough of an effort to speak. I have recently learned that struggling is important and practicing retrieval of new knowledge is really key to learning. But I stayed away from blurting out bad attempts at speaking Swedish, keeping quiet when I should have been practicing speech. We had a very international group this year. Out of 14 of us living in the annex full time, 8 are not native Swedish speakers, so English was spoken most of the time (4 of the 8 are native English speakers).

I think many of the things I learned here this year will be further consolidated and processed after I go home. That will certainly be true of all the tunes and techniques I have learned on nyckelharpa, and with music theory and arrangement, and likely also true of Swedish language. I will continue to study it, including finishing reading Pippi Långstrump (Longstocking) that I began here. And I’ll be back in Sweden in July, with more opportunities to listen and speak!

Embrace the Struggle

When I did my research project about learning and practicing music, I learned that practicing encourages the growth of layers of myelin around neural circuits. The myelination response is targeted to the neurons involved in the activity that you practice, activated by repetition and by struggle. After the project I continued to read about this topic, and really enjoyed the book, “Make It Stick” by Peter C. Brown. He explains that learning is deeper and more durable when it is effortful. When learning is harder and slower it doesn’t feel as good, but when you work hard to recall a memory, you actually strengthen it. High school and university students like highlighting and rereading textbooks, which is easy and feels good and gives them the illusion of knowing something. But testing yourself, practicing retrieval, while it feels much slower and more difficult, is demonstrably more effective at strengthening the memory. The act of retrieving a memory changes the memory and makes it easier to recall it again.

This is also applicable to the use of interleaved practice versus massed or blocked practice, which I first learned about on The Bulletproof Musician blog site and discussed in my project writeup. There is ample research in various kinds of learning that shows that the increased effort needed to remember after forgetting actually strengthens the memory. You don’t want so much forgetting that you have to relearn the material, just enough to increase the effort and struggle. But the forgetting is actually essential for the learning.

I have found that tunes that I learn easily and quickly during class are quickly forgotten. Tunes that require more effort are easier to retain. Sometimes the technically difficult part that I had to practice more is the part that I remember best. Also, if I learn something from sheet music, my brain knows it is there on the sheet and doesn’t work to keep the memory. Music I have learned by ear is much more likely to stick. I work to repeat new tunes every day or so until I convert them to long-term memory. First I play the recording and play along. After the tune memory gets stronger I play a few notes of the recording and then play the tune on my own. Finally I am able to think of the whole tune on my own from the name. I find that I can do this easily with some tunes, but that others take more work to recall. I practice recalling tunes from the list of names, because now I know that this activity strengthens the memory and facilitates the retrieval of the memory.

Key points are that:

  • Difficulty is a key part of learning and can be beneficial
  • Errors are natural and to be expected
  • Failure is an essential experience on the path to mastery
  • Practice helps

Make it Stick cover

Capturing tunes

With the course almost over, we now have 166 tunes we have been given at the ESI; 88 of these are primary tunes that we are expected to learn. I excluded songs from this list, although some of these instrumental tunes also have songs.

Two years ago I started making a list of tunes I had learned. I got the idea from Sheila Morris. We sat down to jam together after a Seattle Springdans workshop and Sheila handed me list of tunes she knew. It made it much easier for us to find tunes in common to play. After that I started my own list. I soon migrated to an Excel spreadsheet; as a scientist in my working life I was very comfortable with Excel. I included columns to mark which tunes I could play alone without too much embarrassment, which tunes I could play with others, which tunes I was only just learning. I noted which ones had sheet music (in my possession) and which had recordings, and the filenames to find the recordings or sheet music. Before I came to the ESI this list had grown to 175 tunes. I use various features of Excel, such as filters to list just tunes I know well, or make a setlist for playing for dance. I can also filter by type of tune, such as Schottis or Bodapolska.

When the tunes started to pile up here at the ESI, I began a worksheet to capture those tunes as well. I am really happy I did that, because it helped me keep track and to make lists of tunes I needed to practice. This week it helped me put together a list of the tunes we are choosing for our upcoming final concert.

Here is an example of a section of this worksheet. It includes our four main teachers and visiting teachers David Eriksson and Markus Svensson:

Dance Tune Name Efter learned from date 1st recorded or learned
32 Polska Hem från Gesunda Sonia Sahlström 19/09/14
33 Polska Polska efter Mårten Blank, den vanliga Mårten Blank Sonia Sahlström 19/09/14
34 Polska Runnom e. Johan Hollsäter, Flemdalen, Norge Johan Hollsäter Mia Marin 22/09/14
35 Menuett Menuett e. Gustav Blidström, Skara Gustav Blidström Mia Marin 22/09/14
36 Polska Polska efter Olof Andersson, Eda, Värmland Olof Andersson Mia Marin 22/09/14
37 Slängpolska Slängpolska e. Ola Lantz, Skåne Ola Lantz Mia Marin 22/09/14
38 Slängpolska Lasse Leila Diu Gunnel Maritzson, Gotland Mia Marin 22/09/14
39 Polonaise Polonaise e. Gustav Blidström, Skara Mia Marin 22/09/14
40 Vals Rapp Kalle alt springvals Rapp Kalle Sonia Sahlström 26/09/14
41 Vals Bakvände Reprisevalsen Gås Anders Sonia Sahlström 26/09/14
42 Bondpolska från Viksta Gästrikepolska Per Persson Menlös Olov Johansson 08/10/14
43 Polska Polska från Munkedal David Eriksson 04/11/14
44 Polska Polska efter Alfred Nilsson David Eriksson 04/11/14
45 Vals Salbohedsvalsen Västmanland David Eriksson 04/11/14
46 Vals Vals fran Vestmanland David Eriksson 04/11/14
47 Finskoog’s pols Fanteladda Olov Johansson 05/11/14
48 Polska Polska från Eda Olov Johansson 05/11/14
49 Bondpolska från Viksta Första Gangen som det var lyst Viksta-Lasse Ditte Andersson 06/11/14
50 Bingsjö Kaker brö efter Viksta-Lasse Hjort Anders Ditte Andersson 06/11/14
51 Polska Sågfallet efter Oskar Larsson Oskar Larsson Ditte Andersson 06/11/14
52 Polska Jul igen från Risinge, Östergötland Ditte Andersson 06/11/14
53 Polska Gubbandansen Markus Svensson 07/11/14
54 Polska Här_dansar_jag and song Markus Svensson 07/11/14
55 Polska Polska_fr_Dalskog Markus Svensson 07/11/14


Playing Bondpolska från Viksta for the dancers

We have learned many tunes for Bondpolska från Viksta, a dance and type of tune from Uppland where were are studying. We had a dance session where the musicians and dancers were scheduled together, and spent the time playing the tunes so the dancers could feel the rhythm and power. We mostly played Gåsvikarn and Jag Var Full, some very powerful tunes.  Dancers felt the rhythm by listening while walking or dancing, or by touching us as we played.

It was a beautiful morning with sun streaming in the windows.

DSC_0006 DSC_0007

The ESI dance teachers use a hold between the partners in Bondpolska från Viksta that is different from the one I have used at Uppdansning.DSC_0009 DSC_0012 DSC_0011