|Arnie Anderson and the Stoney Brook Fiddlers
“I love making a nice instrument out of a little maple and spruce, and that is matched by the enjoyment I get from seeing a student turn the corner from squeaking and scratching to playing with a beautiful sound and making beautiful music” Arnie Anderson, May 28, 2015
Nisswa-stämman Scandinavian Folk Music Festival is now heading into it’s sixteenth year and it features more participating folk musicians than any other Scandinavian festival of it’s kind in the Midwest and likely in the entire country. The count this year is over 150 musicians. Yet, surprisingly, there are still many local and Midwestern folk that haven’t heard of it. Perhaps this is the year for that to change? As always, this year’s event features several professional folk musicians from the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. The rest of the amazing musical cast is made up of local and regional professional and amateur folk musicians who have made it their mission to preserve and promote Scandinavian music for future generations here in Minnesota and elsewhere in the country.
This year, the Nisswa-stämman is highlighting a ‘favorite son’ of the Brainerd area and the group he founded. His name is Arnold Anderson, and his group is the Stoney Brook Fiddlers. Arnie (as his friends call him) is a very modest guy and doesn’t like to tout his accomplishments, but don’t let that fool you. He has led a very interesting life. He has been a music educator, an adventuring touring cyclist, a violin maker, a performing musician, a composer and once again a music director.
EARLY YEARS - Arnie grew up in north Brainerd in a family with 7 rambunctious kids. Arnie’s dad worked for the highway department and was a self taught fiddler. He encouraged all the children to play music. They often played music together as a family after supper, the repertoire ranging from hymns to Scandinavian waltzes, shottishes and polkas. Arnie’s first instrument was the accordion, and one of his teachers was Ted Johnson, who was semi-famous as a member of Olle Skratthult’s Skandinavian Orkestra that toured the Midwest. In 1963, in his senior year of high school in Brainerd, Arnie took a general music class and remembers being ‘wowed’ after hearing a Mozart symphony for the first time. He was hooked right then and there. He went on to study at the Brainerd Junior College and his interest in music grew.
MUSIC EDUCATOR - Arnie first began studying violin at age 21 and his teacher at the B.J.C. suggested that he attend St. Cloud State College to further his music studies, as they had a strong music program. He did so and successfully graduated with a degree in music education. He soon found a job as a high school orchestra director in Mankato. He taught for two years there and really liked the work. Life was going along great. In his summers off, he traveled to Banff, Canada to study violin in the music camp at Banff Centre. There he met a teacher who truly inspired him and that teacher invited Arnie to move to London to study with him. Arnie was intrigued and arranged for a year’s leave from his high school job. Soon he was off to London where he lived and studied violin performance. In the spring of that year, he bought himself a touring bike and toured through England, all around Scandinavia and back to London. Now he was hooked on biking too, but it was time to go back to his teaching job in Mankato. He taught there for one more year, but after it was over, the call to do more biking in remote and exotic locales was too strong for him to resist. He decided to take a radical U-turn in his life and handed in his notice at the high school in Mankato.
INTERNATIONAL BIKE TOURING - His next big adventure was now ahead of him. He headed out, not really having a big plan other than to get on his bike and ride through Europe, starting in Luxembourg, heading towards Israel to spend the winter there. Off he pedaled through western Europe passing through musical hotspots such as Vienna and Venice on his way. Unfortunately (or in his case.. fortunately) it was October of 1973 and the Yom Kippur war broke out just before we was to board the boat bound for Israel. He was forced to change his plans. He headed for Cremona, the town in northern Italy that had been the home of the master violin makers. He knew there was a Stradivarius museum there and he was intrigued to see it. While in Cremona he met an American on the street who was a student at the violin building school also located there. This fellow invited him to come see the school and as Arnie was visiting there, the school’s violin teacher asked him “Do you want to come and make violins here?” He didn’t think about it long - his reply was “Sure!”
