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‘New Morning’: After pandemic dormancy, a new season cycle has begun

Guides in life show up — and plant seeds to sprout when needed.

The Twin Cities Nyckelharpalag
The Twin Cities Nyckelharpalag
Courtesy of the Twin Cities Nyckelharpalag

“New Morning” is written in the Japanese haibun poetic form popularized by Matsuo Bashō. A haibun begins with a prose poem and ends with a haiku. 

In 2012 the Twin Cities Nyckelharpalag set out for a series of weekend performances in Minnesota and Ontario. The “lag” is a large group of nyckelharpa players that I accompany on octave mandolin. Our first stop was an evening performance in Roseau. When we arrived, we were welcomed into a large community room with folding chairs in neat rows. I chose my usual spot at the right side of the stage where I could hear the resonance of the dozen musicians as they played.

At these shows everyone’s attention is focused on the nyckelharpa, an unusual, centuries-old instrument from Sweden. It has 16 strings, is held like a guitar and played with a bow. Each nyckelharpa has as many strings as four fiddles and that night the string vibrations overflowed into the crowded room. I saw smiles, feet tapping to the uneven Polska pulse, couples up to dance, and heard questions shouted out between tunes. One older man though, seated in the front row, closely watched me. When the show ended, he walked up.

“Can you tell me about your instrument? How’s it tuned?”

“Sure,” I replied, “Are you a musician?” He nodded. I showed him my mandolin and let him try it out. As he fingered the frets, I explained the tuning and asked: “What kind of music do you play?”

Joe Alfano
Joe Alfano
“About 10 years ago I took up the guitar and started a band. We play old time, country western, mostly in area nursing homes.” He smiled, “It’s so much fun, by far one of the best things I have ever done in life!” Curious, I asked him about his life. He mentioned that he’d grown up in the area and at one time farmed. “Did you farm your whole life?” He smiled broadly, looked me in the eye and said, “I used to represent this district in the United States Congress. I was also Secretary of Agriculture under Jimmy Carter.”

I suddenly realized who he was. “You’re Bob Bergland!” He smiled, nodded and then shifted the conversation back to the joy of playing music with his band and how much he loved playing for appreciative folks. After he handed me back my mandolin, we chatted a bit longer, he thanked me for the music, we shook hands, and wished each other well.

Now retired, my own career closed, his words and experiences germinate in me. Today after pandemic dormancy, I shake myself awake, unpack my instruments, pull out my journal; a new season cycle has begun. Guides in life show up, plant seeds to sprout when needed.

No need to look back

the sun shines on you today

What are you waiting for?

Joe Alfano is a Minneapolis resident who spent a lifetime engaging elementary students and teachers in hands-on science at Minneapolis Public Schools. Besides writing poetry, Joe is a husband, father, dog-walker and a part-time musician.

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