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Midsommar in Dalarna
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June 2021 Vol 92:04 $9.95
Carl Larsson and Swedish Design | Jussi Björling | The Call of the North
Photo: Per Bifrost/imagebank.sweden.se
Pilgrimage to the Heart of Swedishness
Midsummer is arguably the most magical of all Swedish traditions. In Dalarna festivities go on for weeks, which means you don’t have to settle for one celebration. Ranging from small, intimate village events to the largest midsommarfirande in the world, there is something for everyone.
By Kajsa Norman
n 1872 Artur Hazelius, the founder of Skansen and the Nordic Museum, was standing on the edge of Dalälven river when he saw locals getting into their church boats on their way to mass. Mixed in with their beautiful folkdräkter, some were wearing modern clothes. It dawned on Hazelius that industrialization was threatening every aspect of the old way of life and that it would take a concerted effort to preserve local customs and traditions. He decided then and there to start his famous collections. However, the efforts of one man would not have been enough. What makes Dalarna the quintessential symbol of Swedishness is that its population still puts in that collective effort to live and celebrate culture the old way. At no time of year is that more apparent than at midsummer. It is early morning on Midsummer Eve. At the top of Björkberget, people have gathered for a garland-making workshop. Some know exactly how it’s done and have come for the companionship of crafting together. Others are figuring it out for the first time and rely on local experts who, eager to pass their knowledge on to the next generation, have brought extra supplies of the most suitable branches, Swedish Press | June 2021 | 12
flowers and string. Everyone is welcome and once women and men alike are decked out with flowers in their hair, it’s time for the culinary highlight of the day - midsummer lunch. Locals return home to share the traditional feast with family and friends. Visitors seek out one of the many local restaurants around Lake Siljan where traditional midsummer fare is offered buffet style. This is a meal that is best taken in the company of others. Countless types of sill (herring), salmon, new potatoes in dill, pies, Västerbotten mash, and classic strawberry and cream dessert cakes crowd the tables. Most enjoy their meal with some snaps (local spiced vodka) and the traditional drinking songs that proceed each toast. It doesn’t take long until Helan Går reverberates under the open skies. After lunch it is finally time for the first Maypole hoisting. Local paper Siljan Just Nu lists the hundreds of celebrations taking place across the region. Many villages adjust the timing of their events so that when one ends, another starts, allowing for seemingly endless festivities. In the small village of Laknäs a few families have
gathered around the village bystuga. They are wearing traditional folk costumes in honour of their region or parish. The flowers of the surrounding meadows are reflected in the colors of the elaborate folkdräkter with married women wearing particularly colorful bonnets. One gets the feeling of being transported in time. The local spelmän (musicians specializing in traditional Swedish folk music) are absorbed by their violins and accordions. There are no outsiders present, no audience – it is a celebration of heritage in its own right. Later in the afternoon, the more grandiose and famous celebrations kick off at Klockargården in Tällberg. While the quaint old buildings surrounding Klockargården square lend a timeless feeling to the celebrations, here participants consist of locals and tourists alike. Everyone can help hoist the Maypole and the traditional dances are explained. Many locals don folkdräkt. There are 97 different types of folk costumes in the province of Dalarna alone and even experts struggle to decipher what all the colors and patterns mean, but they combine to create a feast for the senses. As people join hands to take part in the traditional dances, an
Herring, Knäckebröd (Swedish Crispbread) and a handpicked bouquet. Photo: Anna Hållams/imagebank.sweden.se
emcee demonstrates the moves in the middle of the circle. This is midsummer for beginners. The regional celebrations culminate in Leksand, where the world’s largest midsummer festivities take place. In the early evening a choir and a few dozen spelmän arrive via Österdalälven river in traditional church boats – a type of long and narrow rowing boats. They paddle to the heart of Leksand where they continue on foot, carrying their garlands while singing and playing. Accompanied by the crowds of people who’ve come down to the river to greet them, they make their way to Sammilsdal, a natural amphitheater colloquially known as Gropen, where massive midsummer celebrations have been held every year since 1939. As the Maypole is 25 meters tall and weights 450 kg, hoisting it requires much manpower, but there is no shortage of volunteers. Every year between 20,000 and 30,000
A beautiful hand made flower garland – midsommarkrans. Photo: Per Bifrost/imagebank.sweden.se
people congregate here to celebrate midsummer. A heartshaped garland is hoisted, and everybody stands to sing the national anthem. Music and dance ensue, and thousands of people join hands in multilayered rings around the pole to the tune of Små grodorna (Little Frogs), as well as the whole array of classical midsummer tunes like Jänta å ja’, Karusellen, Prästens lilla kråka, Raketen, Ritsch, ratsch, filibom bom bom, Räven raskar över isen, and Sju vackra flickor i en ring, to mention a few. The bright midsummer night seems endless and magical and in the olden days it was believed it had supernatural powers. Rolling around naked in the dew was supposed to strengthen and heal the body. These days, most people who roll around naked have had too much to drink, but many young people still adhere to the old tradition of ending their night by heading out to the meadows where, in absolute silence, they pick seven different types of flowers to be placed under their pillow as they go to bed. This will conjure dreams of their soulmate. Or so the saying goes.
