FolkWorld article by Michael Moll:

What is Danish Music?

Scanfolk Part VI: Haugaard & Høirup on the folk mysteries of that small country

Viborg, Photo by The MollisOfficially, last issue finished the Scanfolk series - but hey there we are with a sixth part of the series, going back to Denmark, just to find some more out about the mysteries of folk music and recent developments of this most Southern Scandinavian country. And the word goes to Morten Alfred Høirup and Harald Haugaard, one of the best music acts from Denmark, to talk about historical cultural links of Denmark, folk music education, state sponsoring for folk and more.

Danish music is somewhat apart from the other Scandinavian folk music tradition, building a bridge to the south, explains Harald. "Denmark with its 5.5 million inhabitants is a small country placed in the middle of the Northern part of Europe, traditionally working as a link between the Nordic countries and the rest of Europe. That means that Denmark through the years has been influenced by a lot of trends and tendencies when it comes to politics, architecture, theater, fashions, food and of course music and dance."

"So when we look back through history we see a bunch of different influences in our music. Influences coming from countries like Germany, England and France. There was, for example, a great influence of English/Scottish music between 1770 and 1825 and a lot of that music has set its marks on the Danish folk music. Denmark is nearly surrounded by the ocean and through generations lots of people have made their living off the sea by fishing or by shipping and trade. It has always been very easy to bring foreign influences back home, so in a way Denmark has always been a great Northern-European harbour with lot of traffic of every kind. At the same time there are certain areas in Denmark with a very special life of music and dance, places where you will find that the old traditions are still in use every day. The small western island Fanø probably has the greatest and the best known musical tradition, a tradition that is still one of the strongest in Scandinavia. It is from this Island the famous Danish 'Sønderhoning' comes. Sønderho is the name of the one of the Islands two villages, the southern one."

Haugaard & Hoirup, photo by The MollisMorten adds that not so many years ago, Fanø was one of the biggest and most important harbours in Denmark; at certain times there could be up to 200 large sailingships waiting around the island. "So people from the island went out to strange countries and places like the Virgin Islands, India and Africa, but also to the British Isles. They brought much more than beautiful silk and spices back home, and maybe that is part of what you can hear in the music."

In Denmark, many people, musicians included, are very fascinated by Fanø-music and the Danish Folk Music scene is as a whole pretty much flourishing and alive these days. Morten thinks that the folk music scene has been as thriving since the great folk revival in the 60´s and 70´s; "suddenly it seems like we have a small noncommercial revival running." One important development that influenced the Danish folk revival was, in Morten's opinion, that traditional Irish and Scottish music came to Denmark (as well as the rest of the world) some decades ago: "A lot of Danes know much more about Irish music than of their own tradition. Many people start with Guiness and Irish music -maybe even with Riverdance - and after a great experience there, they might be a little more open, positive and curious to go and listen to two Danish fellows playing at the local venue. Especially, I am afraid, if the local newspaper writes about the two fellows sounding a little Celtic"

There are a lot of young people playing Danish folk music and a large number of new bands are coming up. Harald Haugaard, himself member of Sorten Muld and Serras, two of the most innovative bands in Scandinavia, says: "The experimental Danish folk-techno band Sorten Muld did a lot of promotion for the folk music in common in the end of the 90´s. Sorten Muld did actually consist of rock-, pop- and techno musicians but when they began to work with old medieval ballads a lot of young people got interested in Danish folk music in common. I was playing and recording with the band myself and experienced their massive success with huge concerts and CD sales. Sorten Muld is an obvious example but there are many other reasons why the Danish folk music scene has developed for the last ten years. Some of the traditional musicians like the great two-row accordion player Carl Erik Lundgaard turned professional. The Danish Folk Music Council, sponsored by the state, was founded in the beginning of the 90's, and offers different kinds of support."

"One of the newest things is the folk music education at the Carl Nielsen Academy in Odense where I work. The folk music education is a four year education with traditional and contemporary Danish folk music. At the moment there are 16 young and fine students singing and playing fiddle, accordion, clarinet, vocal, bass and recorder. When they finish their education they are musicians as well as teachers and they have been through a qualifying education at the same level as if they had studied classical or rock/jazz music."

Further Reading:

The first three parts of the Scanfolk series:

Photos by the Mollis:
(1) Denmark: Viborg scene (2) Haugaard & Hoirup

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