The Berntsons (April 2009)

A Concert by “The Berntsons” Norwegian American Folk Music Group

Berntson Folk Music Group: from left, back - *Andrea Hoag, fiddle; *Eleanore Berntson Lundeberg, pump organ; Frank Jones, Wash.Lodge Program Chair (2nd cousin to Eleanore); *Charlie Pilzer, string bass; *Karl Berntson Lundeberg, guitar; *Loretta Kelley, Hardanger fiddle; front row - *Marika Lundeberg, guitar; Ammika Lundeberg. The girls, ages 13 and 11, are daughters of Karl of Los Angeles. (Asterisk = musicians)

You are invited to attend an evening of music led by Eleanore Berntson Lundeberg of Alexandria, Virginia, who has been performing in the Berntson Band for over 70 years. In the summer of 2008 the band played in the National Folk Festival in Butte, Montana, and the Nisswa Stämman Festival in Nisswa, Minnesota. Here's what the band's website says: "Audiences were charmed and dazzled by the Berntson's unique blend of earthy and unearthly Scandinavian-American music. Eleanore Berntson Lundeberg at age 83 was a hit amongst audience members who marveled at her old-timey vim and vigor on stage as she pedaled her way through song after song on the pump organ. Virtuoso musicians Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley showed festival goers why they are regarded as two of the
finest Scandinavian fiddlers in America, playing with tremendous drive and elegant whimsey. Guitarist Karl Fredrik Berntson Lundeberg was joined by good friend Charlie Pilzer on bass and together the rhythm section lit a solid fire for the Berntsons to groove on. From large indoor and outdoor venues, to a memorable concert in a small log barn, the Berntsons will get you to kick up your heels and feel good again."

The band got started around 1900 when Norwegian immigrant, Bernt Berntson Braskerud, bought a
violin in a Northern Wisconsin logging camp, and gave it to his 10-year-old son, Bennie. Bennie learned Scandinavian folk tunes from fiddlers in the area, especially from his uncle and cousins. For the next 30 years Bennie played his fiddle all night long at community dances and house parties, featuring the Scandinavian waltzes, schottisches and square dances that became the backbone of the Berntson repertoire. 

In the 1930s Bennie's son, Maurice, on guitar, and daughter, Eleanore, on pump organ, joined the family band. Cousin Bennie Smith played banjo, cousin Jimmy Severude played violin and the group was
augmented with local fiddlers. Eleanore's pump organ (playing the melodies and providing chording) blended with the violins to produce a strikingly warm, rich sound. 

In the 1960s Eleanore's son, Karl Fredrik Berntson Lundeberg, began playing the family music with his guitar. He provided a bass line and chording. At full strength the Berntsons could feature several fiddles, pump organ, banjo and two guitars. 

In addition to Eleanore and Karl, the band today includes Loretta Kelley, Hardanger fiddle, Andrea Hoag, fiddle, and Charlie Pilzer, string bass. Look for their brief biographical sketches on page 2.

Introducing our April 17 Guest Musicians

Eleanore Berntson Lundeberg of Alexandria, Virginia, was born in a rural community near Superior in Northern Wisconsin, in 1926. She is the daughter of Bennie Berntson and sister of Maurice. Their home was on a small dairy farm where kerosene lamps lit their evening activities, a wood stove heated the small farmhouse, food was either grown in the garden, picked in the woods, caught in the creek or hunted in the forest. Water was hand pumped from the outdoor spring well and heated on the wood burning kitchen stove. Cows were milked, fields plowed with horses and a car battery powered the only appliance the family owned, a Kolster radio. They also owned a wind-up gramophone and a 1916 Beckwith pump organ.

In this setting the 7-year-old Eleanore began teaching herself to play the pump organ, learning the traditional Norwegian folk music from her fiddler father. The family living room became the gathering place for local Norwegian and Swedish musicians. As she grew up, Eleanore began teaching herself how to read music, and sent for sheet music from Norway, which came via Minneapolis. With this sheet music she then taught new Scandinavian tunes to the group. Her brother, Maurice, was learning to play guitar, and as the two of them became fixtures in the musical group, they brought into Scandinavian music two instruments not traditionally associated with Scandinavian folk music.

