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British Forum for Ethnomusicology

Following in the Footsteps of a Giant: When Fieldwork Past Influences Field-Work Present,
Karl Tirn and Die lappische Volksmusik
Author(s): Richard Jones-Bamman
Source: British Journal of Ethnomusicology, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2003), pp. 35-54
Published by: British Forum for Ethnomusicology
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RICHARD JONES-BAMMAN
Following in the footsteps of a giant:
when fieldwork past influences field-
work present, Karl Tiren and Die
lappische Volksmusik
Between 1909 and 1916, the Swedish amateur folklorist Karl Tiren crisscrossed
the northernmost regions of his country, collecting examples of joik, a vocal
genre unique to Scandinavia's indigenous Sami populations. While the resulting
book of his transcriptions, Die lappische Volksmusik, fell short of his goal to
preserve this tradition for future generations of Sami singers, Tirn 's legacy in
the region remains a palpable presence, despite his demise in 1955. In this
article, the author discusses the impact of this early twentieth century fieldwork
on his own research with contemporary joik artists, with Tiren occasionally
emerging as an unanticipated "partner" in the process.
One May evening in 1995, I found myself barrelling down E4, Sweden's pri-
mary north-south highway, with a large book of musical notation propped up on
my lap. While my friend and frequent collaborator, Krister Stoor, drove, I
attempted to sight sing several of the short, repetitive melodies, with the express
purpose of teaching these songs to Krister and his young cousin, Jurgen
Stenberg, seated in the back of the car. We were heading for Bergvik, a small
town in central Sweden, where we were to entertain for an intimate gathering in
the local museum. The event was the opening of an art exhibition, featuring the
genre paintings of one of Bergvik's most illustrious former residents, Karl Tirdn
(1869-1955).
While I knew virtually nothing of Tirdn's career as an artist, I was quite
familiar with his fieldwork among Scandinavia's indigenous Sami (formerly
Lapp) populations1 in the early part of the twentieth century, and in particular
1 There are approximately 65,000 Sami spread across four nations: Norway, Sweden, Finland
and Russia's Kola Peninsula. "Sami" (or "Saami") is derived from Sdmi, the term by which
these people describe themselves; "Lapp" or ("Laplander") is considered a pejorative (cf.
Beach 1988). Similarly "Lappland" is now more properly "Samiland" (Sdpmi) and their lan-
guage is referred to as "Sami", instead of "Lappish" (cf. Svensson 1976, 1978).
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL. 12/i 2003 pp. 35-54
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
his interests in their unique, unaccompanied, solo vocal genre, the joik.2
Between 1909 and 1916, Tir6n traversed the northernmost regions of Sweden
and Norway, collecting, transcribing and analysing Sami music, eventually cul-
minating in the book which currently rested rather precariously on my knees,
Die lappische Volksmusik. At that moment, Tiren's life's work was ironically
coming full circle, as I, another outsider, did my best to teach some of these joik
melodies to two young men whose Sami forebears conceivably contributed them
to Tir6n in the first place. They, in turn, were going to perform these songs when
we arrived in Tiren's hometown.
This was not the first time something like this had happened, but it was cer-
tainly the most striking example of what I had come to accept as one of my roles
among my various Sami contacts, that of musical interpreter. My initial discom-
fort with this task, fuelled no doubt by admonitions from my academic mentors
to remain as "objective" as possible in the field, had gradually yielded to an
understanding that I could genuinely be of help by making use of my musical
training. What led to this confrontation and revelation was simply the fact that
many Sami singers I met could not read Western notation sufficiently to parse
out the melodies contained in Tiren's opus. As someone moderately proficient at
sight reading and singing, I had become a resource for "liberating" this music
from the printed page, for use by a new generation of singers.
While this development was clearly more an issue of expediency and effi-
ciency, as far as my Sami friends were concerned, it also called attention to the
fact that even the most well-intentioned fieldwork can have an impact (both pos-
itive and negative) stretching far beyond the era in question. For more than fifty
years after the publication of Tir6n's Die lappische Volksmusik, the musical
examples contained therein remained inaccessible to a significant percentage of
those who might have best benefited from the collection - namely, the descen-
dents of Tirdn's original Sami contributors. Although this is unfortunately not a
unique phenomenon in ethnomusicology (cf. Seeger 1986; Koch 1983), the
results in this instance were particularly tragic, for the very genre that Tirdn doc-
umented nearly disappeared in the interim between the time of his fieldwork and
the efforts by others to repatriate some of this material nearly a century later.
I should clarify that my heightened level of engagement with Tirdn's
materials was not intentional, at least not when I began fieldwork in 1991. My
primary area of interest was (and remains) the emergence of a so-called
"modern" style of joik - that is, a rather loosely defined syncretic form of the
genre, typically combining conventional joik singing with different American
2 The most detailed musical analysis of joik probably remains Tiren's work discussed here,
but there are a number of more recent publications that address specific aspects of the genre
and its performance. For an overview of joik scholarship, placing Tirdn's collection in histor-
ical perspective, see Edstrom (1978) and Kjellstrom et al. (1988); these are also excellent
resources for information pertaining to traditional performance practices, as is Arnberg et al.
(1969). Rydving (1993) and Ahlback and Bergman (1991) provide details surrounding the use
of joik in shamanic ritual. For information regarding the renewed interest in joik in the latter
half of the twentieth century, see Edstrim (1988), Graff (1991) and Jones-Bamman (2001).
36
JONES-BAMMAN Following in the footsteps of a giant:Karl Tiren and Die lappische Volksmusik
and European popular musical idioms.3 This phenomenon began in the late
1960s, with the work of Sami singer-artist-poet, Nils-Aslak Valkeapiai, and has
gradually evolved into an important contemporary Sami cultural expression,
with its own aesthetics and performance practices. As a result, virtually all of my
understanding of Tir6n and his musical legacy has been substantially condi-
tioned by this particular focus - it was really the continual interest in Tiren
expressed by those Sami whom I interviewed and interacted with that eventually
drew me closer to his work.
