Piatruba will be on tour in the U.S. from June 17 to June 23, 2017. To hear their music and get concert information visit www.oskarstenmark.com

I was born in Gothenburg, Sweden but moved to New York in 2014. Back in 2012, I formed a trio to explore the music my family has played for generations in Gärdebyn, a small village outside Rättvik in Dalecarlia in central Sweden.
I remember a couple songs I would hear at Midsummers in Rättvik. I always longed to go to there, because that’s where the tradition is the strongest in Sweden. People dress up in their national costume, the “Rättviksdräkt,” and there are a lot of fiddlers who play all night.
I was inspired to create my trio, Piatruba, by my farmor (grandmother). She was born in Gärdebyn to a family of musicians. Her father Hans was a fiddler, and he and his brother Olle were “Riksspelemän,” highly respected musicians who represent an ancient tradition.
My farmor, Elsie Börjes, inherited all the melodies from her family and she quickly became a great violin player. At age 11, she went to Stockholm to audition for the Royal Academy of Music, and her family eventually moved there so she could pursue her violin studies. In 1956, at age 17, Elsie went with Rättviks Spelmanslag on a tour to the U.S. visiting New York, Washington, Rockford, Chicago, and Minneapolis. The trip was a big success, meeting some of the hundreds of thousands of Swedes who had immigrated to the U.S. When she returned to Sweden, she was hired by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, the first woman to ever have a full-time contract.
My farmor is the only person still alive from that U.S. tour, and she has told me a lot of stories about it. Through her I was introduced to polskas, waltzes and walking tunes, some traced back to the 1700s. I am the seventh generation to play these tunes, though my methods are a bit less traditional.
In the tradition of master and apprentice, Hans and Olle were taught violin by Perols Gudmund, also from Gärdebyn. He documented around 400 songs and is responsible for “Gärdebylåten,” which became the signature melody of Rättviks Spelmanslag. His master, Pers Gudmund Hansson, was born in 1839 and is said to have been taught by Dal Jerk, a legendary fiddler from Rättvik.
I play flugelhorn, a mellow version of the trumpet that I sometimes compare to the viola in the string family. The flugelhorn blends well with other instruments, especially violin, piano and bass. I have acquired recordings made by my father Michael in the 1960s and ’70s, in which Olle and Hans Börjes are playing. Together with scores provided by Elsie, I started puzzling the music together, blending it with improvisation and world music. In Piatruba we try to move the music from the past into the future.
When I came to New York I had already released an album with the trio and wanted to further develop the music with new elements. Together with some of New York’s greatest jazz musicians I started my New York quartet, devoted respecting the original melodies but turning them into something you’d hear at a jazz club. A lot of the original music is performed on violin only, so I started playing rhythms and harmony that could accompany the melodies.
To honor my grandmother, I decided to recreate her tour in June. I will perform at the Midsummer Festival at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis on June 17 and visit Rockford, Chicago, Bishop Hill, Eau Claire and New York (subject to change).
I hope to introduce the Swedish American communities to the music and stories of my family, to exchange experiences and learn more about the people who left Sweden but kept their traditions. Maybe I’ll meet people who remember the tour of ’56, or I’ll find documentation about the visit, and bring it home for Elsie, who still plays, but only on special occasions.
Her life is remarkable, and I would like to pay tribute to everything she has passed on to me.
Oskar Stenmark