Helan och Halvan

by Rita Leydon ©2000
 

A couple of years ago when I was just a freshly hatched nyckelharpa tadpole, I betook myself to the pond of my birth in order to learn more about my instrument. A one week submersion course. Sink or swim. I worked very hard cultivating responsive fingers and some semblance of rhythm in a strictly visually aligned body. I was totally titillated. Minus moderation. Derring-do and gung-ho.

I did gaze around now and then. Noticed who was about. Chatted a bit at meal times and so forth. I remember asking another similarly focused and mature female student who a certain attractive male teacher might be. I was absorbed, yes, but I wasn’t walking around with blinders on. She was incredulous at my lack of orientation. What planet did I come from, she seemed to wonder. She patiently explained to me that when the King needs a nyckelharpa player at an event, he calls on the object of my gaze. “Oh,” said I and feasted my eyes some more. I live in America and I’m easily impressed by Kings.

The name of the royal servant was Peter and we two found common ground a few days later in the area of ratty and exotic old cars. The ice broken, one thing led to another over a period of time as we simply became part of each other’s families. Visits back and forth across the great Atlantic ensued. In the relaxed atmosphere of good friendship, dreams were divulged, visions verbalized, possibilities pondered, and improbables imagined.

A year ago, I listened politely and with half an ear as Peter warbled on and on about his desire to produce a series of nyckelharpa lessons in DVD format. They would be interactive, he said. You could listen in Swedish or English. You could select to look at and study Peter demonstrating a tune or just his left hand close up. You could instantly jump from tune to tune at will. There would be a text too. It seemed an admirable and ambitious foggy haze at the time. I had no notion what DVD was, other than something new and big and expensive probably. Dream on, Peter Boy, thought I.

Some months passed. A free-be CD landed on my desk and vied for my attention. One blustery winter evening, I innocently stuffed the CD into my computer drive and browsed its contents. Demo software mostly. Propaganda. Promises and glitter. Inane games and useless stuff. Film editing ... hmm ... let’s have a look at that. Interesting. Oh, wow! Midnight oil illumined my cautious look-see. Intriguing. Fascinating in fact. Another world. A place I never ever dreamed of going. I probed deeper and deeper and got keener and keener. By the time I dragged off to bed, I was as good as hooked. Couldn’t sleep. Fireworks exploded in my head, disturbing my slumber. Eyes darted to and fro as brain calculated myriad possibilities lurking beyond this new thought. I was a live wire!

By morning, everything was crystal clear. I can do that! I fired off an e-mail to Peter. “Stop! Hold it! Don’t do anything! I’ll be your partner in this crazy dream of yours. OK?”

“OK.‚” Was the stunned reply.

So it was settled.

I didn’t have a clue what I was embarking on, but I was willing to scrub decks and endure the scorch of the equatorial sun just to be part and parcel of an unchartered journey to the edge of my known world. It’s the daredevil in me. It surfaces intermittently, whenever things are calm and smooth. I like things in motion. Stirred up. Agitated. I commenced diligent study and probed the depths of the internet for facts. It disgorged piles and piles of data. DVD. Digital video. Gigabytes. I figured out pretty quick that this was going to cost me. None of my on-hand computer equipment would do of course. Not a chance. No, this required bigger guns.

Every few days I fired off a gee-wiz mail to Peter keeping him abreast of the education of Rita. I passed the point of no return with the purchase a digital video camera—a Canon GL1‚—and a $400 microphone. “A $400 microphone! Are you freaking out of your mind?” Thus equipped, I flew to Sweden last summer and filmed the nyckelharpa world championship competition at Österbybruk. Cut my teeth, you might say. By serendipitous design, Peter had the good grace of snatching the brass ring at the competition. World Champ once again: 1992 and 2000. This was very convenient considering the project we two were conspiring to conjure. Way to go, Peter!

After the competition, Peter and I had our requisite, nitty gritty, down and dirty, business discussion about who does what and when. My basic question was: Would my partner “put up” when it was time? Would he materialize in my Lahaska studio and follow my direction when it was time to film and record? He assured me that he would. One hundred percent. This was not small potatoes.

Back in the States, I set about methodically acquiring the equipment I needed: an additional G4 Macintosh with oodles of power, two large monitors, a DVCAM player recorder, an NTSC studio monitor, and a blow-your-mind sound system. Final Cut Pro software for film editing. I taught myself editing by making a two and a half hour film about the nyckelharpa competition. Not too shoddy.

This fall, Peter made good on his promise to show up in America. We enjoyed three intense weeks of work and play. We took a break midstream to host a weekend American Nyckelharpa Association Stämma. I had also arranged some gigs for Peter. I felt he should be generously shared, a sprinkle here, a dollop there, maybe a slight dusting over there. People tend to smile a lot when they see and hear Peter play that funny instrument. The man is a tremendous ambassador for the music and culture of Sweden, oozing good will and charm.

So how was it to work with the Puma (as he is called)? It was wonderful and easy. Our two heads functioned as one creative mind. I was fully prepared for him. My studio was set up with black backdrop, black stool, and umbrella lights. It actually looked like I knew what I was doing. I had practiced filming with husband Chris as my subject to work out the initial kinks. Chris was a great stand in for Peter and a good sport in general. Peter had done his homework too, having sent me a mini disc with proposed music and narration so I knew where he wanted to go with the project. We were essentially on the same page when he arrived. I was impressed with his logic, progression and reasoning. I liked that I was dealing not just with a brilliant artist and musician, but with a clear thinker.

I had prepared not just the setting, but also the wardrobe of my artist. Draped on my loom was brand new black 501 Levis and an assortment of colored cotton shirts from L.L. Bean. Tan, yellow, green, blue, red, purple, and black. My notion was that we would produce several DVDs, a series, and on each one Peter would wear a different color shirt, starting with green and ending with black. “Black Diamond” is the meanest slope on the mountain. “Black Belt” is the most awesome rank in karate. “Black Harpa” will be the ultimate collection of killer tunes. I had suggested the colored shirt idea prior to Peter’s landing, and fully expected him to scoff and tell me where to get off. He didn’t.

When you listen to your world through a $400 microphone, you find it is full of sounds you never noticed before. The quietest place is downright NOISY. All sorts of buzzings and hummings and faraway cars and airplanes and crickets invade the silence you imagined was there. This detail put me in panic mode shortly before my friend’s arrival. Chris calmly suggested filming only very late at night. He would turn off everything electrical in the entire house. Chris also, at the eleventh hour, suggested, no, he insisted, that I get a second video camera to shoot the close ups with. It was the right thing. I just needed a well timed nudge.

In front of the camera, Peter was a true veteran professional. Poised. Composed. At ease. Sincere. Friendly. Personal. I think he surprised himself. I know he surprised me. One or two takes usually, an occasional third if some aspect of the digital technology glitzed when we scrutinized the rushes in the morning. When I said, “Do it over,” he did it over. No nonsense. No Prima Donna. He let me know right up front that in all matters related to the final artistic outcome of the project I was the boss. We jokingly referred to ourselves as “Helan och Halvan” (the Whole One and the Half One—what Swedes call Laurel and Hardy). In the wee early hours of the morning, after the night’s filming, we’d unwind on the kitchen sofa with a couple of gourmet beers. Some laughs. Some talk. Some dreams.

And that’s how it went. Phase One of our collaboration is now “in the can,” as they say. I’ll be busy with editing for the next couple of months. Peter is back home in Sweden. Tentative plans call for another similar session sometime in the spring and a publication/release date of around midsummer 2001 for Volume One.

Published in Nyckel Notes, November 2000/February 2001, Number 21

 

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