Accessibility links

Breaking News

Swedish-American Fiddle Player Clair Lundin - 2002-09-17

The European immigrants who came to America in the 19th century settled in regions throughout the country, leaving behind an ethnic heritage that is felt in many communities to this day. In the northwestern state of Washington, the culture of Scandinavia is still evident, in its local cuisine, in the names of some of its streets and buildings, and in its music. Clair Lundin is a Swedish-American musician who has done his part to keep the folk music of Scandinavia alive in the United States. At 82 years old, Mr. Lundin is a renowned fiddle player who has been entertaining audiences for almost seventy years.

It's a family affair in the Lundin household: Here, Clair plays the fiddle while his son Arvid accompanies him at the guitar.

Clair Lundin grew up during the Depression on a farm in Washington state. The son of Swedish immigrants, Clair and his brother supplemented the family income by cutting trees. Clair says his parents didn't play any instruments themselves, but recognized the value of musical training, and one day traded a cord of wood from a man for a Stradivarius violin.

"Actually, no one had the money then to buy a violin for their children or themselves or anybody else. I learned to play, watching the fiddlers play at community dances. And I found out it wasn't as easy as it appeared to be," he says. "One time I got up on the organ stool as a ten year- old and tried to watch the fiddler a little closer and I fell off the stool and of course, that always adds to the show. . but later I learned many of those tunes that were played a long time before I even had an instrument to play with."

From those humble beginnings, in a career spanning more than six decades, Clair Lundin has performed all over the country and is regarded as a master violinist and expert in Scandinavian folk music traditions. His son Arvid, also a professional musician, has built a national and international career on the folk music circuit. Arvid Lundin is equally enthusiastic about keeping the legacy of Scandinavian and other European folk music alive. "I can't help it. I love it too much. It's too much fun."

Arvid Lundin talked about some of the differences between Scandinavian fiddle music and other folk music styles. "There are a lot of similarities but some differences are partly in the way it's presented in the fiddles, rather than in rhythm instruments," he says. "And Swedish fiddling often includes two or three more voices together creating harmonies. And then, the rhythm is often bouncy and more syncopated."

RR: Do young people listen to this music?

AL: "There are waves of revived interest with young people. I noted in the '70's there was a folk music revival like the Celtic wave which has been very big for many years now. So a lot of young people are playing traditional music and taking it places where it hasn't gone before."

"The thing about old time fiddling is that it makes your toes start to move! It makes you want to get up and dance," says Clair Lundin. "It's got a beat to it that no other music has."

Several years ago, Clair Lundin and his son, Arvid opened Lundins' Violins, a manufacturing and service shop for bowed instruments. Today a staff of about eight artisans make violins for musicians all over the world. "It's so typical of the American way, people starting out in a business without anything to start with and making it grow and making a very stable business after a time," says Clair Lunden.

Also typical of the American way is how the Lundin family raise money to help disadvantaged children have access to musical instruments and music lessons. On one summer afternoon, Clair and his wife Bernice held a garage sale in their front yard, with all proceeds going to buy musical instruments for the needy children of Spokane, Washington.