Moreover, the relationship I have with this body of information has changed
considerably over the years. What began as a growing awareness of Tiren's
impact throughout Samiland has gradually developed into something akin to
what Noll describes as a "partnership" with one's predecessors in the field,
wherein past fieldwork and its resultant interpretation influences one's work in
the present (Noll 1997:163-5). What potentially sets my particular situation
apart, however, is the degree to which I have become involved with various indi-
viduals whose lives (or ancestors' lives) were personally intertwined with Tiren
during his most active periods. In this respect, I find myself confronting not just
a person whose life's work basically corresponds with my own interests but one
who was held in remarkably high regard by those whom he interviewed and
recorded. Therefore, my historical "partner" represents both a valuable resource
and a benchmark by which my own research (and that of others in the field) is
potentially evaluated - a daunting measure to live up to under any circum-
stances. And yet, there is a third, equally important aspect of this relationship to
be considered, and that is the extent to which Tir6n's published and archival
materials have expanded my role in the field by opening the door to more active
participation with Sami musicians.
This article, then, is an attempt to deal with several interrelated issues arising
from my fieldwork experiences in Sweden from 1991 to 2000. To begin with, I
would like to address the impact that historical fieldwork can have on contem-
porary efforts in the same area of study. Tiren was arguably the most successful
"Lappologist" of his generation and undoubtedly did more than any other
researcher in the field to call attention to Sami joik as a remarkable musical
phenomenon worthy of systematic study. Therefore, anyone attempting to work
within this same milieu must perforce cope with the ghost of this notable indi-
vidual. Secondly, the disposition of Tirdn's field results provides an opportunity
to discuss the eventual outcome of any such data, a topic that certainly remains
vital to contemporary fieldwork theory and practice (cf. Barz and Cooley 1997).
In this particular case, Tirdn grew surprisingly ambivalent about the publication
of his materials, despite original intentions to make his collections available to
his Sami contributors. It has been only through the efforts of a few new singers
and recent scholars that these songs of the past have surfaced again in a format
that makes them considerably more accessible. And lastly, I would like to tackle
my own small part in this process, not because I think it is crucial to the story of
3 I use the term "modem" here in the context provided by Sami writers and critics like Nils-
Aslak Valkeapaa and Nils Jernsletten (Valkeapaa 1969:2; Jernsletten 1978:117-18).
37
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
Karl Tiren, but because Tirin's experiences have continually influenced my
work, in some cases even defining my role in the field. This perhaps was made
most evident to me when, in June 2000, I sat across the table from Tiren's grand-
son and great-grandson in the cabin their famous ancestor had built for himself
high in the mountains in northern Sweden. Over cups of strong coffee and hard-
tack slathered with cloudberry preserves, I found myself the object of study, as I
was interviewed for the family archives. In this state of heightened reflection,
what became abundantly clear was the extent to which I had retraced many of
Tiren's footsteps as I pursued my own interests in Samiland.
Tiren's legacy
My first knowledge of Karl Tiren's fieldwork in Samiland came, not surpris-
ingly, through his book, Die lappische Volksmusik (hereafter, DIV), published by
the Nordic Museum in Stockholm in 1942, as part of that institution's Acta
Laponica series on Sami culture. While my interest was initially given to the
more than 500 transcriptions that filled the greater portion of this publication, it
was the author's writings about the process of creating this work that ultimately
proved more beneficial in my understanding of this rather enigmatic character
and his legacy in the field. Tiren went to some length to describe the inherent
difficulty in transcribing this music, giving particular weight to the misunder-
standings that were likely to occur on the part of those unfamiliar with this
unusual vocal genre. He noted, for example, the cultural differences evident in
performance practice, including the use of what he termed "gliding tones" and a
rather gruff vocal timbre. In this respect, Tiren was considerably more cognizant
than his peers that the sound of Sami music was the result of different aesthetic
principles, and not some presumably inferior ability to produce music, as had so
often been the judgement of early fieldworkers in the region (cf. Edstrim 1978,
Kjellstrim et al. 1988).
This sensitivity for his subject and concern that the individuals who con-
tributed to his work be fairly represented not only set Tiren apart from his con-
temporary "Lappologists" but also endeared him greatly to his informants
(Stenman 1991:16). In fact, much of his remarkable success can be credited to
this aspect of his personality - Tiren was genuinely fond of his contributors, and
they of him. Torkel Tomasson, the editor of Sweden's fledgling Sami newspaper,
Samefolkets Egen Tidning, went so far as to declare the amateur folklorist a
"Sami friend" and spoke at length of the importance of Tiren's fieldwork for
future Sami generations (Tomasson 1919:9-10). At a time when Sami popula-
tions were increasingly beleaguered by legislative efforts in Scandinavia to limit
traditional livelihoods (reindeer herding, fishing and hunting) and to effectively
control Sami ethnicity, the confirmation of such an accolade by one of the more
outspoken Sami political figures was no minor event (cf. Beach 1981; also
Ruong 1982).
As I was to discover, it was his status as someone sympathetic to Sami con-
cerns, more than the actual results of his fieldwork, which also endeared Tirdn to
later generations. During my first months of fieldwork in Sweden, I interviewed
38
JONES-BAMMAN Following in the footsteps of a giant:Karl Tiren and Die lappische Volksmusik
an older Sami woman whose mother had sung for Tiren (Jakobsen 1991, pers.
comm.). Her obvious delight in this occurrence was something that I was to
encounter on several occasions; a number of individuals proudly identified
family members who had performed for Tir6n during one of his field trips to
Samiland. Yet, most of those who volunteered this information had little specific
knowledge of what this experience had entailed for their ancestors, nor were
they necessarily aware of Tirdn's publications, which ostensibly featured some
of these same relatives.
In my naivet6, this situation struck me as odd. I would have expected people
to take a more active interest, at the very least to seek out a copy of DIV to con-
firm the date and place where these performances occurred. Although this book
could hardly be described as readily available in Sweden, the entire Acta
Laponica series of publications is typically found in any academic library in the
country. Yet, I had not reckoned on the difficulties that a German text presented
this audience, nor did I take into account the larger problem of limited famili-
arity with Western notation.
But the largest impediment had little to do with Tirdn or his book. The con-
text for performing these joiks changed considerably between the time that Tir6n
collected them and their publication nearly thirty years later - in many regions
of Samiland, the practice had nearly disappeared entirely.4 When I was inter-
viewing older Sami individuals in the early 1990s (those most likely to have had
the closest connections with Tir6n), the effects of this were still quite evident.
