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Starting a tour with Emilia Amper Band

I first met Emilia Amper at a historic coffee shop in Stockholm called Vette-Katten. We sat down for fika, a Swedish tradition of making time for friends and colleagues to share coffee and a small snack—in our case semla, a delicious bun filled with whipped cream and almond paste.

We talked about Arts Midwest and our new program, Arts Midwest Folkefest, and discussed Emilia’s work teaching and performing. It was easy to spot her passion for the nyckelharpa, for Nordic folk traditions, and for music that remains grounded in the past but alive with today’s influences.

Coffee and semla at the historic Vette-Katten coffee shop in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by Stephen Manuszak.

I learned an enormous amount about Swedish folk music during five days in Stockholm. I caught three concerts, visited an incredible ensemble rehearsal, and set up eight meetings at renowned organizations like the Royal College of Music, the Swedish Arts Council, Musikverket, and the cultural affairs department at the U.S. Embassy. In each meeting, new colleagues recommended we meet with Emilia Amper.

After our initial meeting, Emilia and I logged hours of Skype calls and emails, navigated the visa process, aligned schedules, discussed workshops, booked flights and hotels.

She brought together a super-group of performers for our tour: two Riksspelman, or national fiddlers of Sweden, with Erika Risinger on fiddle and Anders Löfberg on cello. On percussion, she recruited her longtime collaborator Olle Linder, a renowned multi-instrumentalist who I saw perform in Stockholm. And we made sure audiences would hear every note thanks to a fantastic sound engineer named Joe Giese, the tech manager at Ann Arbor’s famous folk and roots venue The Ark.

Emilia Amper Band performs at Autrain-Onota School in Deerton, Michigan. Photo by Stephen Manuszak.

After nearly two years of planning for Arts Midwest Folkefest, I finally met Emilia again in Marquette, Michigan. The first moments of Emilia’s workshop are especially exciting, when students don’t quite know what to expect as an ancient, dreamy kulning tune drifts overhead. Then Emilia starts a driving riff on the nyckelharpa, Olle’s drum kicks in, and the kids look at each other and start bobbing their heads. From a coffee shop in Stockholm to schools across the Midwest—we’ve been on a journey together even before her tour started!

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Workshop attendees at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, MI, learn about the nyckelharpa. Photo by Stephen Manuszak.