WMU News

Music professor receives Fulbright

Aug. 3, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- A Western Michigan University associate professor of music has received a prestigious Fulbright Award to travel to Norway to conduct research on classical composer and Norwegian folk musicologist Eivind Groven.

Dr. David Loberg Code's trip to Scandinavia from January to June 2001, will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Norwegian composer's birth in 1901. Code will not only continue his research into Groven's work as a Norwegian folk music scholar and his experimentation with alternate tunings, but will also lecture and participate in a wide range of centennial programs honoring Groven. In addition, Code will demonstrate his own computerized invention that fulfills Groven's vision of a piano that plays in alternate tunings.

Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the program is America's premier international educational exchange program and is design to build understanding between the people of the United States and the rest of the world.

WMU's Code says his interest in Groven was sparked by their nearly identical musical pursuits. Code also is a folk music and dance enthusiast, particularly Norwegian folk music and dance. He also is intrigued by alternate tuning systems, so the musical interests of the two run nearly parallel.

Groven was a true renaissance man, Code says. Born in the Norwegian countryside, he was steeped in folk music culture. He went on to become a classically trained musician and composer, but never left his folk roots behind. Groven studied, promoted and archived Norwegian folk music, recording and transcribing many volumes of Norwegian folk melodies and starting a popular weekly folk music radio program that is still on the air.

In part because of Norwegian folk music's use of alternate tunings of stringed instruments, Groven also was moved to experiment with tunings. He invented an organ in the 1930s that was equipped with three sets of pipes in different pitches that allowed the organist to shift tunings while playing. Today, the organ, loaded with very old vacuum tubes and other delicate components, is breaking down and losing some of its capabilities.

Code, who traveled to Norway on sabbatical in 1998 to do research on Groven, discovered the composer and inventor had hoped to create a piano capable of switching to alternate tunings as it was being played. Code even discovered a piano in which Groven had drilled numerous holes in an attempt to carry out his objective, but primitive technology at the time doomed the project.

Using a computer, however, Code has discovered a means of realizing Groven's dream. Code has experimented with programming a computer to operate three modern, high-tech player pianos, each in a different tuning. The pianist plays on a fourth piano in standard tuning hooked up to the computer. Code plans to demonstrate his invention while in Norway and will do so again in Kalamazoo during the 2002 Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival.

To obtain his Fulbright Award, Code had to enlist the cooperation of a host institution in Norway. He found a willing partner in the University of Oslo's Institute for Music and Theatre. Code says that in particular his piano project interested the university.

"There are pieces that he wrote specifically for this special keyboard instrument," Code says, "and a celebration of his work for his centennial would be incomplete without them because this was a big part of his output. So there's a need to have an instrument like this over in Norway that can be part of concerts and performances."

Code says his own interest in folk music and dance goes back to his college days when he took part in folk dancing as a recreational activity. Being a violist, he was naturally drawn to folk music that was more string-oriented and found that Norwegian folk music was a good fit. Code's wife, Karin, also plays a hardingfele, or Harding fiddle, and the couple has visited Norway several times.

"It was only through Groven's reputation as a folk musician that I first became aware of him," Code says, "and then I started reading about other things that he did and found out that he was also a music researcher and composer.

"For a long time, I'd had this sort of recreational interest in folk music and dance, particularly Norwegian, and a scholarly interest in tuning systems. And then I happened to find this person that combined both of those."

Possibly because of Groven's country roots and his interest in folk music, he was not given the amount of recognition he deserved as a classical composer, Code says. Still, his classical pieces are well respected and, when you add to them his work as a folk musicologist and experimentation with alternate tuning systems, you have a very distinguished musical career.

"I think that his work or his output in any one area is incredible and prolific," Code says. "Just his classical compositions -- his symphonies, choral works and such -- would make him well known as a Norwegian composer. Or just his work in archiving folk music. Any one of his endeavors would be a full career for anybody, so it just amazes me, both the breadth and the depth of what he was able to achieve."

Code believes that today, with greater interest in cultural and artistic crossover, that the time is right for Groven to finally be accorded the respect he so amply deserves.

Code's trip to Norway will follow several major presentations on his work. On Aug 9, he leaves for Denmark where he will make a presentation on Groven at an international musicology conference using his computerized player piano setup. In November, Code will make a similar

presentation at a joint international music conference in Toronto called Toronto 2000 Musical Intersections. Several Norwegian folk performers and scholars, Groven's folk-singing granddaughter and WMU Associate Orofessor of Music and pianist Dr. Silvia Roederer will take part in the latter, as will Code's wife.

"This is something I find very interesting and rewarding," Code says. "But having the recognition of the Fulbright Award, the international conferences and the Gilmore Keyboard Festival is a confirmation from other people that this is a significant project."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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