For nearly two generations, few Sami had been willing to acknowledge an inter-
est in this music, for fear of reprisals, both from within and outside their com-
munities. This explained the paradox that I encountered: people were proud that
their relatives had participated in this grand project, despite the fact that the
resulting book served as a reminder of musical practices which some still felt
uncomfortable discussing. In essence, they kept the two phenomena separate:
one could take pride in the accomplishments of one's forebears without neces-
sarily condoning the acts themselves.
The apparent demise of joik as a viable Sami expression had actually been
predicted by Tiren and other folklorists and ethnologists working among these
populations in the early part of the twentieth century, and served as an effective
catalyst for their fieldwork. Earlier work in the region had revealed a significant
decline in all aspects of traditional Sami culture, this being the predictable result
of assimilationist policies enacted by the dominant Scandinavian governments.
These conditions worsened considerably with the dissolution of the Norway-
Sweden Union in 1905. The creation of two separate nations resulted in the
4 The reasons for this decline are beyond the purview and intent of this article but can be sum-
marized as resulting from a confrontation between Sami traditionalists and those who sought
to assimilate these same populations, particularly Christian missionaries and clergy. By the
late nineteenth century, joik had become a negative symbol of identity for many Sami, and its
performance was discouraged in all contexts. For a more thorough explanation see Jones-
Bamman (2001) and Edstrom (1978); for specific information about the role of the clergy in
this process see Outakoski (1991) and Rydving (1993).
39
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
closing of long stretches of a border that had once been freely traversed by Sami
reindeer herders (Ruong 1969:60-3). This proved catastrophic for nearly 15,000
Sami who were forced to slaughter their reindeer herds and take up farming and
other more sedentary livelihoods. For those observers, like Tir6n, who recog-
nized the importance of herding to these populations, this unfortunate event
seemed to toll a death knell for Sami culture (T. Tir6n 1982:5-6).
Tiren's career as a fieldworker, therefore, began in part out of desperation, as
he sought to "save" materials (songs in this instance) that he was quite sure
would soon disappear, perhaps within a single generation. Acting initially with-
out financial support, Tirdn used his own vacation time to pursue his personal
crusade (Stenman 1991:16-17). He eventually attracted sufficient interest in his
collecting activities to warrant funding from both the Nordic Museum and the
Swedish Folk Music Commission, but never enough to resign his position as a
station master with the Swedish railroad. The impact that this had on Tir6n is
most evident in the letters he exchanged with members of the various agencies
responsible for funding this type of work, wherein the would-be fieldworker was
forced to plead his case at each step of this monumental project.5
Tir6n's monetary problems, however, were not simply an indication of a lack
of funds for such research - there was a more important subtext here. At the time
that Tiren began his fieldwork, other Swedish folklorists and ethnologists, like
their counterparts across Europe, were engaged in collecting all evidence of their
own traditional culture, with a decidedly nationalist agenda fueling these activi-
ties (Ahlback 1984: 9-13). A substantial body of Swedish fiddle music (Svenska
L&tar) had recently been published by Nils and Otto Andersson, and folk music
contests (under the auspices of the Swedish romantic genre painter, Anders
Zorn) had been initiated with the express purpose of preserving and promoting
traditional instruments and repertoire (cf. Ling et al. 1984). Within this atmos-
phere, Tiren would seemingly fit right in, particularly given his family back-
ground. His father, Olof (1817-89), had contributed musical transcriptions to
several important nineteenth century collectors, and his oldest brother, Johan
(1853-1911), was one of Sweden's most celebrated nationalist-romantic genre
painters (H. Tirdn 2000, pers. comm.). However, with his own interests rooted in
Sami culture, Karl Tir6n represented an altogether different agenda, one that
flew in the face of the prevailing attitudes towards this ethnic minority at the
opening of the twentieth century. By focusing his collecting efforts in this con-
flicted area, he was bound to draw some fire, for he was essentially calling atten-
tion to a population that many preferred to either ignore or recast as good
Swedes, stripped of their "primitive" characteristics. Even the positive notice he
received in the Swedish press at the height of his collecting activities positioned
Tir6n as one who worked outside the usual domain of his peers, more at home
among "our nomads" and their "primitive magical-religious performances from
distant bygone days" (Stadling 1914:2).
5 A number of these letters are contained in the archives of the Swedish Music Museum. I am
indebted to Inger Stenman of the Harnisand (Sweden) Museum for pointing me towards
these resources, and to Hans Ribdn (director of the museum) for making them available to me.
40
JONES-BAMMAN Following in the footsteps of a giant:Karl Tiren and Die lappische Volksmusik
Consequently, Tirdn's fieldwork necessitated a good deal of self-sacrifice, on
several levels, and yet this degree of involvement may well have helped further
endear him to his Sami contributors. An oft-repeated explanation for Tir6n's
devotion to this project has all the stuff of myths. Before his first collecting
excursion in 1909, Tir6n dreamt that he found a small casket in an empty church
amongst the barren fells of Samiland. Drawn inexplicably closer, he lifted the lid
and found the body of a child clad in traditional Sami garb. He carefully
removed the tiny corpse and gently breathed on its face. To his great surprise,
the child blinked its eyes and smiled up at him. Caught in the mystery of this
moment, Tiren failed to notice the entrance of the child's family, who berated
him for defiling the corpse, for they were unaware of the resurrection that had
taken place. Once they understood, however, the family informed Tir6n that this
was the seventh child they had lost, and that only he had the apparent ability to
reverse this tragic situation. With this revelation, the dream ended, but its sub-
sequent interpretation proved crucial to Tirdn's success as a fieldworker. An
older Sami woman informed Tiren that this dream clearly marked him as the one
person who could rescue what was left of the traditional joik repertoire (T. Tir6n
1982:6). Armed with this justification, Tir6n began his collecting in earnest, a
process that occupied all of his spare time over the next seven years.
The veracity of this story is not the issue here, but rather the strong interest
that it engendered through its constant retelling, during Tirdn's period of field-
work and long after. I heard this same tale on two different occasions from older
Sami women, with virtually no variation in any of the details. In each instance,
the person relating the story had heard it within her own family. Moreover, these
were families who had contributed to Tir6n's collections, thereby adding to the
web of connections these women perceived entangling themselves, their fore-
bears, Karl Tiren and his collecting activities.
