Rauland Winter Music Festival
Classes finished, emails assessed, a quick lunch and a quick change in the toilet cubicle, we had come in for work on Tuesday morning and left for a new adventure on Tuesday evening. We met a group of five preselected students at the airport and travelled to London. That evening we relaxed and bonded over pizza and a music quiz.
On Wednesday morning we departed early and, before long, were on our way to Oslo. Sitting on the runway, delayed by the plane ahead of us, we soon lost hope of making the first bus to the mountains. We were further delayed waiting for a guitar – the joys of travelling with instruments – but soon we were all aboard the train for Oslo Sentrum. In two hours, we had time for a little food and a stroll to the wonderful Opera House. Ongoing building work beside the Opera House will create a wonderful, architecturally pleasing cultural quarter in time. Onto the bus, sleep was needed and as we climbed into the mountains, darkness descended.
When we arrived in Rauland, that evening’s concert had just finished. The chef had very kindly left dinners for us that could be heated. Once nourished, we made our way to 'the farm'. Local students were in full swing with fiddles, double bass and banjolin. These were succeeded by munharpe players who inspired dancers to take the floor. Then our good friend Mats Johansson encouraged us to take out our instruments and we finished out the night with jigs, reels and polkas.
On Wednesday morning we began with a workshop on Ensemble playing and Swedish music with the inspiring five string viola player Mikael Marin. We quickly learned two arrangements of very contrasting pieces that reflected the old and the new in Swedish musical traditions.
After lunch it was our turn and we led the way with Brian O'Kane's March ‘The Shores of Lough Major’. Forty years after the Siamsa Céilí Band won the first of their three-in-a-row All-Ireland senior titles, it was great to introduce colleagues and students in Norway to an aspect of Louth's rich musical traditions. We followed the march with the slide 'The Kings of Kerry' and we danced 'The Peeler and the Goat'. Next we did 'Scotsman Over the Border' and danced a few light jig steps. Having answered a few questions on Irish geography, we granted a request from Jonathan from France and finished our workshop teaching 'The Monaghan Twig'. All of the participants picked up the music quickly and responded enthusiastically.
After practising a few sets with Mats for one of the concerts, we set off for a walk to the lake. The apparently abandoned frozen landscape showed few signs of human presence, save for our footprints in the snow. Inspired by the wintry wilderness, the group sang an arrangement of 'Thugamar féin an samhra linn' by Pat Ahern before embarking on a trek back across the snow and up the slippery slopes to the campus.
Thursday night's concert took place in the café where we were hosted by David Rönnlund and Ingrid Rosemarie Hamberg. The opening featured Ånon Egeland as part of an experimental group that certainly challenged any preconceptions the audience might have about 'tradition'. We followed this with a set that focused on the students from Dundalk IT. The students from Rauland finished off the formal part of the evening with a lively, enthusiastic and very entertaining set. Once things settled, sessions began erupting in every available space, sounds and cultures intermingling and dancers taking to sudden bursts of movement. In the early hours we trudged along the dark, snow covered road, enjoying both chat and awe-inspiring silence beneath a starry Norwegian sky.
On Friday morning we began with a lecture and workshop on Finish music with Pauliina Syrjälä Teiknesalen, who was on Erasmus mobility from the Sibelius Academy. Pauliina gave an informative talk on the history of the Kantele before demonstrating different approaches and repertoire on the instrument. We learned two contrasting pieces – an archaic piece ‘Yusin Kayn Mä Korvessani’ and a Swedish polska ‘Grannas Bastu’ - before finishing with some catchy Rune singing and the catchy ‘Hoi Lei Liiri Lillaa’.
After lunch we had a workshop on lesser-known Polish traditions from the Janusz Prusinowski Trio. The complex polyrhythms challenged us as we sang, danced and played the music. The Trio’s unique style is the result of their attempt to find new ways of interpreting the most important elements of village music from central Poland. They sang, played, danced to and improvised on mazurka traditions. Janusz Prusinowski led the workshops, singing and playing the fiddle, but also performed on his Polish accordion. Percussionist Piotr Piszczatowski was quick to dance and guided some of the students on the rhythmic detail of some of the music. Michał Żak, no stranger to Irish traditional music, appeared to have an orchestra of instruments in his bag, but largely led with the clarinet – although in the concert he also performed on a range of other instruments including the flute.
Later, we went to a solo concert by Hardanger fiddle player Einar Øverland. Located in ‘the Cave’, the concert was an intimate experience attended by a number of Hardanger fiddlers and students. With little talk to interrupt the music, the tunes flowed, taking advantage of the wonderful acoustics of the room.
On Friday night Adèle and Daithí performed two tracks from A Louth Lilt and two sets with Mats Johansson. The concert featured a wonderful duet from Pauliina Syrjälä Teiknesalen and Ragnhild Knudsen and another from Ånon Egeland and Mikael Marin. The Janusz Prusinowski Trio finished off the concert, which was followed by a type of céilí in the main room and various sessions in other corners. Many were happy to play in small groups, oblivious to who was listening, more concerned with playing their music for themselves.
The competitions, kappleik, were the main focus on Saturday. It was like a fleadh but with competitors of all ages competing in different art forms and traditions.
The event appeared to be primarily run by the music students from the Rauland Academy but graduate Ingrid Rosemarie Hamberg was keeping a close eye on proceeding, providing direction and advice as required. There was a constant flow of people and the main room was consistently buzzing, filled with audience members and competitors, some of whom were dressed in traditional Norwegian costume.
Saturday night's concert began with singers. The DkIT students joined us for our set when we played three of our polkas, the Telemark tune dedicated to Ånon Egeland and Lucy Moffatt, and a set of traditional polkas. The other acts from the previous night’s concert also performed again. After the concert, the prize giving for the kappleik took place.
After the concert, the academy again erupted into a mosaic of sound. We stayed in the hall for a time and enjoyed our dancing. Much to our delight the second band for the céilí included Johanna Mjeldheim, who studied for a semester at DkIT. In contrast to many of the groups at the dance, Johanna's group played waltzes and polkas. After her performance, Johanna joined us for a session and we played a number of tunes she had learned with us in Ireland, and a few that she had taught us. We were also joined by Rupert Derben from Germany who shared some of his compositions with us.
Later that night Mats and his son Emmanuel joined us and the DkIT students for a final session. While some of the musicians continued quiet sessions into the night in the dormitory rooms, we retired for sleep with an early start ahead. We left for Oslo after breakfast on Sunday, marvelling at the beauty of the landscape around us.
Once in Oslo, we took time to see the Parliament, the National Theatre and Palace before walking to the Viger sculpture park. We returned by the concert hall and docks where we saw the Nobel Peace Centre through the fog. We caught a glimpse of the fortress before getting food and returning to the hotel. We even managed to catch some of TG4 Gradam Ceoil online before drifting off. A flight via Copenhagen got us back to Dublin and after a short drive up the road we were back in the office and classroom again.