When America was more rural and agrarian, families composed of several generations occupied the same dwelling, even amongst more urban areas. The old looked after the young; passing down their accumulated wisdom and culture. A convergence of technologies and changing social dynamics, that created the rush to the suburbs in the 50’s, severed that link. Those born after this societal shift grew to adulthood without having a strong sense of ethnic or cultural identity.
Listening to Arna Rennan speak about her heritage and the music of the Nordic areas of Europe, one almost forgets about the generational diaspora that occurred decades ago. A person steeped in Nordic cultural history, she has spent a total of 15 years on three different occasions living in Norway. Her third foray, to study music at the Norwegian Folk Culture school at the Campus Rauland in the borough of Vinje, Norway, lasted one year.
She grew up speaking both Norwegian and English. She jokingly refers to her bilingualism as one of the reasons her mother would put her onstage to sing at Sons of Norway events. She has continued performing, becoming an accomplished musician playing four different instruments including accordion, overtone flute, and the Langeleik. The Langeleik is part of the ‘droned zither’ family of which the Appalachian dulcimer is derived.
KTWH’s Monday morning music program ‘Nordic Roots,’ hosted by Rennan, reflects every bit of her experiences as well as her love for the folk music of the Northern regions of Europe. The show is a blend of new & traditional Nordic folk music as well as the occasional interview with visiting artists performing within the genre.
Arna is quick to correct one’s terminology when the phrase ‘Scandinavian music’ is used in her presence. She prefers the term Nordic because the former term refers to a group of languages that does not include countries like Finland.
Rennan’s show has a loyal following and not just within the Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish communities. For the recent October 17th broadcast, Arna interviewed loyal listener Peg Werner. Asked what her thoughts were upon first hearing the show Peg said, “I had just tuned into the station during its first few weeks on the air. It was that time of the morning when Nordic Roots was airing. I enjoyed that it was not like most of the music or talk radio programs on the air these days. In a way, it is an educational program in that I learn something about the composer as well as the artist performing.” When asked if the listener has to be Scandinavian to enjoy the show Peg laughed and then replied, “I don’t think so because I don’t have a drop of that kind of blood in me.”
Nordic Roots can be heard Mondays at 10 AM and is rebroadcast Saturdays at 3 PM. KTWH-LP, 99.5 FM, is a volunteer run non-profit serving the town of Two Harbors and surrounding area with a broadcast range of 10 miles. It streams online at ktwh.org.