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Benedicte Maurseth
To Be Nothing: Conversations with Knut Hamre, Hardanger Fiddle Master

Terra Nova Press
A book review by Chris Nickson

Maurseth is herself a virtuoso on the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, a native of the Hardanger region of the country. Hamre, possibly the greatest living exponent of the instrument, has been her teacher Ė master, as she prefers to call him Ė since she was a girl. Itís an apt term. His influence over his pupils obviously extends beyond music and into all facets of thinking. While this book is, to some degree, a tracing of the instrumentís history, thatís hardly the meat of the matter. Far more, itís about the people who have played it, the lineage of learning and the philosophy of teaching and taking in.

Naturally, it centers around Hamre and his experiences. But often Maurseth adds her own observations, either as someone looking at the man, or someone involved in the whole process; after all, he helped shape her, not just as a musician, but as a person. For him, mistake or wrong arenít words he uses with his students. Instead, he prefers variations or options. Itís broadening, freeing.

And that, perhaps, is the meat of it. This is a book about music, yes, but allow yourself to be pulled beneath the surface and itís how to look at life, and the way Ė for these two Ė music has rippled through it all and affected what they do. Theyíre both aware of being part of a continuum, but also of adding their own approach, thoughtful and often introspective, to the language of the fiddle. In the folk process, every singer and player brings a change to the music, and this helps to articulate it very well. Thereís no doubting the bond between Maurseth and her master. Much of the time itís relaxed, but occasionally tension has been there, much as Hamre experienced with those who taught him. For both, though, the Hardanger fiddle is at the heart of their lives, and that passion bleeds through every single page of the book. This is a music book, to the extent that itís about music. But itís also about the paths musicians take, some they chose, others perhaps chosen for them. And it gives an insight into what makes them play and explore the instrument and its repertoire. In that regard Ė no, in every regard - itís as compelling and invaluable as the music she makes. Ė Chris Nickson

Read Chris' review of Benedicte Maurseth's 2019 recording.

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