Karen Torkelson Solgård

Hardanger fiddle in America
Velkommen (Welcome) to the enchanting music of Norwegian Hardanger fiddle. I share what I have learned about my family's musical heritage. My hope is that it finds a place in American traditional and popular folk music much like Bluegrass, Cajun, Irish, and Oldtime fiddle. Enjoy your exploration of these pages!
Karen Solgård offers up music of Hardanger fiddle, Norwegian folk songs and stories.

The name "Norse Fiddle" is one that Karen Solgård gave the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle to better describe it for American audiences. Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele in Norwegian) is named for a district in Norway where it is thought to have originated. A bit different than a violin, it is considered Norway’s national instrument. Instead of a scroll as on a violin, a lion’s head sits atop the peg box. Black ink flowers and mother-of-pearl inlay decorate the instrument. It has eight strings, four of which are strung under the fingerboard and cannot be touched by the bow; the understrings resonate as the top four are played.

“Something about the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle compels me to make it accessible to American audiences. To make the beauty of the Hardanger fiddle better understood, I use familiar tunes and English verses to build Hardanger fiddle tunes, complete with asymmetric rhythm and ornamentation.”
Karen Torkelson Solgård - Fiddler, Singer, Story-teller

CDs and Music Book
Karen Solgård has produced three CDs
“Norse Fiddle in Concert” NEW!
“Norse Fiddle at Home”
“Norse Fiddle at the Wedding”

and a music book
“Norse Fiddle at the Wedding for Hardanger fiddle or violin”

Samples are in links above.

Norse Fiddle Programs
Karen Solgård brings entertaining programs of Hardanger fiddle music and associated dances for community concert series, cultural groups and festivals around the country. Traditional Hardanger fiddle tunes are mixed with Karen’s own compositions and arrangements--classical favorites such as Grieg’s Morning and Bach’s Musette, the 1950 hit song The Thing, and American folk songs such as Simple Gifts, Yankee Doodle and Kentucky Babe.

Audiences Say . . . 
Here’s what some people have said about her performances:
“I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. A big part of what made it fun and accessible to me was the commentary; both descriptions and stories involving Norway and also the stories about Karen’s family and the origins of her interest in the music and the instrument. As intriguing and interesting as the music itself is, I think the frame created by the stories and history are every bit as valuable to the performance.”

“Karen puts on a very good show. Her conversation was interesting and very easy to understand, and the flow of music was great. Very nice humor. We just like the Hardanger fiddle sound so much, and like Karen Solgard’s presence.”

Sharing the fun
Performances and teaching
Karen’s recent performances have taken her to New York City, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Chicago, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Dallas area and many large and small communities around the United States. She taught Hardanger fiddle at St. Olaf College during 2004-5 school year. Karen has been on the Young Audiences of Minnesota roster for ten years, presenting concerts, workshops and residencies in schools and children’s groups. Performances have included festivals such as Decorah’s Nordic Fest, Moorhead’s Hjemkomst Festival, Story City (Iowa) Scandinavian Days, and Nisswa Stämma; community and college concert series and radio programs in the USA and Norway.

As Karen delves more deeply into the music of the Hardanger fiddle, she recognizes that it is a lifetime work to master the instrument, a vast music and cultural tradition. A member of the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America (HFAA) since 1985, she has served as its vice president, as editor of the organization’s journal, Sound Post, as the fiddle teaching coordinator and teacher at the HFAA summer workshops for several years. She was chairperson of the Twin Cities Hardingfelelag for several years. Karen continues to teach about Norwegian culture to children and adults of all ages through fiddling, dancing, and singing.

How did Karen learn Hardanger fiddle?
Karen Torkelson Solgård grew up on a farm north of Crookston in a musical family. Her mother and grandmother taught the children Norwegian folksongs and Karen, with two of her sisters, sang trios for events, festivals and contests. She excelled in music as a young girl, studied at the University of Minnesota School of Music in Minneapolis, and pursued a career in cello for ten years before taking up Hardanger fiddle seriously.

Ever curious about the Norwegian-style violin in the family, Karen traveled to Norway in 1986 where she heard Hardanger fiddle played by Norwegian masters for the first time. Karen took a study trip to Vinje, Telemark, Norway, in 1998 to study with the local master Hardanger fiddler (and distant relative) Tarjei Romtveit. She learned that her grandfather had at least five cousins who played Hardanger fiddle. One was the well-known composer and musicologist Eivind Groven.