Fly into Stockholm and rent a car so that you can explore several villages around Lake Siljan. The drive from Arlanda airport to Leksand in Dalarna takes about 3 hrs. Accommodation: Visit www.visitdalarna.se/en/stay for a wide range of options including hotels, cottages, camping, and B&Bs. Don’t miss: Celebrations in Tällberg, Leksand and Rättvik. The latest information about dates and times is posted and updated here www.visitdalarna.se/en/ midsummer To pass for a local, wear a folkdräkt. Rentals are available in Rättvik or Mora for about SEK 1,000 (USD 100) for the weekend. Email your size/measurements to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to make a reservation. Swedish Press | June 2021 | 13
Kulning – The Call of the North Kulning, an ancient form of Nordic herd-calling, is experiencing a pop culture revival of international dimensions, but it was in the old fäbodar of Dalarna that it all started.
By Kajsa Norman
n 2016, Swedish artist Jonna Jinton posted a video of herself on YouTube practicing the ancient Scandinavian singing tradition. Her piercing call reverberated around the world and soon her video had over eight million views. The eerie, melancholic, almost supernatural sound of the North seemed to awaken in others a widespread longing to reconnect with nature and the traditions of the past. Ever since medieval times, the sound of women’s voices echo across Sweden’s remote forests and mountain pastures as dusk approaches after a long summer’s day. In the olden days, fäbodar – remote cottages or chalets used as summer farms, were common in Dalarna and other northern Swedish provinces such as Hälsingland, Härjedalen, Jämtland, Värmland, and Ångermanland, as well as in parts of Norway. In these regions, the soil is so lean it can’t produce enough for both humans and animals to live off.
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Klara Land is blowing a horn. Photo: DigitalMuseum. Jennie Tiderman-Österberg kular to get the cows home for the night. Photo: Elin Heffler. Yvonne Smedberg. Photo: Jennie Tiderman-Österberg. Petter Anna Stenis at Axi fäbod. Photo: Karl Lärka 1920, Mora Bygdearkiv. Transferring the cattle to the fäbod. Photo: Karl Lärka 1920, Mora Bygdearkiv.