It is precisely this combination of mythologizing and personal accounts that
has kept the folklorist's name and reputation in circulation well into the present.
Somewhat surprisingly, with his collecting completed in 1916, Tiren turned to
other musical interests, primarily Swedish fiddling styles and violin making.
Nevertheless, he remained very visible in the Sami press for the rest of his life,
with articles marking lectures he gave, important birthdays and finally his obitu-
ary in 1955. In each instance, Tirdn was described as the individual responsible
for the massive joik collecting project; later articles usually included mention of
his book as well. After his death, interest in Tiren subsided briefly, only to be
revived in the late 1960s, when several of the participants in another massive
joik collecting project in Sweden mentioned the folklorist again, thereby intro-
ducing the man and his work to another generation of scholars (cf. Arnberg et al.
1969). More recently, Tir6n has been the focus of at least one Master's thesis
concerning his fieldwork methodologies (cf. Stenman 1998), and there is cur-
rently considerable effort to make his research materials available to a much
wider audience.
This, then, is the legacy that anyone interested in pursuing fieldwork in
Samiland must be prepared to encounter, particularly those who choose to work
in Sweden, where Tirdn conducted the majority of his collecting activities. Even
41
42 BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
with the obvious epistemological and methodological changes that have taken
place in the social sciences since Tiren's era, the fact remains that he amassed a
significant collection of data and documented an important period in Sami his-
tory. Moreover, he established a protocol for behaviour in the field that, while far
from perfect, was a much-needed change from the paternalistic, patronizing
efforts of his predecessors. Some of the best supportive evidence of Tiren's field-
work methods can be found in the writings of Karl-Erik Forsslund, who accom-
panied Tiren on one of his summer collecting excursions. Forsslund was
obviously quite taken with the degree of familiarity expressed by Tirdn and his
contributors for one another (cf. Forsslund 1914).
Yet, it was not these particular factors that influenced my fieldwork, so much
as the shadow of the man, himself. The more I have worked in this area, the
more critical it seems to me that one must be aware of the impact Tiren had on
specific communities and individuals nearly a century ago. This has become par-
ticularly evident as I have seen the extent to which his collecting activities now
play a role among the contemporary Sami musicians, who have been the focus
of my own research.
Die lappische Volksmusik
The difficulties that Tiren encountered when trying to publish his materials are
worthy of a brief explanation as well, for they point to a dilemma that potentially
plagues all fieldworkers: for whose use are such data intended, and how and
under what circumstances will they be made accessible? As has been explained,
Tiren cast himself as a saviour of this repertoire, a role that gained considerable
credibility apparently with each of his field excursions. But, he was also con-
cerned that his own efforts to fulfil this destiny would not be sufficient, hence his
carefully worded disclaimers regarding the difficulties in transcribing joik
melodies in the opening section of his book. So, why create the book in the first
place - particularly one that was destined to remain obscure for a sizeable per-
centage of his Sami acquaintances?
In effect, Tiren was positioned between two realms: on the one hand, he
wanted to justify his efforts with his Swedish peers by producing a significant
publication detailing the findings of his fieldwork; on the other, he had accepted
the responsibility of preserving this material, ostensibly for the use of future
Sami generations. In a partial attempt to reconcile these competing objectives,
Tiren explored the possibility of using a phonograph in the field. This would
potentially allow him to store joik performances in their "raw" form, and pro-
vide him with a tool to aid in the difficult process of transcription.6 Moreover,
recordings had the added benefit of providing an accurate descriptive model of
performance, thereby mollifying Tiren's concerns regarding his transcription
6 Tiren was not the first to take advantage of this new technology in Samiland. That distinc-
tion belongs to two Finnish folklorists, Vaino Salminen and Armas Launis, who made several
cylinder recordings of joik performances in 1905 and 1906 (Terhag 1993:88; see also Edstrim
1987).
JONES-BAMMAN Following in the footsteps of a giant:Karl Tiren and Die lappische Volksmusik
skills. If properly stored, these cylinders would offer future generations of Sami
(and other interested parties) a sonic window into the past, thus increasing the
likelihood of preservation of this particular musical tradition within an admit-
tedly changing cultural context.
Tir6n's first requests to secure a phonograph for his fieldwork were rebuffed
by his benefactors at the Nordic Museum (Stenman 1998:34-5), but he eventu-
ally gained their financial support. Beginning in the summer of 1911, Tir6n
hauled a spring-wound cylinder recording device with him for the duration of
his fieldwork in Samiland, ultimately producing over 700 cylinders. In order to
conserve materials, each of the cylinders typically contained more than one per-
formance and often included different singers. All told, at the end of this partic-
ular period in his career, he had captured an estimated two thousand joik
performances on wax cylinders (ibid.).
In accordance with more accepted field methods of his era, Tirdn had suc-
ceeded in writing down quite a number of these melodies in his notebooks as the
performances occurred, but thanks to the recordings, he was free to continue this
process at his own leisure, and check his initial field transcriptions. In the end,
he selected 514 joik melodies for inclusion in his book, each categorized accord-
ing to criteria provided by his Sami contributors. A joik is essentially descriptive,
providing the singer/composer with a means of accurately depicting a specific
subject through the manipulation of melodic contours, rhythmic patterns, vocal
timbre, text and even mimicry in some instances (cf. Edstrom 1978). The classi-
fication of joiks, from a Sami perspective, is thus primarily a grouping according
to subject - i.e., personal joiks, animal joiks, etc. (Stoor 1991, pers. comm.).
The recordings also eased linguistic difficulties, for Tiren did not speak Sami
with any real fluency. Under most circumstances, this would not have repre-
sented a significant problem, for centuries of contact with Scandinavian speak-
ers meant that most of Tir6n's contributing singers spoke or at least understood
Swedish or Norwegian. But this was not the case when it came to the interpreta-
tion of joik lyrics. The latter were often sparse, consisting primarily of vocables
and fragmentary text, but occasionally there were songs with more lyrical con-
tent. With the aid of a recording, Tiren could repeatedly listen to such passages
in an attempt to transcribe the words phonetically, making it possible to discuss
the actual interpretation of these songs at a later date.
