Exploring Nordic folk clarinets

Project work
Ine Nord
University of the arts, Sibelius Academy
Folk music department
Fall 2014


1 Introduction

1.1 Background of the project
1.2 Aims for the project
1.3 What is a folk clarinet?

2 Studying the historical backgroud of Nordic folk clarinets

2.1 Obtaining material
2.2 Brief Historical summary

2.2.1 Origins
2.2.2 The Sjøfløyte; example of incorporating instruments into folk tradition
2.2.3 The Meråkerklarinett; example of a revived tradition
2.2.4 The Swedish Bone Clarinet

3 The process of studying folk clarinet playing

3.1 Technical issues, similarities and differences from playing modern day clarinets
3.2 Adapting the playing to a modern-day context

4 Building an instrument

4.1 Preparations

4.1.1 Selecting and obtaining the material
4.1.2 Researching building techniques

4.2 The building process

4.2.1 Preparing the bones
4.2.2 Putting together the instrument

4.3 Outcome, achievements and flaws

5 Producing the concert

5.1 Choosing what material to play
5.2 Working with the instruments and equipment
5.3 Preparing and performing the concert

5.3.1 Obstacles
5.3.2 The concert
5.3.3 Feedback

6 Conclusion

7 References, pictures and video clips

7.1 References
7.2 Pictures
7.3 Video clips



1.1 Background of the project

In this project work I have immersed myself in the Nordic tradition of folk clarinets. As a folk musician and a wind instrument player, I have of course already been aware of the existence of this instrumental tradition before this project, even having a vague idea of what it implies, but I have always kept it at an arms length, being happy with the possibilities of the modern clarinet.

After coming to Finland and the Sibelius Academy, however, my interest in the folk clarinets have grown, much due to the fact that instruments are in high regard here, with many people playing and building them, also on a professional level. It became clear to me that if I were to incorporate these instruments into my repertoire at some point, it would be beneficial to do it as part of my studies at the Sibelius Academy.

1.2 Aims for the project

In order to get as much out of the process of learing about folk clarinets as possible, I decided upon some areas to explore;

History; to look for and read a lot of historical material about the folk clarinets, as well as listening to recordings in order to know as much as possible about the background and historical use of folk clarinets.

Learning to play a few of the instruments myself; as a musician, the main motivation to get involved with the folk clarinets was of course to add new instruments, sounds and possibilities to my playing.

Looking into the physical construction of the instruments; taking measurements and examining different styles of making folk clarinets, with the aim to try and build one myself.

I started working on this project in the autumn of 2013, and the aim was that all these areas would come together in a concert in the spring of 2014, where I would play the folk clarinets, using historical tunes and material, and hopefully even play an instrument made by myself.

1.3 What is a folk clarinet?

Before proceeding with this paper, I would like to clarify what I mean when using the term Nordic folk clarinets.

The New Grove Dictionary of Music defines a clarinet as «A woodwind instrument of essentially cylindrical bore, played with a single beating reed; it is made in a wide range of sizes and tonalities.» (Shackleton, 1984 p.389).

However, the New Grove uses the term ”Clarinet” mainly about the mordern orchestral clarinet, and in its section about ”Reed Instruments” suggests a slightly different definition:

«Reed instruments. A term commonly used for musical instruments in which an airstream is directed against a lamella which is thereby set into periodic vibration and interrupts the stream intermittently. (…) In this scheme the word ’clarinets’ is used as a generic term for all reedpipes with a single reed ’consisting of a percussion lamella’-regardless of the shape of the bore and regardless of whether there is an air reservoir (as in a bagpipe).» (Wachsmann, 1984 p.217-219).

When talking about Nordic folk clarinets in this text, I will use the word clarinet about all single reed instruments, both conical and cyllindrical that has traditionally been found as a part of the folk culture of the three Nordic countries of Norway, Finland and Sweden. I will not include bagpipes, or double-reed instruments. I will not include the modern orchestral clarinet either as it does not have the same roots in the folk culture as the often home made, simpler clarinets; neither the same repertoire or use.