Our History

Hardanger fiddlers in early 20th century.

Participants in an American kappleik in the early 20th century. Photo courtesy Andrea Een.

Hardanger fiddlers practicing with teacher.

Instructor Andrea Een reviews a tune for dancing with students at the 2005 workshop

The Hardanger fiddle emigrates...

Beginning around 1850, Norwegians began migrating to North America in enormous numbers. Included among the immigrants were some of the greatest Hardanger fiddle virtuosos of their time, who continued to play in their new home. Professional players from Norway came on tour and gave concerts to standing-room-only audiences. Thus, North America acquired a unique historical significance in sustaining Norwegian musical traditions.

The first kappleik (fiddle and dance competition) in North America took place in 1912 in Stoughton, Wisconsin. There was so much interest that in 1914, the original Hardanger Violinist Forbundet af Amerika (The Hardanger Violinist Association of America) was formed. It had a membership of nearly one hundred at its peak, and it sponsored regular fiddling competitions throughout the early years of the twentieth century. Some kappleikar reportedly drew over 8,000 attendees!

See more information about Hardanger Fiddle Competitions in the United States.

Unfortunately, the children of the immigrants rarely learned to play. The Hardanger Violinist Forbundet was disbanded at the start of World War II, and the last fiddling competition was held in 1952 in Benson, Minnesota. The family fiddle was put away in its case in the attic, or was hung on the wall as decoration. By 1970, the number of Hardanger fiddle players in America had dwindled to perhaps as few as twenty, of whom two-thirds were over the age of 70.

The Hardanger Fiddle Association of America is founded

Since the early 1980s, an exciting revival of the Hardanger fiddle traditions has been underway in North America, both among Norwegian-Americans and those of practically any other cultural background. Two individuals, Carl T. Narvestad and Thorwald O. Quale, were instrumental in nurturing this gathering interest. Both men had ancestral roots in the Valdres area of Norway and had experienced Hardanger fiddle playing and dancing as a vital part of everyday life while growing up in the upper Midwest. They were saddened to witness its decline toward virtual disappearance and, early in 1983, engaged in discussions with others individuals who had an interest in restoring the prominence of the instrument. The Hardanger Fiddle Association of America (HFAA) was founded at an organizational meeting in June of 1983. Within its first year, the HFAA had registered 162 members from throughout the United States as well as from Canada and Norway. It hosted its first annual meeting in July 1984, with Vidar Lande and Arne Røine coming from Norway to teach and demonstrate Hardanger fiddling.

See our history of Hardanger fiddle music and dance workshops and the HFAA's organizational leadership.

Production of the quarterly journal Sound Post, under the editorship of Carl Narvestad, began immediately. It made available information about subject matter that had rarely been written about in any English-language publication. The first 20-page issue appeared in January 1984. The Sound Post has expanded over the years and is still the most complete regular media resource for the Hardanger fiddle in the English language. It continues to feature articles on the history, players, and makers of the Hardanger fiddle, news of upcoming events, transcripts of fiddle tunes, and writing on other subjects related to the music and dance traditions of Norway and Norwegians in North America.

Each year, the HFAA has hosted a multi-day workshop featuring classes in Hardanger fiddle playing, traditional singing and sometimes related instruments such as seljefløyte and munnharpe, and it began offering classes in traditional Norwegian dance in 1985. Master teachers have come from Norway each year to lead instruction and are complemented by a staff of skilled American teachers. The HFAA encourages anyone wishing to learn to play the Hardanger fiddle to attend our annual workshop, from first-time fiddlers to experienced string players. For those who do not own an instrument, loaner Hardanger fiddles are available for use at the workshop for a nominal fee.

The HFAA has been awarding Hardanger fiddle scholarships for participation in its annual workshop since 1991. See our history of Hardanger fiddle scholarship award recipients for past workshops.

Many years of Hardanger fiddle and dance workshops have greatly expanded the knowledge base and skill level of its membership and associated community. HFAA members now give performances, lectures, and presentations throughout North America and abroad, helping to promote Norwegian folk music and dance to a wider audience.

More details about HFAA's early history are contained within the book, A History of the Hardanger Association of America, 1983-1993, written by Carl T. Narvestad and available through HFAA's merchandise catalog.