By David Lias
The three young men who make up the musical group Bjärv demonstrated two things immediately to their Midsommar audience at Dalesburg Lutheran Church Friday afternoon: 1) They are very good musicians, and 2) Their personalities are as bright as their performances.
Beautiful harmonies filled the church, which by early Friday afternoon featured a near capacity audience, as Mikael Grafström, 34, Olof Göthlin, 29, and Ben Lagerberg-Teitelbaum, 27, performed.
The folk trio opened the 114th celebration of Midsommar in Dalesburg on June 21. The festival dates back into the late 1860s, when settlers from Dalarna County of Sweden came to Dakota Territory, to the area that is now southeastern South Dakota. These pioneer families started a Midsommar celebration tradition, based on the festival in Sweden.
Dalesburg Lutheran, located 12 miles north of Vermillion, provided some relief from Friday afternoon’s heat and humidity with its modern air conditioning. Midsommar attendees lingered inside the church for more than just comfort, however. Audience members wanted a chance to speak with the three musicians.
They were more than happy to oblige. Much attention was directed toward Lagerberg-Teitelbaum and his unique instrument, the nyckelharpa (keyed harp). It’s not nearly as common as Grafström’s guitar or Göthlin’s violin.
Plus, the instrument is uniquely Swedish, making it perfect for the day’s celebration at Dalesburg.
Grafström is from Angermanland, Sweden; Göthlin hails from Varmland, Sweden; and Lagerberg-Teitelbaum is American. He is from Evergreen, CO. After being awarded Sweden’s Eric Sahlström nyckelharpa scholarship for 2000, Ben returned to Bethany College in Lindsborg, KS, becoming the first American to earn a degree in nyckelharpa performance.
He is now pursuing his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at Brown University.
Göthlin is a protégé of renowned fiddler Mats Eden, and became a “Riksspelman” (Fiddler of the realm) in 2006.
Grafström provides both rhythm and nuance with his fluid guitar playing. A recent graduate of the folk music department at the Malmö music conservatory, he has studied with the likes of Jens Ulvsand and Roger Tallroth of the popular Swedish band “Väsen.”
“We met in 2001, at a school playing the nyckelharpa, all three of us,” Göthlin said.
The nyckelharpa, he explained, was developed in Sweden in the 1400s, and was refined by people from Belgium who settled in a region of Sweden just north of Stockholm.
“There they kind of set to playing the nyckelharpa and immersing themselves in Swedish tradition,” Göthlin said, “and then all of a sudden we had much more refined instruments. Today, Ben is playing a chromatic nyckelharpa, which was invented in the 1900s.”
The changes made to the nyckelharpa in the 1930s made it a chromatic instrument with a straight bow, making it more violin-like and no longer a bourdon instrument. Those changes helped popularize the instrument in the mid-20th century.
Its popularity began to once again decline until the ‘60s and ‘70s. Notable artists in Italy, Germany and Scandinavian countries included the nyckelharpa in their early music and contemporary music offerings.
Bjärv is helping to continue that trend.
“We feature Swedish folk music,” Göthlin said. “Most of it is traditional, and we sort of arranged everything ourselves, and just interact and play and jam and just have fun.”
The three men keep busy making music both individually and together as the group Bjärv.
“Mikael flew in two days ago (Wednesday),” Göthlin said. “and we had a gig yesterday and we’ll play again Sunday, and we’ll be back in Sioux Falls on Friday (June 28) playing in the Old Courthouse Museum.”
Bjärv’s first performance in the United States was in 2002, a year after the group formed.
“We’ve been returning to the U.S. quite often ever since,” Göthlin said. “We’ve played world fests and folk music festivals.”
The traditional Swedish tunes performed by Bjärv “remind me of Celtic music, bluegrass music and the acoustic scene in America is just great, and there are so many people interested in that kind of music. That’s pretty much basically what we play.”
One of the songs performed by Bjärv Friday afternoon is an original composition by the three men, with a sound that is heavily influenced by the sounds of traditional Swedish folk music.
Those “old” sounds include tight, beautiful harmonies.
“Lots of times in Sweden, you play in harmonies and you sing in harmonies,” Göthlin said. “That’s like the old style of doing it.”