For some years I have been involved in a fascinating and rewarding music project that has resulted in a book and three CDs. My role has been as a musician and arranger of many of the songs.
The project centres around the unusual song source Samuel Hellen (1813–1892), who sang forty songs for the folk music collector Ludvig Mathias Lindeman. Hellen has been virtually unknown until now, despite being one of Lindeman’s largest sources.
Singer and writer Ann-Turi Ford is the woman behind the project. Her book, Samuels sang, is a biography about Hellen’s life and songs that also places the songs into a larger cultural context. The book gives facsimiles of Lindeman’s transcriptions, as well as lyrics, which were a bit tricky to find. Lindeman’s main interest was the melodies, and he wrote down only one text verse for each song.
In addition to the book, Ann-Turi has re-interpreted and recorded all the forty songs, and collected them on the CDs Samuels sanger I–III. Many musicians are involved, and there is some musical diversity among the songs. For example, you can hear the organ, brass quintet, electronica and a folk-rock band accompanying the songs. I play a variety of instruments myself, for instance violins, the viola, rebec, lyre, kankle, zither, jew’s harp and melodeon.
In this video (with English sub-titles) Ann-Turi Ford tells a bit about Samuel Hellen and her project:
A bit more about Samuel Hellen: He was born on Nøtterøy (Vestfold) and lived as a vagabond during his first thirty years. After a troubled life with some criminal activity, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1843, and served in the slavery at Akershus Fortress. At the slavery he came into contact with the ideas of N.F.S. Grundtvig. Hellen made a complete change in his life, and was pardoned in 1852. As a free man and blacksmith in Christiania (which was the name of Oslo at that time), he met another follower of Grundtvig: Ludvig Mathias Lindeman, the organist and folk music collector. Lindeman wrote down the forty tunes in 1968 and 1869.
Hellen’s material consists of both religious and vernacular songs. Many of the melodies are unusual and some of them are not known from other sources. There are strong indications that Hellen relied on textual sources, and that he might have owned popular song books of the time, such as the Danish Kjempeviseboka. Another interesting point is that Hellen does not represent the typical image of a local performer representing a local tradition, since he picked up tunes several places.
Both the book and the CDs are published by Grappa Musikkforlag, and can be ordered directly from the publisher in physical format. In addition, the forty tunes are available on streaming services.
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