Henrik Jansberg: A Fiddler with a God-given Talent
The five musicians on stage are bathed in soft, coloured light. The audience are listening intently. The concentration is broken now and then when folk shout their appreciation of a particularly well-executed musical finesse. For the crowd at Shetland Folk festival this is new music, and they are enjoying it immensely.
The Jansberg Band from Denmark are different, but not too different. The instrumentation – violin, guitar, mandolin, drums and double bass – is not new to this audience. The music draws on recognizable traditions not unlike the Shetlanders’ own, but the listeners feel the breeze through the vast Scandinavian conifer forests, smell the green Nordic meadows and see the elfin girls dance.
The 35 year-old composer and player Henrik Jansberg leads on violin. Suddenly, he and the band move from an old Danish polska to one of his own fast tunes, and the audience reward the change with a roar of approval. The Danish quintet are raising the roof.
It started with fiddle and dance
When I visit them at their flat in Amager, Copenhagen, folk musician Henrik Jansberg is sitting with his daughter Novo, who is sick. They are waiting for her mother to come home so that he can get out to work. The fiddle lies ready in its case on the floor. He was out with the band last night and tonight he is playing solo for dancing. Novo, subdued by her fever, climbs up on her daddy’s knee.
Henrik Jansberg lives in Copenhagen but is originally from Juelsminde in Mid Jutland. His parents were active folk dancers, and he has been playing fiddle since he was seven.
”While my folks were at the dancing, I would watch the fiddler playing for them. I recall noticing how much he was enjoying himself. I told my father I would like to try the fiddle and he bought one for me. I started playing open strings along with the fiddler. After about six months, the fiddler said I should start fingering the strings, and I began playing tunes. He kept to the easy tunes at first, and that was how I learned to play fiddle.”
Later, Henrik joined a youth band travelling all over Europe playing Danish folk music and dances, and this gave him invaluable practice. Then he was admitted to The Carl Nielsen Academy of Music, Odense, where he trained as a teacher and musician. This is where Henrik assembled the Jansberg Band, started composing music and recorded his debut album, which won a 2004 Danish Music Award Folk as Folk Debut Album of the Year.
Life as a folk musician
In 2012, Henrik has two prize-winning solo albums on the market, he is developing his own music in Jansberg Band, and working with traditional and contemporary music in the duo he shares with his old friend and colleague, the Danish guitarist and mandolin player Rasmus Zeeberg.
Henrik has played in Japan, USA, Canada, and in many parts of Europe, and he is one of his generation’s best-known and most respected Danish folk musicians. But it is not only the music venues and festivals at home and abroad that light Henrik’s fire. Teaching means a great deal to him as well.
”For me, being a folk musician has several sides. It is obviously vital to play your instrument and to dig into the tradition. But teaching is very important for me too. I teach a score of youngsters every week in a little music school, and what they learn is all the basics of playing their instrument. But I also try to waken their interest in the tradition, and I encourage them to get out and listen to different kinds of music, as well as coming to hear me play concerts. I set up concerts, too, where they can show us what they are working on at the time. And I invite them out to play with me for dancing. It’s about involving them in everything that got me going when I started to play.
”I try to engage them in all the stuff that got me into playing this music.”
Naturally, it is essential for me to get out and play for people. The whole international festival scene I am part of is a vital meeting place with good friends and fellow musicians. A couple of years back my band and I met up with the Shetland fiddler Kevin Henderson at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, and that bore fruit, because there are lots of Shetland and Danish tunes that fit perfectly together. Later on we did a show at the festival, and a reviewer wrote that the music flowed simply and naturally from the stage, without us having to re-invent ourselves – just play together and communicate. It was a fantastic experience.”
The music and the ambitions
At this time of writing, Henrik Jansberg is working on two different albums, one with Jansberg Band exclusively playing Henrik’s own compositions, and one with guitarist Rasmus Zeeberg, recording a mix of traditional and new-written music.
”My musical ambition is of course to play as well as possible, but it also means a lot to me to pass on my musical experience in my teaching. It’s an element in the tradition I am part of, it’s what traditional players always do. It’s where you pass on the best of the tradition as you see it. And it’s also important for me to go on picking up the fiddle and travelling round the world playing my music and meeting friends and other musicians.
I would love to invite a bunch of the musicians I have met to Denmark for a spontaneous concert. We don’t do that as much in Denmark as they do in Scotland or in Canada, but it is a fantastic way to get together and to communicate. When musicians start playing like that it gives the audience a special lift too. They can feel how things grow when they are not over-rehearsed. These are rare occurrences in Denmark, but it would be great to set up a meeting like that. Maybe I should just do it?!”
Henrik Jansberg is a unique Danish musician with many different paths into his tradition. He teaches a lot of kids, he records with his new duo, he travels with his trusty band, he plays concerts with his musician pals from abroad and he plays solo for traditional Danish folk dances. Each of these projects is equally important to him, as is his work as a union organiser and activist on the Danish music scene.
But now his wife is home and Novo, her big eyes shining, is safe in her mother’s embrace. So it’s time for Henrik Jansberg to shoulder his fiddle, step out into the Danish capital to play for the dancing in a local dance association. Come along and dance!
Jansberg Band: www.jansberg.com
Danish Roots: www.danishroots.eu