Until the early 1900s, it was therefore mandatory to move the herds elsewhere to graze in the summer. On the agreed date, each village would transfer their cattle to the fäbod with hundreds of cows, goats, and sheep making their way up to the mountains. Village women and children would accompany the animals and spend the summer herding the family’s cattle while also making sustainable milk products for the coming winter. It was hard work, but created a sense of freedom as the men, who called the shots during the remainder of the year, stayed behind in the village. Nordic herding cultures are unique in that the shepherds were mainly women. At the fäbod, the women were alone and could decide for themselves
how to organize their tasks and existence. Duties included keeping the herd safe from predators, milking the cows and goats, maintaining the buildings, as well as making cheese and other milk products. There was no room for mistakes, or the family would starve in wintertime. Still, in archival recordings, many of the women who spent their summers at these remote locations confess feeling overwhelmed by a sense of independence and freedom that far outweighed the burden of the responsibility, the strenuous labor, or any fear of being left alone. To communicate with their animals, they developed a special high-pitched singing technique to amplify the power of their voices across the mountainous landscape,
resulting in a When snow haunting cry that queen Elsa could travel over discovers her great distances. inner strength The calls served in the animated the purpose of movie Frozen it is keeping the herds kulning we hear. together and Disney included calling the cows, kulning in both goats and sheep their first and their home to the fäbod second Frozen from the far away movies to convey pastures where the sounds of the they spent their North. Portraying days grazing. Elsa’s inner voice The term is Norwegiankulning (and the Swedish composer verb to kula) and vocalist originates in Christine Hals, Jonna Jinton practicing the ancient Scandinavian singing tradition. Photo: Jonna Jinton Dalarna and has who spent her 120 dB can cause immediate damage become the most famous name for childhood summers at her father’s to the ears. Kulning can be heard by a these herding calls. The term kauking farm in northern Norway using the herd more than five kilometers away, or kaukning, common in Jämtland ancient herding calls to lure the goats but what prompts the animals to and Härjedalen, comes from the and the sheep back home for the night. adhere to the call remains a mystery. Norwegian word kauke, which “Disney loved that not only did I know With the agricultural reforms of means “to call”. The herders also how to kula but I had actually learned the early 1900s, life improved for used kulning to communicate with it the real way,” she tells Swedish many farmers who were now able to one another or to scare off predators television. feed both humans and animals off such as wolves or bears. For example, Composed or improvised kulning their harvests and village pastures. when an animal had gone astray and can also be heard in Scandinavian The need to move herds to the had to be located, a woman on one folk music, at festivals and outdoor mountain pastures decreased. Come farm might cry out using a particular concerts. Some practitioners of this the mid-1900s, milk production was melody to let anyone within earshot vocal expression learned it from their industrialized and an increasing know. As soon as the animal had been grandmothers on the farm in rural number of fäbodvallar (mountain located, a far-off neighbor would Sweden. Others are highly educated pastures) were abandoned. In the convey the news back in song. singers who studied it at the Royal mid-nineteenth century, there were The powerful vocal technique College of Music. No matter the origin more than 3,000 fäbodar in Sweden, enables the sound to carry for several of their skill, the important part is that but from the 1960s to the 1980s, kilometers. It has a melancholic they are keeping this spellbinding art remote summertime herding faded and haunting feel to it, adding to its of communicating with nature alive. from practice. Today, just over 200 allure and magic, making it distinctly Want to Experience kulning? remain in operations as modern different from yodeling, another In the summertime, visitors to interpretations of the traditional singing style developed for longDalarna can experience kulning fäbod culture. distance sound propagation. The by attending open-air concerts set Even though the practice waned, volume of kulning is so strong that deep in the surrounding forests. the music of the female shepherds it cannot be performed indoors. It Contact Visit Dalarna for the latest has not been silenced. It remains an can reach up to 125 decibels, which information about participating intrinsic part of Nordic culture, but as is dangerously loud for someone fäbodar. women’s place in society has shifted, standing next to the source. For Phone: +46 (0)771–62 62 62 so has the platforms and contexts for comparison, a normal conversation Email: firstname.lastname@example.org these sounds. is about 60 dB while anything over Swedish Press | June 2021 | 15
Putting Sweden on the Map At Home
“remarkably good ...
The King of Opera Jussi Björling was Sweden’s, and perhaps the world’s, greatest tenor of all times. Born in Dalarna in 1911, he divided his time between Sweden and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. by Kajsa Norman
ör mig när jag ropar…” (“Hear my call…”) reverberates the piercing song of three young boys. It is April 1917. Six-year-old Jussi Björling and his brothers Gösta (aged 5) and Olle (aged 8) are in the middle of their 62nd performance. This one is particularly heart-wrenching. They are singing their last farewell as the coffin of their mother Ester is lowered into the ground. The echo from his mother’s funeral would forever reverberate throughout Jussi’s career. It was as though he could tap into his pain on demand, creating a famously intimate connection between himself and his audience. Jussi Björling was born in 1911 in Stora Tuna, just outside Borlänge in Dalarna. His father David Björling had trained at the Metropolitan in New York City and had shared a stage with the great Caruso, but he never made it big and decided instead to pour all his efforts into helping his talented sons reach their
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Jussi Björling with his brothers and father in 1916. Photo courtesy of Jussi Björling Museum.
