Nyckelharpa network, an innovative dissemination of a music and instrument-building tradition with roots in Sweden


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Selected in 2023 on the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices

© Mats Wester, 2022

The nyckelharpa is a bowed instrument, originally built and played by farmers and craftspeople in northern Uppland in Sweden. Dating back to the seventeenth century, it was the most common instrument in this region, played at dances and in various ceremonies and rituals. In the early twentieth century, interest in the nyckelharpa waned but the traditions were maintained by enthusiasts, amateurs and professional builders and musicians. The need for a cohesive organization was identified in the late twentieth century and resulted in the establishment of the nyckelharpa network. The primary objective of the network is to safeguard living heritage through safeguarding activities such as: (a) building, playing and dancing to the traditional instrument; (b) facilitating meetings and live music performances; and (c) supporting documentation, research and knowledge dissemination. Today, the nyckelharpa network is characterized by the exchange of knowledge among builders, musicians, researchers, public institutions and other stakeholders. The informal and non-hierarchical model has enabled the spread and use of an almost extinct local instrument. The network’s activities and over sixty years of experience are also applicable to other forms of crafts and creating music in other parts of the world.