Sören brushed his fingers on the keys, not sure how to tune the instrument, not sure if he should even try. “No, Sören,” said Far, “first you rap the tuning fork, listen to the ring, then you turn the tuning peg like this.” Nils eased the nyckelharpa’s peg in tighter as he drew the bow along the string. Its pitch sounded higher, matching exactly with the tuning fork’s tone.
Nils continued to tune each string starting with the melody strings and moving to the resonaussträngars, the dozen sympathetic strings that only reverberated with the main strings. Sören watched intently noting how the resonaussträngars were not touched by the bow hairs.
“Far, how did you learn to play the nyckelharpa? Did Farfar play?”
Nils snorted loudly. “No, my far was a strict Lutheran minister, son. He did not think playing music except in church on an organ was a good idea. But his brother! Oh, his brother, my Uncle Kasper, was a maverick, not one to follow the rules at all. He played the nyckelharpa and played in a band on the weekends.”
“Your uncle Kasper taught you?”
“Well, it was more that I snuck into the barn where he’d practice and watch him as I kept hidden behind bales of hay. When he’d put his harpa away to go to work—he worked nights on the pier for his real money—I’d take out his instrument and practice on my own.”
“That’s how you learned,” said Sören, amazed at this new image of his far doing anything risky or illicit.
“Not only, but one night Uncle Kasper returned home early because the wharf was closed off for bad weather. He caught me messing around with his harpa.
“So, my young nephew thinks he can follow in his farbror’s footsteps?” boomed Farbror Kasper.
“I-I-I’d like to try,” whispered Nils.
“I didn’t think you had any funk in ya. Thought you were gonna be as straight and stiff as your old man,” Farbror Kasper said with a wicked grin.
A smile spread across Nils face as the memory faded from his mind. He turned to his son. “Sören, if you want to play, first you’ll have to watch me play and memorize the songs. A good nyckelharpa player needs to know his music with his eyes closed. He needs to be able to play every single note in his head.”
Sören wedged his hands under his legs; they were itching to pick up the instrument and stroke the strings now. “Yes, sir,” he intoned. “I have been memorizing those songs since I was a baby. I love to listen to you play, Pappa.”
"Pappa." Nils felt his heart ache, an uncommon feeling for him. How rare it was to hear that affectionate term from his son. In a flash, he recalled the bitter words his own far uttered when the stern pastor discovered Nils learning to play with the “devil’s tools.” Just as quickly, he silenced his far’s voice in his head wanting to savor this moment with his son.