Neither Zannah nor I speak Swedish, but this song's melody and harmonies were too beautiful to pass up - so we took on the challenge! The lyrics aren't just in Swedish either; they're in OLD Swedish, mentioning Norse mythology and using pagan symbols. One of my Swedish friends thought this song could be from the Viking era. (Cool!).
Zannah and I filmed this little video last week in a practice room at the Queensland Conservatorium. We filmed two takes, and unfortunately my phone cut out at the end of the second take, so I’ve spliced the two performances together in the last verse. If you make it that far - well done!
What’s it all about?
According to this website, the song is full of old pagan symbols, such as a “grey horse” which is a metaphor for death. The site translates the song’s title I Riden Så to “Ride Gently Through the Sacred Grove With Her”, but I've also seen it translated to "Ye Ride So Carefully". It tells the story of a man called Silibrand who sees his daughter coming towards him in a linden grove. Silibrand says “O woe is me” (“A välest mej”) because he seems to be in the afterlife, and he knows his pregnant daughter (or at least her babies) may soon be joining him. He spreads out his blue cape “under the linden so green” and his daughter gives birth to twin sons. One son is given to Freyja, the Norse goddess; the other to Valhalla, a “hall of the slain” in Norse mythology.
Where did we find it?
A friend on facebook originally introduced me to the music of Myrkur, a Danish singer/composer/multi-instrumentalist with a background in heavy metal music. Recently, she’s been releasing simple videos of old folk songs, performed acoustically in idyllic Scandinavian landscapes.
I've been captivated by all of Mykur's folk music videos, but I particularly loved the sweet, lilting vocal melody of I Riden Så, which she plays on mandola in a dark green forest. Singing like a bird - and literally singing WITH the birds - her ethereal vocal style reminded me of Celtic singing, a favourite of mine. So, I set myself the challenge of learning this gorgeous song.
Mykur’s version is only part of the whole song, and was inspired by a 1997 recording by Finnish band Gjallarhorn, which features a rocking instrumental section. Seriously.
The idea of singing in Swedish didn't seem impossible. I’d been taking some beginner Swedish lessons on DuoLingo, and had a very basic idea of how Swedish vowels sounded. For example, Swedish people seem to accent the second syllable of words, whereas us Aussies fall off words like children on a the edge of a couch. (Ouch!).
It was no easy task, though. Learning the song took…months! Myrkur sings with a Danish accent, and Gjallarhorn’s singer is Finnish, so I didn't have a Swedish version to learn from. I nagged a Swedish friend for weeks to help me with pronunciation. When I first played it to him, he was astonished at how old it was. And, he didn't laugh at my first attempt. Good sign!
Thankfully, I could wrap my head around most of the words, as there are several similarities to English. “Min fader” (my father), “Min syster” (my sister), and “Min brooder”, (my brother) are pretty self-explanatory. The word that still has me in a spin, however, is “sju” (seven). It uses a consonant which doesn’t appear in the English language, and my Swedish friend reassured me that it takes people years to learn. I suspect only magical beings can make that sound, but I've done my best for now.
I hope you enjoy this!