VIOLIN MAKING - Arnie planned to stay for a year in the school and then return to teaching in Minnesota, but he enjoyed the work so much, he stayed and studied for three years. After finishing school, he and a friend lived in Cremona for another year and a half while collecting maple and spruce violin wood from local forests. They ended up shipping 4.5 tons of processed wood back to the states for their personal use as violin builders. Back in Minnesota, Arnie opened his own violin shop on Nicollet Ave in Minneapolis in the thriving business district, right next to Orchestra Hall. He operated his Cremona Violin Shop there for three years and his business was going well. Then he met and married his wife Louise and they made the decision to move back to the Brainerd area. With the help of his dad and others, Arnie built his own log home in the Garrison area, put together with local logs that had been individually hand peeled, scribed and fitted by them. He established his workshop right there in his home where he could look out over a sea of green forest and wildlife instead of pavement and car traffic. Over his 40 year career in violin making, he has built approximately 370 violins and scores of other instruments including cellos and violas.
SCANDINAVIAN MUSIC PERFORMER - Arnie met Paul Wilson in 1990 and together with some musical friends, including Arnie’s brother Bob, he began a long career of performing Scandinavian folk music around the Midwest. He is a member of Skål Klubben Spelmanslag, a 14 member folk orchestra and Skålmusik, a 5 piece ensemble. As a member of that group, he has traveled widely to perform at events and festivals. A highlight for the group was appearing on the National Public Radio show “A Prairie Home Companion”. He still performs in and composes music for both groups today.
MUSIC LESSONS - In 1999, Arnie got a call from a home schooling parent asking if he could take her two girls on as violin students. Arnie thought about it for a minute and then said, “Okay, I guess” and went back to work on a fiddle in his shop. Soon another call came in asking for lessons for their kids...and then another, and another, and another....and so it went. In a year and a half, Arnie’s student load had grown from a handful to 70. He had switched paths again without planning it. “The kids just kinda took over” is how he phrased it. “I enjoyed seeing the kids turn the corner from squeaky-scratching to really starting to make some beautiful sounds playing music. Just to watch them realize that, Wow I can do this! is kind of a thrill for me and worth every minute I put into this.” Soon he became totally absorbed in assembling his new students into an orchestra that he called the Ripple River Strings.
MUSIC COMPOSING/ARRANGING - Now that Arnie had amassed so many string students, he was able to pursue another passion, which was music composition. He bought himself a computer, taught himself to use it and loaded it with composition software. He began composing tunes, both simple folk melodies and more complex orchestral tunes for his students to play. He discovered the joys of music arranging. Along with the half hour individual lesson for each student, he also instituted a once a week rehearsal in the evening for all of them to play the music together that they were learning individually. Arnie’s orchestral ‘snowball’ had now left the station and was rolling down the hill with increasing momentum.
TWO LOCAL ORCHESTRAS - Arnie’s first orchestra was called the Ripple River Strings. They met and rehearsed in the Crosby/Deerwood area. They performed in Crosby, Deerwood, Aitkin, Brainerd and Nisswa. At it’s peak, this group had 70 members, mostly children but also some parents and grandparents. At Nisswa-stämman, they first performed in 2013 as the Ripple River fiddlers and played all Scandinavian folk music. The crowds loved them and they quickly became a favorite attraction. In 2015, Arnie moved his rehearsal space from the Crosby area to Brainerd for logistical reasons and began recruiting a new group of students. It didn’t take long before he was up to 60 fiddlers again and this time he called them the Stoney Brook Orchestra. Not one to rest on his laurels, Arnie decided to add a new component to the Stoney Brook group - a mandolin section, 20 musicians strong. This group has been invited to perform at this year’s Norsk Høstfest in Minot, ND. It is a huge festival with an international following.
NISSWA-STÄMMAN PERFORMANCES 2015 - The Stoney Brook Mandoliners will perform at the Friday night Nisswa-stämman concert. The main group of 60 fiddlers called the Stoney Brook Fiddlers will perform during the festival on Saturday on the Pine Grove Stage at 1:00 p.m. It’s advisable to come early for their set as they are one of the most popular performers at Nisswa-stämman!