Bud Larsen lives with his wife, Marlys, in a log cabin with a grass roof that could use a good weed-whacking, but don't be thrown off by the old-world aspects of this rural Brainerd abode. The Larsens are pragmatic, not primitive - a grass roof is great for keeping the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
And if you throw seeds up there, you'll get a beautiful flowerbed, Marlys said.
The Larsens' basement looks like any sawdust-covered northwoods workshop, but this is where Bud, 64, creates and restores beautiful works of art - Norwegian Hardanger fiddles. When played skillfully, they create a mournful sound like bagpipes.
In Skal Klubb, Bud Larsen usually plays the Hardanger fiddle, which is named for the region of Norway where it originated. The 17-member group plays traditional tunes from all the Scandinavian countries.
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Larsen grew up on a farm in Mandan, N.D., one of three children of Norwegian-Americans Herman and Mae Larsen.
"It was a big part of us, growing up in a Norwegian community in North Dakota," Larsen said. "It was mainly Norwegian Lutheran, and many of the people talked Norwegian when I was growing up on the farm. My grandmother lived 70-some years in the U.S., but still Norwegian was her preferred language."
As a youngster, Larsen learned to play the Hardanger fiddle, named for the region of Norway where it originated.
Necks of Hardanger fiddles feature intricate designs. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"My dad was a collector and a fiddler, and he got us interested in the music and the culture when we were young," Larsen said. "One of my sisters was a violin player, so we'd play the old Scandinavian songs with my dad."
One of Herman's friends was instrument maker Gunnar Helland, whose family name is revered among groups like the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America.
In 1960, when Larsen went off to college at Moorhead State University (where he met Marlys, who is also of Norwegian descent), he worked in Helland's shop in Fargo, N.D.
"When I worked with Gunnar, we were restoring and repairing violins," Larsen said. "He wasn't building any Hardanger fiddles during that time because there was very little interest anymore in the U.S. I built a lot of guitars and mandolins and other instruments (in Helland's shop)."
The head of this Hardanger fiddle features a griffin, similar to what one would find on the maiden head of a Viking ship. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Those skills still come in handy. Every January, the Summer Institute of Linguistics sends Bud and Marlys to Indonesia to conduct instrument-making workshops. The Larsens lived in nearby Papua New Guinea for 20 years before settling in the Brainerd area.
Ninth annual Nisswa-stamman schedule
10 a.m.-3 p.m. - Scandinavian fiddling and dancing workshops, Nisswa area. For more information, contact Paul Wilson at 764-2994 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
7 p.m. - Gala Opening Concert and Dance, Lutheran Church of the Cross, Nisswa, $15 at door.
9:30 p.m. - Old-time Dance, Nisswa American Legion, $5 at door.
10 a.m.-5 p.m. - Nisswa-stamman main festival, Nisswa Pioneer Village, $10 (adults), $1 (15 and younger) at gate. Bring your own blankets or lawn chairs.
4:30-7:30 p.m. - Smorgasbord, Nisswa Community Center, $15, tickets available at other Nisswa-stamman events.
7 p.m.-midnight - Old-time Dance, Nisswa American Legion, $5 at door.
On the Web: www.nisswastamman.org.
Since 1991, it's been clear that Bud Larsen's heart lies with the Hardanger fiddle. Even as the Larsens were gathering the trees and sod for their new home, Bud joined Skal Klubb, the 17-member group that hosts the annual Nisswa-stamman. He met fellow Klubb member Arnie Anderson, who was already locally famous for making classical violins; that clinched Larsen's decision to focus his efforts on the Hardanger.
"I had the Hardanger fiddle background from my dad," Larsen said. "I'd worked with them enough in the past, and I decided I wanted to really specialize in building and restoring Hardanger fiddles."
In his basement workshop, Bud Larsen restores Hardanger fiddles and other instruments for customers nationwide. Hardanger fiddlers have formed a strong Internet community in the last decade. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The instrument is distinguished visually by rosemaling along the border, raised f-holes and a griffin design on the head, similar to what you'd find on a Viking ship. But what really sets the Hardanger apart is the sound created by four understrings.
"You get a tape of Hardanger fiddle music with all the tones and double stops and intricate melodies - I really do like it," Larsen said. "It's more layered. With regular violins, you'll hear two strings at once every once in a while, but with Hardanger fiddles it's all the time. There are very few parts of the music that are just played on one string."
Larsen notes that the Swedish equivalent of the Hardanger has only two understrings. Like any good Norwegian, he's quick to make a crack at the neighboring country's expense.
Bud and Marlys Larsen have been fixtures at the Nisswa-stamman since it began in 2000. Bud plays with host band Skal Klubb and Marlys runs the Kaffebordet (literally, "coffee table"), which serves Norwegian specialties like lefse and almond puffs.Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"You can always pick out a Swede, because they're a little more simple," he joked.
But when they travel to Scandinavia, Larsen and Skal Klubb - which plays tunes from all the Scandinavian countries - gravitate toward the Swedish performance style.
"That's only because they're more laid back," Larsen said. "It's not as demanding. Norwegians are fun to play with, too, but I think they have more emphasis on becoming very good with the Hardanger fiddle, which is a very demanding style of music. It's very hard to play well."
Larsen likes to quote an old joke about the instrument: "They say Hardanger fiddle players spend half their life tuning their instrument because it has so many strings. Then they spend the other half playing out of tune."
Thanks to the Internet presence of the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America and like-minded groups in Scandinavia, Larsen is certainly in tune with fellow enthusiasts. Today, this world traveler can let the world come to him. Larsen is currently restoring a Hardanger fiddle that belongs to a musician in Montana. Not surprisingly, it was originally built by a member of the Helland family; Hardanger buffs form a widespread but tight-knit community.
The music played by Hardangers and other traditional instruments also has a substantial following, as evidenced by the Nisswa-stamman. This year's event will draw three Scandinavian groups and dozens of North American musicians June 6-7 in Nisswa.
Skal Klubb, which already has hundreds of tunes in its repertoire, discovers fresh music all the time.
"We're sharing old traditional music and newly written music in the old style right over the Internet," Larsen said.
He has the most fun, though, when he can meet other musicians face-to-face and trade notes.
"It's always encouraging when Scandinavians who come over and listen to the Skal Klubb say, 'You've got a real Scandinavian sound,'" Larsen said. "We don't want to sound like a bunch of Americans trying to play Scandinavian music."
JOHN HANSEN may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5863.
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