full potential. At a very young age the Björling boys began touring the churches of Dalarna, but David had bigger plans. In October of 1919, the family boarded S/S Bergensfjord and headed to New York City in search of fame and fortune. Their debut in the city was a huge success. For all nostalgic Swedish emigrants, Björlingkvartetten or the Björling Male Quartet acted as a bittersweet reminder of the homeland. The boys and their father sang their way across the country via the old Swedish settlements in Minnesota and Kansas, all the way to California and back again. They made a good living, but one day, after nearly two years in the US, homesickness got the better of them. A Swedish sill (herring)
lunch in New York City and the news that S/S Stockholm had just arrived in New York harbor, triggered the sudden decision to return home. David cancelled their entire tour and before anyone could flinch, the family was on their way back to Sweden. Back home, they continued touring. By now, Björlingkvartetten had become mildly famous, and their future looked bright. Then, suddenly, David passed away on August 13, 1926, only 53 years old. The boys, now orphans, were left with nothing but their voices. They kept touring, but without their father things quickly fell apart. They slept in barns and traveled by bike, unable to afford train tickets or even food some days. In 1927, Björlingkvartetten split up and the brothers were taken in by relatives and friends. Jussi ended up in Ystad, Skåne, where he found employment in a lamp store. He arrived with nothing but a suit, one set of underwear and a coat for which he still owed 50 SEK, but he was determined to make his father proud. He soon moved to Stockholm where he made a living washing taxi cabs at night. Waiting outside the door of John Forsell, head of the Stockholm Opera, Jussi managed to secure an audition and was accepted to the Royal Opera School in Stockholm.
Swedes “Remarkably good. A phenomenon. 17 years old,” read Forsell’s notes. In 1930, at the age of 19, Jussi made his operatic debut as Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He soon became a central figure at the Stockholm Opera. Rock music had not yet been invented. Jussi was the new star among opera lovers and youth alike. At the age of 26, Jussi returned to the US for the first time since his childhood to sing the part of Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Bohème at the Metropolitan. “I’ll never forget it,” he recalled in a radio interview. “It was Thanksgiving Day 1938. It was a blizzard. No taxis around and everything was blocked so I had to walk from my hotel on 59th street in Central Park, way down to 39th street.” After fighting through the snow for 20 blocks, Jussi walked up on stage and blew the American audience away with his performance. His big breakthrough realized, Jussi became one of the world’s most sought-after tenors. Three winters in a row, Jussi performed at the Metropolitan and toured the US. In the fall of 1941, he and his wife, soprano Anna-Lisa Björling, were about to head to the US for a fourth season, but at the last minute Jussi changed his mind.
... a phenomenon.”
Family and friends had gathered at the train station to see them off. Everybody boarded, including Anna-Lisa, but not Jussi. The train departed without him. Without explanation, he cancelled all his upcoming performances in the US and headed to the pub instead. The newspapers speculated that he had suffered a nervous breakdown. A few weeks later, the US entered the war and all trips across the Atlantic were stopped. Now, everybody applauded Jussi’s whim. Had they gone, they might have been stuck in America for years.
Jussi Björling at Stockholm stadium in 1945. Photo courtesy of Jussi Björling Museum.
For Jussi and his family the war was a happy time as it enabled the family to stay together. Sweden, once one of Europe’s poorest countries, was prospering. Jussi performed all across the country and was voted the most popular radio voice in the nation. With his patriotic tunes, Jussi provided the
soundtrack for the nation’s transformation. He even personified it; a poor but talented dalmas who through hard work had won over the entire world. If he could do it, so could Sweden as a nation. When World War II ended, Jussi returned to the US where the Metropolitan Opera in New York City became his main stage for the remainder of his life. His performances here, as well as at opera houses in Chicago and San Francisco, were eagerly awaited. Jussi also toured much of the continent (and the world), performing in concerts and recitals as well as on radio. Early in 1960, he was about to perform La Bohème at Covent Garden in London before Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family when he suffered a massive heart attack backstage. His colleagues thought he had died, but Jussi came to. Refusing to let the Queen Mother down, he performed the concert just thirty minutes delayed. Later that year, Jussi died of cardiomegaly (an enlarged heart) on Siarö in the archipelago of Stockholm only 49 years old. However, his extensive legacy of recordings, and his enormous popularity among opera lovers around the world, live on to this day. To listen to some of the great tenor’s recordings, visit the Jussi Björling Society online: https://jussibjorlingsociety.org/audio
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