We can't really start talking of the Nordic Harp Meeting without explaining what the term "harp" means in the Nordic countries?
Erik Ask-Upmark & Josef Berger: The term "harp" (harpa/harpe/hörpu) has been (and still is) used in a very broad sense in the Scandinavian languages. Besides meaning "old ugly woman", the word has been used for many different stringed instruments: various psalteries (including the Finnish kantele, called "harpa" in the Swedish Finnskogen), plucked or strummed lyres (called "harpa" in Norse poetry), jouhikko (bowed harp or "stråkharpa" in Swedish), langeleik ("långharpe" in Norwegian), nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle), hurdy gurdy (earlier called "hjulharpa") and more.
Numerous harps sensu stricto (i.e. chordophones with the plane of strings perpendicular to the resonator) are depicted in medieval and renaissance iconography on stone reliefs, church paintings and wood carvings in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
In Norway, a number of folk harps are preserved in various museums, the earliest dating from the 17th century. Sweden had some harp makers in the 18th and 19th centuries; their instruments can be admired at the Music Museum in Stockholm. Moreover, Denmark and Sweden and Finland were regularly visited by travelling Central-European harpers during the 19th century who left some traces in literature and in Gunnar Wennerberg's "Gluntarne".
From Denmark, historical documents tell about Edvard Adam, Magnus Maxi, Darby Scott and Carolus Oralii, harpists at the court of the King Christian IV; one of which is depicted in the painting by Rainhold Timm (ca 1622). Numerous Danish town musicians of the 17th and 18th century are known to have played a "David’s harp", and the Danish Music Museum in Copenhagen stores several small diatonic harps (called "amatørharper") from the 18th to 19th centuries, some of which were produced by Danish instrument makers.
Also from Finland, we know about harpists in court music, entertainment music and street music, for instance "Mikael harpolekare" musician at the Turku Castle, in 1580. Many years later, the blind girl Charlotta Seuerling (who was also living in Turku about 1810) played a small pedal harp to accompany her melancholic Swedish songs. Henryk Sulkawa from Virrat (Western Finland) built a small diatonic harp in 1818, which is quite similar to the surprising "harp" of Kalvsvik (Småland in Sweden). And Kreeta Haapasalo, the most famous Finnish kantele player of the 19th century, was inspired by Central-European wandering harpers touring the Nordic countries and playing at markets, in streets and taverns.
What are the "Nordic" countries?
EA-U & JB: "Nordic" (nordisk) is a broad political and cultural term in order to be able to summarise with one single word the countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and their associated autonomous or semi-autonomous territories: Greenland, the Faroes, Jan Mayen, Svalbard and Åland. The term is derived from "Norden" which simply means "the north", but it is customary to use it for the abovementioned political entities which had lots of their history in common due to several unions, wars, seafaring trade etc.
These countries are often incorrectly labelled "Scandinavia" which, strictly speaking, refers only to Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Also, in world music terms, “Nordic” is often used for traditional music from this region.
The Nordic Harp Meeting
The first Nordic Harp Meeting was modelled in 2008, after the Swedish concept of a musicians' gathering ("spelmansstämma"), a place where everybody is welcome to play music with everybody, regardless of if one is an advanced harper or a beginner, a professional singer or just curious. It was an attempt to bring together musicians from other parts of Europe who otherwise never would have met and to let them discover the Finnish kantele, the Norwegian folk harp, the langeleik, various kinds of harps and lyres and other plucked string instruments, and to let them learn music from each other. Participants soon realised that kantele music can be played on harp too, etc. This has been appreciated by all participants so far and we have tried to keep the style.
Every year the Meeting changes countries: after Sweden (Lund, 2008), Finland (Turku, 2009), Norway (Gjøvik, 2010), Denmark (Broby, 2011) and again Finland (Jyväskylä, 2012), the Nordic Harp Meeting is back in Sweden this year, in Järna, in the Stockholm area. This change makes connecting the North easier. It gives regular attendants a good reason to visit and get to know other countries. Imagine a situation where one participant lives in Helsinki, the other one in Stockholm, the third in Copenhagen, the fourth in Oslo and the fifth in Reykjavik: if they want to meet in one of these places then, only one is at home and all the others have to travel large distances to participate.
Some of the participants come every year, regardless of where it happens. However, rotating country every year is the fairest. It also gives opportunities to inspire new local people who otherwise would not have travelled long distances. The organising team changes also every year, depending on where it happens and who is willing to take the job. In the starting years, the Meeting was financed by the Nordic Culture Fund which supports new cultural events connecting Nordic countries. Now other financial sources have to be sought.
Many participants are really enthusiastic and play a number of different instruments. Some of them build their instruments themselves. Others are harp researchers on an academic level and happen to know much, much more than can be found simply on Wikipedia. Most attendants are interested not only in tunes but also in their cultural context: "Possible sources to the music of the Vikings", "Nordic and Celtic traditions on the harp: Similarities, differences, connections", "The power of the harp in Norse literature of the High Middle Ages", "Music at the Norwegian court between 1200-1340" are some of the lectures and seminars given during the past five years.
The subjects of the lectures and workshops are clearly labelled, so hopefully it’s easy for the participants to choose what they are most interested in from historical approaches of the instrument technique to modern ways of playing. Most people who are aware of the difference in performance practice have no problem with keeping the different techniques apart and apply them on different instruments (e.g. a gut-strung Gothic harp vs. a Neo-Celtic nylon-strung instrument). It’s often simply a matter of what actually works, in real life, on the specific instrument you are playing on.
Another aspect of the Meeting is the transfer of a particular instrument repertoire to other instruments. Every musician likes to expand his or her repertoire, thus widening his or her perspective. Passing new material on to other players and seeing a "new" tune spread through the folk music community, even across instruments, is a wonderful thing. Also, it might be boring to play the same tunes over and over again, and then learning tunes traditionally connected with another instrument might prove inspiring and rewarding. Plus, there are new possibilities of technique, coming from "imitating" the idiosyncracies of other instruments.
Having "Nordic Harp Meeting" as a name just means that we meet somewhere with our harps and other instruments and that we share what we are passionate about. It is open to everybody, so if you happen to play an African kora, a Paraguayan harp or an épinette des Vosges, just take it along! This year, participants are coming from over a dozen countries, including from USA for the first time.
The full programme is online here.