By any measure, Die lappische Volksmusik was a monumental achievement,
but there were a number of factors that diluted its impact, particularly from the
perspective of Tir6n's Sami audience. The most significant impediment was lan-
guage. It was determined that, as a new volume in the Nordic Museum's existing
Acta Laponica series, Tir6n's manuscript would best be published in a language
that had far greater academic potential than Swedish - namely, German, French
or English. The series editor, ethnologist/Lappologist Ernst Manker, therefore
arranged to have Tir6n's writings translated into German. A comparison of the
original Swedish manuscript (stored in the Nordic Museum Archives in
Stockholm; a rough draft can also be found in the Dialekt och Folkminnes
Arkivet in Umei, Sweden) and the published version demonstrates a very high
level of agreement, but the fact remains that German was not a commonly read
43
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
language outside the academy. The only inclusion of Sami language was in the
joik texts and titles, but even this effort was fraught with difficulties. Because
Tirrn's contributors spoke several different Sami dialects, and because no stan-
dard Sami orthography existed at the time of publication, the texts that were
reproduced in DIV were extremely problematic, and continue to vex Sami
linguists today. In many instances, it is not at all clear what the lyrics mean, a
situation that is exacerbated by Sami proclivity for metaphor and multiple inter-
pretations of the same word (cf. Gaski 1987). For all practical purposes, these
combined linguistic difficulties meant that Tirrn's Sami audience had been
denied access to the materials that the author had so purposefully gathered and
collated on their behalf.
Yet, what about Tirin's recordings? Even if the transcriptions and their
analyses were effectively removed from consideration as a resource, surely the
cylinders that Tiren and his contributors had so painstakingly created would still
be available. Tragically, these, too, failed to meet Tiren's (or his Sami audi-
ence's) expectations. In recognition of the fragility of these artifacts, arrange-
ments were made by the Nordic Museum's administration to ship approximately
500 of Tiren's cylinders to Berlin where they were to be plated and/or trans-
ferred to a more stable recording medium. Unfortunately, this occurred in the
mid-1930s, and the Second World War intervened before the process could be
completed. To date, none of these materials has been recovered and all are now
presumed irretrievable. Thus, by the time DIV was issued in 1942, Tirrn's audi-
ence had been severely delimited, with the contributing Sami communities being
the most adversely affected.
The Musical Interpreter?
When I began my first extended period of fieldwork in Sweden in 1991, I knew
little of this story. I had spent some time working through Tirdn's book to better
familiarize myself with the musical structure of joik, but had no idea that he had
made and used recordings in the collection and analysis of his materials (this
was not mentioned in DIV), nor did I have any sense of his continuing impact in
the region. Therefore, it came as quite a surprise when I began regularly encoun-
tering mention of this man, both in archival resources (primarily newspapers and
travelogues from the early twentieth century) and in conversation with Sami
people I met. Once I began following this particular thread, however, I realized
that any work I pursued within this subject area would be likely to yield yet
another connection with the man whom I was coming to view as my forebear.
Nevertheless, these brushes with Tiren were initially serendipitous and rarely
influenced or directed my own research interests. One revelation changed this,
however, although at the time the direction in which it would lead me was any-
thing but clear.
While the bulk of Tirdn's cylinders was irrevocably lost, early in 1992 I was
informed that there remained 257 that the ethnologist had held back for his per-
sonal collection. These were now housed in the Music Museum in Stockholm,
having been given to this institution by Tir6n's family after his death (cf.
44
JONES-BAMMAN Following in the footsteps of a giant:Karl Tiren and Die lappische Volksmusik
Stenman 1991; H. Tirdn 2000, pers. comm.). The cylinders had been transferred
to magnetic tape (seven-inch reels) in the 1970s and were available for research
purposes, if used within the museum's facilities. Several had also been success-
fully digitized and sonically cleaned up for use in a radio series documenting
Tiren's life and were archived in the Stockholm offices of Swedish Radio
(Stenman 1992, pers. comm.). Having no immediate plans to visit Stockholm,
however, I redirected my efforts to interviewing contemporary Sami artists who
were freely mixing traditional joik performance with any number of different
musical genres (cf. Jones-Bamman 1993; 2001). Yet, it was while I was engaged
in this pursuit that Tiren's name and book surfaced again, for one of the musi-
cians I encountered (Frode Fjellheim) had recently recorded a CD of joik
melodies, the majority of which were taken directly from DIV.
When I met Fjellheim he was working as a theatre musician-composer and
freelance keyboardist.7 His musical background was considerably varied,
including performance experience in rock, classical and jazz contexts; he had
also earned a music degree in piano from Trondheim University. Until the late
1980s, however, Fjellheim had done nothing musically that reflected his Sami
heritage. He was certainly aware of joik and its traditional performance contexts,
but not being a singer, he had never seriously considered this genre in the pursuit
of his own musical career. This changed when he received a request from an
older Sami woman, Anna Jacobsen, to compose a score for a dance performance
featuring a group of young Sami dancers. Moreover, Jacobsen, knowing that
Fjellheim did not perform joik himself, suggested that the young composer
obtain a copy of DIV from the library, and seek inspiration among the hundreds
of melodies contained therein.
Fjellheim accepted the commission, intent on locating material from his
family's home area in southern Samiland. Ultimately, the dance project failed to
develop, but Fjellheim was so intrigued with the music he unearthed that he
elected to continue on his own, hoping to create a recording of instrumental
arrangements based largely on Tirdn's transcriptions. With support from both the
Norwegian and Swedish Culture Boards, Fjellheim released Sangen vi glemte
(Songs we forgot) in 1991 (Iut Records ICD911). The results were well
received among Sami listeners, despite the fact that Fjellheim had converted a
vocal repertoire into purely instrumental performances.
When I contacted Fjellheim, I was primarily interested in exploring how he
had chosen these particular joiks and what he hoped to accomplish with the
recording.8 As the conversation unfolded, however, it became clear that
7 All of the information in this section was derived from interviews with Frode Fjellheim in
Trondheim (Norway) conducted in March 1992 and in Ostersund (Sweden) in June 1992.