She has studied Vestland style with Dr. Andrea Een, Hardanger fiddle professor at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Valdres tradition with Olav Jørgen Hegge, and Telemark tradition with several masters including Alf Tveit, Hauk Buen, and Vidar Lande.

We enjoyed your program ... Now we can keep enjoying your songs as we play your CD.

Thank you so much for playing at our ceremony! The music was beautiful! I hope you had a safe trip back before the snow hit. Your music at the ceremony & reception were perfect. Everybody loved it! Thank you for your dedication to our evening. We would love to spread the word about how lovely your music is.

Thank you so much for your wonderful presentation. It was wonderful to hear the fiddle "speak" to the church [stav church at Hjemkomst Center].

Just heard Karen Solgård in concert. She was magnificent in solo and also when she joined a top notch ensemble of first class violins, violas, cello and basses... If Grieg would have heard the merger of his music with folk music as we heard today at the Norwegian Lutheran Church he would have leapt for joy!

Thank you for all your talents, fun energy and good humor! It was a very fun concert for me and I hope we can work together again in the future.

Congratulations on a very enjoyable concert and experience overall! It was really great to see you in this realm - to see your deep connection to the tradition and the music. Our minimal taste of this music certainly wets the appetite to go into the musical genre more - Thanks for the inspiration!

What struck me the most, during the concert, was how you have really turned your history and life into ART.

I was so impressed with your incredible knowledge about the subject! The concert went very well, you played great and I thought there was a great blend of classical and folk music.

Thanks again for what you did for our people. It was a highlight for our year ... and perhaps a return here could well be a consideration for future visits.

Everyone thought your program was marvelous. In fact, my husband remarked it was our very best program to date--and I respect his judgment!

We thoroughly enjoyed your presentation today. You not only have an excellent musical ability, but also such a pleasant way of relating to the audience--often triggering warm childhood memories. Keep up the good work of keeping our Norwegian traditions alive!

Question: What do Edvard Grieg, a ram’s horn, and Yankee Doodle have in common? Answer: Each was played on Hardanger fiddle during Karen Solgård’s Hardanger fiddle recital on Sunday, October 3, 2004 in Urness Recital Hall. Solgård’s unique style of performance combining Hardanger Fiddle repertoire with storytelling and audience participation made her recital a childhood-reminiscent “story time” experience suited to all ages. Karen Solgård is replacing Dr. Andrea Een as Hardanger fiddle teacher while Een is on sabbatical for the academic year 2004-2005, thus entitling the recital: “Not Your Usual Faculty Recital!”
Solgård’s performance was geared toward her usual audiences typically lacking exposure to the distinctive instrument, such as children and senior citizen groups. Although most of Solgård’s St. Olaf audience had previously experienced the eight-stringed Hardanger fiddle, a review of Norway’s national instrument was quite beneficial for the audience’s appreciation of Solgård’s music. The curious fiddle is elaborately decorated with a lion head atop the peg box. Four strings under the fingerboard produce a droning sound sympathetic to the upper four strings that can be likened to tempered bagpipes or two fiddles constantly playing a duet.
Without introduction, Solgård energetically kicked off the concert with “Ola Was Tall,” keeping a strong constant beat with her right foot. Solgård performs every piece from memory, in keeping with Norwegian fiddling tradition. The Hardanger fiddle is usually played as dance accompaniment; hence the fiddler memorizes his pieces and keeps a steady, percussive beat with his or her foot, considered as part of a successful performance.
Solgård demonstrated the instrument’s tuning, tones which Edvard Grieg borrowed and placed within “Morning” in his classical Peer Gynt Suite. Solgård performed her adaptation of “Morning” on Hardanger fiddle, a deft combination of her classical knowledge and folk musicianship. Although solo fiddle can hardly rival the original fully orchestrated version, Solgård’s version held its own as a fiddle piece.
How is a cell phone like a Ram’s Horn? Although college students might not identify with isolation on a mountaintop, each student has likely felt isolated at some point, perhaps even amidst crowded Buntrock hallways when midday classes end. Perhaps students then reach for their cell phones, hoping to contact a loved one. Similarly, the ram’s horn functioned as a mode of communication. In Solgård’s opinion, the city cell phone in the city is to a ram’s horn on Norwegian farms as a method of communication for a young maiden upon the mountain to reach her family. Solgård sympathized with such lonely maidens, remembering her childhood on a northwestern Minnesota farm. Karen then sang a vocal refrain of her own composition expressing a girl’s feelings of isolation upon a mountaintop to accompany a fiddle tune.
To further help students understand this foreign music, Solgård played Yankee Doodle on Hardanger fiddle, offering that these fiddle tunes sounded as familiar to fiddlers who were raised with them as Yankee Doodle sounds to Americans. Solgård first played the basic Yankee Doodle melody, then with variations second time around. The third time Solgård elaborated greatly, making the melody barely recognizable yet subtly apparent.
Anyone familiar with Hardanger fiddle at St. Olaf may tend to associate the instrument with Dr. Andrea Een. Solgård’s program included several songs that overlie Een’s usual repertoire, but Solgard played these with variations and a different playing style from Een’s versions. One of the beauties of folk music is the extensive potential for variation upon songs between musicians and regions; differences are not considered “wrong,” but simply variations. Solgård’s variations were exactly that: not erroneous, but well-thought out music differences, particularly in the tunes “Nå er det gjort,” “Bridal March from Seljord,” and “Nøringen.” Undeniably, only a Hardanger fiddle student would notice these details; nevertheless, song details have caused lawsuits between composers in the past and should not be tossed to the breeze.
Solgård’s focus on story telling and audience participation in her performance was enchanting and highly engaging for the audience. Nearly everyone sang along at Solgård’s invitation to become part of her composition “Summer Moonlight Telespringar” to better help the audience understand the form of Hardanger fiddle music. Urness Recital Hall’s intimate acoustics suited the fiddle’s delicate timbre perfectly, warmly encouraging the solo instrument to release its resonant golden tone throughout the hall. With the same warmth and enthusiasm, the audience accepted Solgård and her Hardanger fiddle to St. Olaf, wishing her a positive year in Dr. Een’s stead.
Rebecca Lofft - Manitou Messenger, St Olaf College Newspaper (Oct 30, 2004)

