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The Scandinavians visit America

Scandinavians first came to America in the days of Leif Eriksen 1,000 years ago. They have been coming ever since.

The modern period of emigration from Norway dates back to 1825 with the arrival of the Restauration into the New York harbor from Stavanger. They were a group who migrated because Norway’s laws on religion discriminated against them. After 1850, the laws were changed. They were mostly Quakers and followers of Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824).

Since World War II, there have been an increasing number of visitors from Scandinavia. The value of their currency has improved since that time as their standard of living has risen. When I visited Scandinavia in 1977, the dollar was worth about five Norwegian crowns (krone), six Danish and about four Swedish. It was however, subject to variation. In 1985, the dollar was worth more than 10 Danish crowns and eight and a half Norwegian and Swedish crowns. Today the ratio favors the Scandinavian currency.

A few years ago a boys’ soccer team from Lorenskog (suburb of Oslo) came to North Dakota to play the best teams in the state. They didn’t lose a game. They did, however, make a lot of friends and left behind a few sad hearts. The American girls thought their blonde hair and blue eyes were handsome.

One of the most famous singing groups in Norway is the Silver Boy’s Choir (Solvguttenes) from Oslo. In 1982, they sang for the Norsk Hostfest in Minot and in 1983 they sang for a Tchaikovsky Festival in Moscow. To my surprise I discovered a distant relative in the choir who had our family name. We later visited his home in Oslo.

Today the best musical groups in Scandinavia vie to appear for the Norsk Hostfest. One of those who came was the Fjellklang Spelemannslag from Jolster and Breim in Norway’s Westlands. They brought to life many old songs that had almost been forgotten. On one of our trips to Norway, we stopped at a hotel cafeteria for lunch at Skei, between Ballestrand and Horindal. When the owner, Jon Skrede, heard we were from Minot, he became quite excited. He had been one of the Spelemannslag musicians to visit in our city.

Typical of these groups is the “Ganddal Pikekor” (Girls Choir, pronounced “peek-acore”) from Sandnes, county of Rogaland, in southwest Norway. Organized in 1960, the choir consists of 20 girls, ages 19-25. They have performed in many countries of Europe, the Far East and New Zealand, winning many awards. Their selections included classical works, folk songs, hymns and spirituals. They preferred to sing in churches.

Their tour divided into two groups and covered a great part of the United States, including Chicago and the Middle West, including North Dakota, Colorado, Texas and Florida. Accompanying the Gandal groups on the piano was a brilliant young Norwegian pianist named Geir Botnen from Norheimsund, about whom I will have a story later.

Not only did these beautiful young women have well trained voices, but also they sang in their native costumes called bunads. These dresses are made of pure wool, with handmade embroidery and silver brooches. Each valley has its own distinctive pattern. These clothes, which symbolize former days, get a little warm in American summers.

If one of these Scandinavian musical groups comes to your community, they deserve a good audience. The Ganddal singers have been to America several times. Singing in both English and Scandinavian languages, they won our hearts. I hope they keep coming.

Next week: An evening with Victor Borge.


ARLAND FISKE , a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.