8 I should clarify that my initial research with Sami musicians concerned the aesthetic para-
meters for "Sami" music in contemporary performance contexts, and how these were estab-
lished or maintained. My assumption going into the field was that joik played a significant
role in this process but that other factors (such as language and costuming) might prove
equally important. Fjellheim remains the only Sami musician I have interviewed who focused
exclusively on instrumental music.
45
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
Fjellheim wanted to talk about Tir6n and his transcriptions. As a highly skilled
musician, Fjellheim easily read through the melodies contained in DIV, but even
his rudimentary familiarity with joik made it clear that Tir6n's transcriptions
were simply "skeletons" (Fjellheim's description). Without the requisite singing
experience, however, he did not feel qualified to tease out the missing details in
these simple renditions. Consequently, he used the melodies as provided by
Tir6n, relying solely on his arranging skills to break the monotony of the simple,
repetitive joiks. It was at this point in our conversation that I remembered the
recordings housed in the Music Museum in Stockholm and mentioned that it
might be possible to obtain audio examples of at least a few of the joik melodies
he had chosen, presuming they were among the surviving collection.
Over the next month, I arranged to visit the archives at the Music Museum.
In short order, I was provided with listening copies of the Tir6n cylinders, and
after several hours of effort I found recorded performances of three of the ten
joiks from DIV Fjellheim had chosen for his project. The museum staff made
copies for me, and I returned north to my home base in Umea, where I continued
with a search in our regional historical archive, Dialekt och folkminnes Arkivet
Umea (DAUM). I was hoping to find some of Tir6n's field notebooks there,
stored among his personal papers, which I knew the archive had received
(Stenman 1992, pers. comm.). Once again the search proved fruitful, and I
located copies of nearly all of the melodies Fjellheim used, this time in Tir6n's
own hand.
When I met with Fjellheim again, I handed over these materials, since he had
expressed an interest in examining how Tir6n approached the transcription
process, and how accurately he was able to notate what he recorded. The meet-
ing was brief, so there was little time for discussion, but I realized at the time
that I had moved into a new role. I was now more actively engaged with my con-
tributors, reciprocating instead of merely recording and analysing their opinions
and music. I had played banjo and guitar with Sami musicians on occasion, but
this had not been much more than a means of getting to know one another. With
Fjellheim, I felt that I had crossed a line, perhaps directing him towards
resources that he might not have discovered on his own.
I do not mean to overemphasize my role here, but the materials I found for
Fjellheim were not readily accessible, unless one were prepared to wrestle with
the peculiarities of different archival cataloguing systems. Tir6n's collections
(both recordings and manuscripts) were certainly not restricted in any manner,
but a combination of unfortunate circumstances during the folklorist's lifetime
had rendered important aspects of his fieldwork obscure and largely forgotten.
Therefore, as one engaged in a similar field of interest and increasingly caught
up in Tirtn's legacy (both by accident and by choice), I found this simple detec-
tive work gratifying on several levels. At the very least, it was personally
rewarding to give something back to those who had been so gracious with me
during my numerous requests for information and clarification. Yet, more impor-
tantly, I also had a strong sense that even such a small contribution as this
advanced Tirdn's goal to make these materials available to future generations. In
this respect, I joined the small coterie of those who recognized not only the
46
JONES-BAMMAN Following in the footsteps of a giant:Karl Tiren and Die lappische Volksmusik
academic significance of Tirdn's work but also the remarkable potential that his
transcriptions and recordings represented for contemporary Sami singers (cf.
Stenman 1991, Doj 1982, Edstrdm 1978).9
Each time I returned to Samiland over the next few years, my path would
inevitably cross with Tir6n's again. Thus, soon after arriving back in Umea in
1995, I was not particularly surprised when Jurgen Stenberg, a fine young singer
from the South Sami district of Mala, showed up at my door one evening,
clutching photocopies of several pages from Die lappische Volksmusik. He was
preparing an entry tape for the prestigious Sami Gran Prix, an annual music
competition held in Kautokeino, Norway, over the Easter weekend; Stenberg
wanted to include some joiks from his own region for his audition.
Unfortunately, there were no longer any singers in the Mala area from whom he
could learn this repertoire, so he had appealed to his cousin Krister Stoor (an
equally gifted singer) for assistance. Stoor, in turn, helped him locate several
appropriate transcriptions from the Tir6n collection and sent him over to me for
help with reading the notation. Eventually we settled on a method that worked
best for him: I played the melodies on my banjo while he sang along, getting the
feel for each one. This was not the first time that playing the melody on an
instrument proved more beneficial than my attempts to sing the same piece. I
can and do sing but have not learned the nuances ofjoik performance; I suspect
that the sound of an instrument is actually more neutral in this context.
We made a recording of several of the selections that he liked (including two
from distant relatives of both of the cousins), and that was the last I heard from
him until the competition itself. That night he was the only entrant representing
the South Sami region, and he performed one of the Tir6n joiks in a slow,
expressive manner that really demonstrated his mastery of this particular
regional style. I doubt that anyone besides his cousin and I knew the genesis of
this piece, and in truth it bore little resemblance to Tir6n's "skeleton" - this
young singer had filled in the appropriate details and made the song his own in
the process, which is very much in keeping with the aesthetics of joik perform-
ance. A basic joik melody is merely a model that is subject to constant reinter-
pretation in performance (I. A. A. Gaup 1992, pers. comm.). The degree of
improvisation is further influenced by regional and individual stylistic para-
meters. Consequently, any given performance of a joik can vary considerably
from previous performances, even by the same individual - all that is shared is
its "core" melody (A. M. Gaup 1990, pers. comm.).
That same year, Krister Stoor and I began performing with a group of
Swedish folk musicians, combining Stoor's joik singing with traditional
Swedish dance repertoire. When the band, Ovttas ("Together" in Sami) first
formed, Tir6n's transcriptions in DIV served as the primary inspiration, with
Stoor typically choosing pieces that were collected from our immediate area
9 Mention also needs to be given to the numerous Sami individuals who expressed similar
opinions in both casual conversation and formal interviews. It is people like this within Sami
communities who have continually kept Tirdn's legacy alive, particularly during those periods
when the practice ofjoik was in decline.