Thank you so much for your music and beautiful explanation of the instrument Karen. I heard so many wonderful comments from people, who not only liked the music themselves, but said their kids liked it as well. Most of them had never heard of the instrument before, but I suppose you run into that all the time. You really made it a memorable afternoon/evening for us.

Karen was a joy! She answered questions. One fellow went home and got his fiddle and she explained things to him. EVERYONE said she was great! One person asked why she didn't just play for the entire service (Lutheran Church). They would have loved to hear more!

Thank you for giving our audience some of the best music available. You are a gifted fiddler who has amazing crowd rapport.

I just wanted to let you know that our members and guests really enjoyed your performance this past Friday night. In addition, many people took the time to contact me by phone or email this week to say they hoped you could come back again...Again, thanks for sharing your wonderful talent with us.

We all want to thank you for being there to make Kaia's wedding so much more memorable. The dinner music was such a festive addition to our celebration, and the dancing--these were moments we shall not forget. Thank you for showing us these dances and leading us with your beautifully played hardingfele.
Robert, father of the bride at wedding

The members and I want to thank you so much for braving the elements and for performing such a wonderful program last night. I listened to the comments from our members during the social time and they were so impressed with you as a performer and as a person. They appreciated you so much for not scurrying off even though the weather warranted that but that you stayed and conversed with everyone for as long as they wanted.

You did a great job on Saturday [at the Lutefisk Dinner]. I have heard several very nice comments about it, and no negative. We don't really have this kind of event in Norway, but a lot of bazaars etc. Your performance and talk are really enjoyable. I'm proud to tell folks back home that we have people in Minnesota like you.

We sat and listened to you on the radio this morning while having our coffee & tea, and really enjoyed it! Your personality really shows through with the music and that's such a delight. You're the first person besides Vidar [Lande]-- the first American -- to make hardingfele music fun!

Words will never be enough to express the joy and gratitude that I experienced at the Valentines Day Hardanger Fiddle Concert. Many persons who attended said it was a perfect Valentines Day gift. Karen Torkelson Solgaard was wonderful. She wove together her love for her heritage, the beauty of the music, the land, and the traditions of the people of Norway. She was an incredible teacher and ambassador for Norway.
Norse Fiddle