Hello and welcome to a new section of my blog! For those of you who have been reading my posts for awhile this is going to be a new topic, with the eventual aim of it becoming a book somewhere down the line. For those of you who may have landed here from a search or from another site, welcome to my music and photography blog! I hope you will have a look around at some of my other posts.
I’m not quite sure who it was in Celtic music circles who first stumbled on the joys of Scandinavian folk music several years ago. Being an aficionado of that music I soon noticed that alongside the more typical sets of jigs and reels soon came lots of polskas and waltzes originating from Scandinavia. And why not? The traditional music originating from the Scandinavian countries is similar in structure and tone to Celtic music. Eventually this led me to exploring the music from those countries specifically. Though there are some wonderful vocal groups and singers like Garmarna and Mari Boine, I became especially interested in the more instrumental heavy bands like Vasen, Harv, and Frigg. The tunes are by equal measure jaunty and atmospheric and the feel of that more isolated northern landscape comes across in them. I have not been to any of those countries yet myself, but one of the things I love about music is that it can capture the landscape and ‘feel’ of a place, even if you have never been there.
Gradually, as I started listening to more of the music, I felt there was something else familiar to me on some of the instrumental tunes. For some reason I could never quite place my finger on, certain tunes felt like something akin to American western music. As in lonesome prairies, and cowboys kind of western music. The kind of music that eventually became known as Country & Western or Western Swing, before the ‘western’ got dropped both in style and name eventually.
But wait, I hear you say…I thought it was a known fact that Country & Western originated from the music the early Irish, English and Scottish settlers brought with them to this country. Bluegrass music is definitely a direct descendant of that music. So much so that folk music collectors have found versions of songs in rural areas of the U.S. that are mostly intact from when they were first brought over hundreds or more years ago. Some well known Western songs like Streets Of Laredo are also directly related to those origins.
Of course these days, the lines have all crossed, and music has cross-pollinated to the point of some wonderfully creative collaborative ideas with hip-hop from Brazil, punk music from Mexico, or African music with a Latin feel. All incorporating bits and pieces from seemingly disparate elements. But in the Scandinavian music that I was likening to American cowboy Western music if you will, there was something more organic about it. Like it had been there for years. Which is not entirely surprising. Though Scandinavian emigration to America in the 19th Century was much smaller compared with other nations, according to this article, there were still over 2.5 million that arrived between 1825-1924. Though many of those immigrants settled in the Midwest, the lure of gold and other opportunities surely drove some of them further west. It stands to reason that those immigrants brought their music with them out on those same lonesome prairies where it became assimilated.
And that is precisely what this portion of my blog will aim to achieve. I have had this idea in mind for years, purely based on that hmmm…they sound similar, I wonder if they are related somehow feeling. I have decided to explore the idea beyond it just being a similarity, but something that may be more substantial. In truth, after some preliminary research, I have seen very little discussion anywhere else that the two forms may somehow be related. My goal is to actually prove it and I thought my blog would be a good place to share those ideas, I feel like I have a forum to explore this idea more here. Years ago in college I was part of a research project, and the idea of the little pieces of work that each student worked on which became part of a bit of scholarly work was thrilling, and I would love to have that sort of feeling again. Over time I hope to piece a bunch of these elements together into something substantial.
Though there is a sense of fun to this endeavor because it is music based, I do have some specific goals in mind I wish to explore that I feel like I should identify at the start:
- Discuss and prove the key links between Scandinavian music and American Western music. Identify the areas where the two are directly related.
- Trace the immigration route from 19th Century Scandinavia to the United States. Where did the Scandinavians settle? Where did they move to once they got here?
- Discuss the key factors of both Scandinavian and American Western music. Define both and prove on a technical scale the similarity of both
- Identify where the music of each lies today. Is there still an influence continuing?
I have decided to go with a lighthearted title for this-The Scandinavian Cowboy. One, because I like the name, and second, because at the heart of this I want this to fall in somewhere between heavy (and dull) academic writing, and a poorly researched fluff piece. I aim for something where the music is fun, but the research is real. I hope you will all join me. My regular blogs, my Photo Shuffles, collaborations, and guest posts will all continue, rest assured. This is purely a side project, and there may be significant gaps in between posts in this section, but this idea has been with me for years, and I believe the start is the most difficult thing. This is that start.
Now for a little bit of music to illustrate this point. I have chosen two (more or less) contemporary songs. The Western tune, Faded Love is by the great Bob Wills, and performed here by Hot Club Of Cowtown. You can really hear that Old West vibe in this one. I’m following it up with a relatively new composition by Mikael Marin of the Swedish band Väsen called Calle Vals. It is a waltz, but it feels very similar to the American tune.
Not only would I love to hear what you think about this similarity, but if you have any resources or thoughts to share, please let me know!
Faded Love-Written By Bob Wills & John Wills
Calles Vals-Written By Mikael Marin
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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle
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