47
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
(Visterbotten) or from his home region further north (Jukkasjirvi).lo The twin
fiddlers either harmonized the melody as originally notated or created a support-
ive obbligato behind the singer, while a string bass player and I (playing acoustic
guitar) provided a rhythmic anchor for the ensemble. Here again, the ability to
read Western notation proved a valuable asset, with one of the violinists and me
sharing these duties. The others listened, picking up the basic melody by ear,
and gradually worked out the arrangements. At the end of each practice session,
we usually made simple cassette recordings for everyone, as a reminder of the
basic musical ideas we had agreed on.
The actual performances were much more improvisatory than this descrip-
tion implies, for Stoor would change the joiks as he sang, in keeping with his
own aesthetic. This demanded considerable flexibility from the two fiddlers,
who not only adjusted their obbligato parts, but also attempted to mirror the
singer's nuances when they took over playing/harmonizing the melody. If any-
thing, the bassist and I had the easiest part, since the rhythmic underpinning
remained the same no matter what the others did.
In the years since I left the area, Ovttas has achieved a rather remarkable
degree of popularity, as one of the few truly musically integrated groups in
Samiland. One obvious change has occurred, however: in 1996 Stoor began
using recordings of the Tirdn material, made newly available in a digital format
under the aegis of the Music Museum in Stockholm. Now he is rarely without
his miniature tape recorder, listening to copies of cylinder recordings made
nearly a century ago. These melodies are the raw materials from which he
creates his own joik interpretations, not by slavishly copying the performances,
but by absorbing both the core melody and the singers' individual nuances.
Some of these simply enter into his personal repertoire, not intended for stage
use, while others are brought to the group for their consideration. But in this
latter context, the transformation of the creative process is even more evident.
With few exceptions, Ovttas no longer turns to DIV for its inspiration, relying
instead on Stoor's interpretations of Tirdn's recordings for their new-old joik
repertoire. The fiddlers still work out their own parts, as does the bassist, but the
joik melodies themselves are strictly the provenance of Stoor, the lone Sami in
the band (Stoor 2000, pers. comm.). Within this symbiotic arrangement, Karl
Tirdn's influence is doubly evident, for not only was he a collector of joiks but
he also played a significant role in the revitalization of Swedish traditional
fiddling in the first half of the twentieth century. Somehow, it seems entirely fit-
ting that both of these interests should find musical expression in an ensemble
based in Samiland.
10 Stoor's joik performances are typically quite eclectic, reflecting his familial background
(his mother and father are South and North Sami respectively), his close association with rein-
deer herding as a child and his current position as an urban-based professor of Sami studies.
All of these factors have influenced the manner in which he sings and his choice of repertoire
(Stoor 1995 and 2000, pers. comm.).
48
JONES-BAMMAN Following in the footsteps of a giant:Karl Tiren and Die lappische Volksmusik
Coda
In June 2000, I returned to Sweden for six weeks of fieldwork, intent on evalu-
ating the state of contemporary Sami commercial music production and distri-
bution and checking in with various Sami acquaintances. I was not surprised,
however, when the spectre of Karl Tiren again loomed large in my path. This
particular project involved a good deal of travel, as those involved in this grass-
roots movement are spread across Samiland. As has been the case so often in the
past, I asked Krister Stoor to accompany me for one long leg of my tour, valuing
both his company and his insight. We spent the first evening in Kiruna, Sweden,
with Stoor's parents, and left early the next morning for a day-long drive to
Lofoten, Norway, where we were to attend the premiere of a new "Sami Mass"
composed by Frode Fjellheim. Krister had heard that this project had drawn
Fjellheim back to Tirdn's collection for inspiration, and thus it was not surpris-
ing that we were once again deep in discussion about the old folklorist and his
work as we drove through the snow-dappled fells of northern Sweden that June
morning.
As we approached the Swedish-Norwegian border, Krister began reminis-
cing about the summers he had spent up in this barren region, which in turn
sparked a long-buried memory of a cabin far up in the fells above Bjirkleden, a
hiking and tourist outpost where he had worked. Without any second thought,
we elected to find this place, despite the fact that we had a tight travel schedule.
The motivation was simple: the cabin was built by Tiren as a summer cottage in
Samiland for his family's use, and the surrounding tract eventually proved to be
his final resting place. We had no guarantee that the cabin still stood, but felt that
a chance to visit Tirdn's grave was reason enough for the detour. It took some
time to locate the right gravel road, but having done so, we were a bit surprised
to find another car parked at what we presumed was the trailhead to the cabin.
Perhaps there were others with a similar mission?
After several false starts (the trail was still covered with snow in places, so
difficult to follow), we arrived at a promontory overlooking a heavily forested
valley, and there stood the cabin, with wisps of smoke escaping from the chim-
ney. Having come this far, it took no great effort to simply knock on the door
and introduce ourselves. To our delight, we were greeted by Harald and Svante
Tirdn, grandson and great-grandson of Karl, who invited us in to the cosy two-
room cabin for coffee and conversation. Because of its remote location, the
cabin has neither electricity nor plumbing, so it remains very much the same as
when it was built in the 1920s. Young Svante, in particular, was anxious to point
out all of the evidence of his famous ancestor, from the paintings on the walls to
the small pump organ that Tiren had hauled up to the cabin for musical enter-
tainment with the family. The preservation of these artifacts, coupled with the
enthusiasm of our hosts, made it clear that Karl Tiren's memory was secure in
this small space.
For the next couple of hours, we sat in the cabin and exchanged our stories.
The Tirdns found our interest in their patriarch a bit surprising, particularly
given our different backgrounds. As an American, I was the obvious stand-out,
49
50 BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
and I found myself explaining once again how I came to work in this region."
Yet, the more significant visitor was Krister, for here was an individual whose
kin had once sung for Karl Tir6n. Moreover, Krister's interest in joik and his
frequent mining of Tir6n's preserved materials were the best possible evidence
that the old man's treks across the region so many years ago had yielded posi-
tive results.
Before leaving, we all hiked up the hill to the family grave site, there to pay
our respects to the individual who had inadvertently touched all of our lives and
made this meeting possible. Nothing I had encountered as a fieldworker in the
past had prepared me sufficiently for this particular experience, for the impact
was considerably more personal than I could have anticipated. Yet, here I stood
with members of Tir6n's family and my closest friend, reflecting on how much I
had been influenced by this man's work over the last decade; this new connec-
tion merely brought it all closer into focus.
