Laurie Hart & Sarah Cummings

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Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish & Danish dance tunes with lush fiddle harmonies, all instrumental. Laurie Hart (fiddle, nyckelharpa, Hardanger fiddle), Sarah Cummings (fiddle) with Mia Boynton (brač, guitar) and John White (piano, pump organ), 2000.

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"...infused throughout with Hart and Cummings' beautifully interweaving melodic and harmonic lines...a broad collage of timbre and mood... Fiddlespel prevails in rendering its songs with virtuous precision."  
--Jon Ulrich, Ithaca Times  

"I was really impressed to hear your final product. You folks are clearly thoughtful listeners and players and have pulled together a very nice collection of music."  
--Matt Fichtenbaum, fiddler and nyckelharpa player, Boston

Fiddler Janet Ievins created this beautiful quilted banner which we used for many years with our students in the Ithaca Festival Parade

Laurie and her nyckelharpa are ready for the parade!

About our instruments 

The nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle) is a Swedish folk instrument dating to the 14th century. The nyckelharpa tradition survived into the 20th century in the hands of a few hardy players in Uppland, even when it had died out in the rest of Sweden. Now the nyckelharpa is enjoying an enthusiastic revival, and there are thousands of players in Sweden and abroad. Laurie plays a chromatic nyckelharpa, a type invented in 1925 in Uppland. It has one drone string, three melody strings, and 12 understrings, several of which ring sympathetically when each note is played. The instrument is held horizontally and played with a short, wide bow. Different notes are obtained by fingering wooden keys which depress wooden tangents against the melody strings, as on a hurdy-gurdy. The strings are tuned C G C A (low to high), a fifth lower than the violin. The traditional repertoire has some overlap with that of the regular fiddle.  

The Hardanger fiddle, or hardingfele, is the folk instrument that has been used for dancing in south-central and western Norway in an unbroken tradition from the 17th century to today. It is usually played unaccompanied, solo, and the repertoire is structurally, rhythmically and melodically unique in the spectrum of world music. The music is passed on aurally, but as Dave Golber writes, “there is a certain strictness and seriousness that is more akin to ‘classical’ music than what we usually call ‘folk’.” The instrument itself resembles a violin in shape, but is ornately decorated with mother-of-pearl and bone inlay, ink drawings of roses and a mythical creature’s head on the scroll (with the tongue sticking out!). Laurie plays a hardingfele tuned B E B F# (low to high), a step higher than the violin, with five resonant understrings tuned to ring sympathetically with the upper strings. Many thanks to Jeane Bennett-O’Dea for the loan of her hardingfele for this recording.  

The brač is a Serbo-Croatian instrument resembling a small five-stringed guitar. It is the alto member of the tamburitza family, a group of instruments used for traditional dance music. It is often used to play lower harmony parts to a lead melody. Like the bouzouki to Celtic music, the brač lends itself well to Scandinavian tunes.  

The harmonium (pump-organ) we used was made in the late nineteenth-century by Mason and Hamlin. Many thanks to Tim Findling for the loan of his harmonium.

Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele)

Tunes in Scandinavia don't often have titles. Instead they are identified by the name of the fiddler who passed it down, and also the town or province of origin. You can find them on this map!

About Fiddlespel

In Scandinavian countries, fiddle music has been played for couple dancing and ceremonial occasions for centuries.  Most of our tunes come from Sweden, where each village or region has its own repertoire of tunes and dances.  On this recording, we play many types of polska, a family of couple dance tunes in 3/4 time, although the three beats are not always equal in length.  In the nineteenth century, waltz, polka and schottis were added to the fiddler’s repertoire throughout Scandinavia.  Early in the twentieth century, the Swedes especially developed a rich tradition of two fiddlers playing in harmony. 

Fiddlespel grew out of Laurie and Sarah’s experiences as leaders of the Daughters of Sweden Spelmanslag (fiddler’s group) in Ithaca, New York.  In Swedish and Norwegian, spel means to play music.  We hope that Fiddlespel will conjure up some of the magic associated with Scandinavian folklore and fiddle music.

Laurie Hart 

Sarah Cummings has been playing the violin for most of her lifetime and holds music degrees from Ithaca College and Northwestern University. As a Suzuki violin teacher, she ran a thriving private studio in Ithaca for many years, and now teaches at Ithaca Talent Education, where she co-directs the summer Ithaca Suzuki Institute. In addition to her role in Fiddlespel, she performs regularly as a freelance classical violinist and is a member of the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra.

With guests Mia Boynton and John White