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Analytical Approaches to World Music Conference, Thessaloniki

I am presenting a paper entitled “Archaic Fusion: An Analysis of Norwegian Munnharpe Style and Repertoire.” 


Fiddles dominate the world of Norwegian folk music, but the munnharpe (jew’s harp) belongs to a group of instruments that are prized as being uniquely Norwegian. The eldre folkemusikkinstrumente (older folk music instruments) are grounded in the harmonic series and the just scale, and their inability to modulate either excludes them from playing the repertoire of the more popular fiddles and accordions, or requires significant modifications to the tunes. The munnharpe is further marginalized by its biphonic drone and melody texture, and as a result, its players have developed an idiomatic playing technique and repertoire that capitalizes on its idiosyncrasies. In this paper, I show how the munnharpe’s hallmark sound is a trifecta combining the glottal closing technique related to the seljefløyte, the melodic accents and ornamentation patterns related to the hardingfele (Hardanger fiddle), and the foot stomping rhythms related to folk dance choreography (Setesdal gangar). Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, I demonstrate how munnharpe players display their mastery of the tradition by incorporating all three of these elements in performance.

Keywords: Norway, munnharpe, jew’s harp, folk music, playing technique, repertoire, fiddle, willow flute, folk dance

Earlier Event: April 13
BFE Annual Conference, Newcastle
Later Event: November 18
SEM Annual Conference, Albuquerque