Eleanore is a 2nd step-cousin to Frank Jones. Frank's grandfather, Syver Moen's 2nd marriage was to Eleanore's lst cousin. Frank discovered Eleanore when he was a volunteer at the Latter Day Saints Family History Center, Annandale, Virginia, in the 1990s. He noticed that she was researching the Hval (Wahl) Family of Norway and Minnesota. He contacted Eleanore, and was thrilled to learn that she personally knew his step-grandmother in the 1930s.

Karl Fredrik Berntson Lundeberg, son of Eleanore and Philip Lundeberg, resides in Los Angeles, California. As a CBS/Sony recording artist, Karl has released four albums with his jazz/world music group, FullCircle, and performed throughout USA, Canada, Europe, Japan and Brazil. He has performed and/or recorded with jazz legends Miroslav Vitous, Steve Gad, Eddie Gomez, Alex Acuna, Branford Marsalis, Gilberto Gil and Gladys Knight. Karl is a composer of classical music, also, and his works have been performed at Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City, and at famous festivals worldwide, including Perugia, Italy, the Mitsui Festival in Japan, the Biennale Festival in Venice, Italy, the Next Wave Festival in New York, and the San Sebastian Festival in Spain. From 1994-2004 Karl was the composer-in-residence at the Mark Taper Forum Theater at the Los Angeles Music Center. He has composed scores and worked with Steve Martin, Al Pacino, Donald Sutherland, Brian Bedford, Sir Peter Hall and many others. He has worked in television and films, composing scores for Paramount Pictures, Imagine Films and all the major TV studios. Currently Karl is a songwriting partner with the legendary Gerry Coffin.

Loretta Kelley, Hardanger fiddler, lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, is a member of Washington Lodge, and has performed many times for Lodge events as soloist and in a group. Her involvement with the Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele) began in 1976, when she met Sigbjørn
Bernhoft Osa, virtuoso hardingfele player and Norway's "musical ambassador to the world." Immediately she was attracted to this unique instrument and the music it could play. She also began intensive study of the Norwegian language. In 1979 she spent a year at the folk high school in Rauland in Western Telemark, where she studied hardingfele playing with local fiddlers and was a member of the fiddlers' group Falkeriset. Since then she has made many trips to
Norway to study with master hardingfele players. Loretta has participated in numerous fiddling competitions in Norway, winning first prize in her class several times. In 1985 she became the first American ever to compete in hardingfele at the Landskappleik, the Norwegian national fiddling competition, finishing sixth in a field of 25 in class B. She has performed in concerts and festivals in Norway, and in 1994 her playing was featured in an hour-long radio program on Norway’s national radio station, NRK. In the USA Loretta has been active since 1985 as a performer and teacher of the hardingfele. Loretta's performances in the USA include appearances on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion and American Radio Company, National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," in Washington DC at the Kennedy Center's Millenium Stage, the Christmas Revels, and Norwegian Christmas at Union Station. Loretta, Andrea Hoag and Charlie Pilzer received a GRAMMY nomination for their CD album, Hambo in the Snow, in 2007.

Andrea Hoag, fiddler, of Takoma Park, Maryland, has performed several times for Washington Lodge, individually and with Loretta Kelley and Charlie Pilzer. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Goddard College and a certificate in Violin Pedagogy from Malungs Folkhogskola in Sweden. Andrea is one of North America's foremost performers of traditional Swedish music, as well as a highly respected player of several American, English and Celtic styles. She has performed at the Kennedy Center, Wash. DC, the Bambershoot Festival in Seattle, Washington, and at many festivals in USA, Scandinavia and United Kingdom. Andrea was director of the Seattle (Washington) Skandia Spelmanslag (violin players' association) for 7 years, and led the group on a concert tour in Sweden. In Sweden she also studied with master fiddlers Pakkos Gustaf and Nils Agenmark. In Appalachia, USA, she studied with Wilson Douglas and Lily Mae Ledford, and in Scotland with West Highland fiddler Angus Grant. A warm and innovative teacher, Andrea gives workshops and coaches ensembles throughout USA, Canada and Scandinavia.

Charlie Pilzer of Takoma Park, Maryland, string bass player, has performed with Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley several times at Washington Lodge events. He has won many awards as a performer and producer of traditional music. He is a longtime member of the folk band, Spaelimenninir, based in the Faroe Islands (west of Norway).

CDs released by our concert performers will be on sale after their April 17 concert.