I had never intended to follow the path of Karl Tir6n, and must admit that he
still represents an enigma of sorts for me. While I certainly understand the moti-
vation for his fieldwork, and obviously appreciate the archival and published
results of his labour, Tir6n's self-appointed position as the "saviour" of Sami joik
smacks of the patronizing attitudes that have plagued Scandinavian-Sami rela-
tions for years. Contrary to prevailing opinions among the so-called
Lappologists of the early twentieth century, Sami culture proved remarkably
resilient, even during the worst periods of assimilation policies enacted by the
same governments that typically funded fieldwork in Samiland. The joik, albeit
relegated to private and even secretive practice for nearly half a century, sur-
vived and flourishes today among a new generation of singers. Had Tir6n's
materials been more readily available, perhaps this process of revitalization
would have occurred sooner, or taken a different trajectory - hindsight is always
tempting to use when trying to assess the impact of such work - but the fact
remains that joik did not meet the fate that Tir6n and his contemporaries
predicted.
Nevertheless, it is important to consider that when Torkel Tomasson declared
Tirdn a "Sami friend" in 1919, the fieldworker's efforts in Samiland had been
completed for three years. Therefore, it was the promise of materials created for
a Sami public (books, articles, etc.) that really lay behind this accolade, for
Tomasson was also concerned about the status of this genre and pinned high
hopes on Tiren's collection as a resource. In this light, Tir6n's activities after
completing his fieldwork are particularly troubling. The long interim between
his years in the field and the publication of Die lappische Volksmusik (not to
mention its release in German), and the subsequent loss of the best recordings,
11 As mentioned in the introduction, the Tir6ns were sufficiently intrigued with our stories that
they recorded our conversation for their family archive, which seemed to consist largely of
written and recorded mementos of former guests and acquaintances. Most of the visitors to
the Tiren cabin apparently have little or no knowledge of the family's previous Sami connec-
tions. They are more likely to recognize Tiren's name for his contributions to Swedish folk
music research or for his paintings.
JONES-BAMMAN Following in the footsteps of a giant:Karl Tiren and Die lappische Volksmusik
meant that the grand project was essentially consigned to archives and libraries
to which few Sami had easy access; indeed, many are still unaware of the exis-
tence of Tir6n's book. The remaining recordings that have more recently gener-
ated such interest were similarly held in obscurity in the Music Museum in
Stockholm, despite the efforts of the staff to transfer the cylinder recordings to a
more stable medium. Unfortunately, the resulting tapes were cumbersome to use
and of marginal quality, with all of the surface noise of the original cylinders
actually amplified in the transfer process. Additionally, copies of these seven-
inch reels were prohibitive to purchase given the labour involved, so access was
effectively limited to the Museum's archive facilities. These same recordings
were recently recopied onto a digital format, which has substantially alleviated
these problems (Riben 2000, pers. comm.), but even in this instance, it took the
concerted efforts of a consortium of concerned scholars and Sami public figures
to bring this project to fruition (Stenman 2000, pers. comm.).
Yet, the figure of Karl Tir6n, the man, remains largely unscathed by these
developments, as is evidenced by the high regard in which he is held, particu-
larly by those Sami whose families were most directly affected by his fieldwork.
While there certainly are negative stories about his time in the field (cf. Stenman
1998), these seem to detract little from the positive image of a kindly, concerned
outsider, whose mission was given added credibility by the mysterious dream
that prophesied his success. More to the point, it was this impression that served
to keep Tir6n's name and stories of his activities circulating within Sami com-
munities, long after Tir6n himself visited these areas. This, in turn, meant an
awareness of Tiren's collection, even if the actual results of that collection
remained largely unknown or untapped by those most directly affected. It is
Tir6n's legacy as a sympathetic fieldworker, therefore, which ensured a level of
interest in his work that crossed generations and is only now producing signifi-
cant results among Sami musicians, such as those profiled here.
My interest in Karl Tiren has largely been generated by these same musi-
cians and their families. Initially, this was simply a matter of listening to them
recount stories of their relatives, but eventually Tir6n and his collection changed
how I saw myself in the field as I took on a more active role in returning intel-
lectual property that had rested too long in libraries and archives. In so doing,
my relationships with some of these singers have been strengthened consider-
ably, placing me in a position to reciprocate in a manner that seems to make a
real difference, not to my academic peers, but to those who have shared their
music and their experiences with me. In this respect, I suppose I long ago moved
from the role of "objective" participant-observer to someone more accurately
defined as an advocate, but I suspect the latter is an honest assessment of all of
those who pursue this particular route to knowledge about ourselves through our
interactions with others. In my case, I have the actions of a forebear in the field
to thank for helping me achieve this particular epiphany.
51
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
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Samefolkets Egen Tidning 1.2:9-10.
Valkeapai, Nils-Aslak (1969) "Joikuja/Jojk frn finska Lappland." Descriptive
notes and texts accompanying the sound recording of the same title (Otava
Records AT LP50).
Interviews
Gaup, Ante Mikkel. Kautokeino, Norway, June 1990.
Gaup, Ingor Antte Ailu. Kautokeino, Norway, May 1992.
Jacobsen, Anna. Hatfjelldal, Norway, October 1991.
Rib6n, Hans. Stockholm, Sweden, June 2000.
Stenman, Inger. Hirnmsand, Sweden, March 1992. Jokkmokk, Sweden, June
2000.
Stoor, Krister. Umea, Sweden, October 1991. Umea, Sweden, April 1995.Umea,
Sweden, June 2000.
Tiren, Harald. Bjbrkleden, Sweden, June 2000.
53
54 BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
Note on the author
Richard Jones-Bamman is associate professor of music at Eastern Connecticut
State University. Since 1990, he has focused his research in Sweden and
Norway, working primarily among Sami populations with an emphasis on the
revitalization of their vocal music. Other interests include music revivals, music
and nationalism and the impact of global music markets on indigenous peoples.
Address: Performing Arts Department, Eastern Connecticut State University,
Willimantic, CT, 06226-2295; email: jonesbammanr@easternct.edu