|Photo: Guðrún Ingimundardóttir (Rúna)||Author: W.D. Valgardson, Victoria, B.C.|
Dr. John Tucker and Dr. Patricia Baer are to be congratulated on arranging for Guðrún Ingimundardóttir (Rúna) to give a Richard and Margaret Beck Lecture on October 17 at the University of Victoria. Guðrun’s lecture and demonstration was on Icelandic traditional music.
Guðrun is the Chair of Rima, a traditional folk singers’ group in Iceland. She founded Stemma, a traditional folk music association. She is the first person to teach Icelandic traditional singing (kvesðkapur) in an official music school in Iceland, Tónskóli Fjallabyggðar.
It would be easy to deliver a lecture on a poetic form from the 1400s to the early 1900s and make it so dull that the audience falls asleep. Gúdrun did just the opposite. She electrified the audience. Not only was she able to tell the audience about the history of rímur and its importance for a country with a small population living on isolated farms, she was able to sing the examples of the various kinds of rímur.
The kveðskapur travelled from farm to farm like itinerant troubadors. This was before radio, telephones, film, TV, or the internet. In the evenings, after the day’s farm work was complete, people sat around the baðstofa, the main room of the farmhouse, and knitted or did various tasks such as mending horse bridles or clothes. To keep people awake and entertained, stories were read or told. If a storyteller came to a farm with new stories, he might stay for weeks or months. Many of the rímur were very long and might provide entertainment over the entire winter.
Eventually rímur were written down, but for centuries they were oral poems, told and retold, changing with the different tellings and the different tellers. Many, probably most, of the rímur, were based on classic stories such as the sagas and skaldic verse. Ironically, it is the survival of rímur that provides proof of the existence of sagas that have been lost.