Reaching for the Moon – An Interview with Linda Gytri


Accordionist and composer, Linda Gytri is from Oldedalen in Norway. Her first album Umbra (2012) which had her own compositions, was named the third best folk album in the newspapers Dag og Tid and Adresseavisen. Gytri, 33, has a Masters degree in Folk music. She has studied with Maria Kalaniemi at Sibelius Academy, Finland and Jon Faukstad in Norway.  She works as a music teacher at Stryn Kulturskule where she teaches the accordion and the piano.  

She has a cheery disposition, much like her composition ‘Rasmus Rare’, a polka that she often performs on stage. For Jodhpur Riff, Gytri got together with Kristoffer Kleiveland (accordion) and Vidar Berge (guitar) to form the group APAL.


Your influences have been Balkan music and Finnish folk songs and your collaboration with other musicians have also been in the same genres. Are there other musical genres or traditions that you are inspired by?

Yes, I think I’m inspired by all the music I listen to. Sometimes I’m very aware of where I get my inspirations from and sometimes I don’t know about it. But I hear (my song) later and I think “Oh! That sounds like…” something. And I think I’m influenced by the people I meet, landscapes, buildings, the moon and the sun.


Can you give me an example of another genre that you were inspired by and used in your music? Directly or indirectly.

I like Nina Simone a lot. I’m not sure if you can hear Nina Simone in my music. I like the spirit of her music. And in Norway, a fiddler called Hans W. Brimi. He was very into his playing. He would play small melodies but it’s very intense and very present. And that’s a goal I have, to be very present.


You talked about being inspired by people and landscapes. How do you bring that into your music?

It’s hard to put words to it. Before we came here, when I was thinking of going to India, I was getting some inspiration. So I already made a melody called Tuk Tuk about the cabs and it is just mood. Some years ago, I was travelling a lot in Shetland and I discovered after coming back and making new tunes that my scales were inspired by the music there. Also, I listen to a lot of Balkan music and I think you can hear some of it (in my music). A little of the fiddle players and I think my ornamentation is inspired by that a lot. It’s not normal for accordionists to do so much ornamentation.


Which fiddle player?

Again, Hans W. Brimi. My main inspiration is Maria Kalaniemi and Markku Leppistø from Finland, two accordionists. They are also very into their spirit of the music. I also listen a lot to Arvo Pärt, Tchsikovskij. I am very inspired by the Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge. I also find inspiration in art and photo – Oddleiv Apneseth is one of my favourites, together with Susanna Majuri and Frans Widerberg.


You came together with Kristoffer and Vidar for Jodhpur Riff. Have you played with them before?

Vidar, yes. We played together two or three years ago. Kristoffer and I have never played together but I had good intuition about him which turned out to be right. We have very good communication, the three of us together. When we practice we don’t plan very much, we just play and it flows.


Because you are all from the same genre, does that make it easier to collaborate? Does it allow you to take risks?

Yes, we are in the same genre. But we are open and all of us listen to other sorts of music. But maybe it would be different if I played with a jazz pianist, other things would happen. With the three of us, we bring colour from each of our traditions.


You play the free bass accordion. Do you prefer it over the stradella bass accordion?

My accordion is a convert. So I can change between the normal bass and the free bass.


Do you prefer one over the other?

It depends on the tune. Very often for the slow tunes, the free bass accordion and for the more upbeat tune it is better with the normal bass. Kristoffer plays the diatonic accordion. So the difference is that when he bellows out on one key and bellows in on the same key, it’s a different tone. But I have the same one all the time.


Is there a particular a song or composition you like to play often?

Yesterday we made a new song called Ranbanka Palace, named it after our hotel. That’s kind of a favourite now and we’re going to play a new song that I wrote. It’s called Ser Du Pa Manen. It’s Norwegian for “Are you looking at the moon?” This will be the first time I will sing.  So I came all the way from Norway to India to sing (laughs). I think because of Sharad Poornima it will be nice to play this song.


Why did you decide to sing this time?

We decided today because we just tried it. It felt natural so we wanted to do it.


Why haven’t you sung on stage before?

I’m a little bit shy. But now, together with them, it feels good. I was talking to Vidar yesterday, “Now we need something extra. Something new. Maybe another instrument.”  The other instrument was me singing.


Do you like playing traditional compositions more or the contemporary ones? Because you compose as well.

Little bit of everything. I have a Masters degree in Folk Music. So I have studied all the traditions and specialised in one tradition from Norway and also some Finnish tradition. I think, after studying all this music, it’s natural to want to make your own music. And all the traditional music I have studied kind of come true in my new compositions. Composing is an intuitional thing to do. If I’m in the mood or if we sit together, “Oh now we should do something in D minor, and this should go to G and end up in which key and which scale.” But I see that there is some pattern in the composition, it is similar to the traditional. So there are some similarities and something new.


You teach the piano. Why don’t you perform with it?

It’s been the accordion that has been my voice. But I use the piano and the harmonium for making new compositions. The instrument I make the composition on influences how it sounds.


Why do you prefer composing on the piano or the harmonium?

It’s just for variety. It’s strange but there is such a great difference when you play with your hands up (by the side of the accordion) or down (on the piano). Maybe it’s the personality of the instrument.


What would you say is the personality of the accordion?

It’s a personality with a lot of colour, from the very quiet, romantic, lyrical, melancholy to great big tunes. A lot of temperament.


When you perform with other musicians do you learn something from there that you bring into your teaching of music?

Yes. And I also learn a lot from my students. I have students from seven years old to 65. Children are very wise people to learn a lot about everyday life and also music. One of my students, she is seven years old. When we play she likes to dance a lot. So after we finish the main session, we always end with improvisation. We take away the chair, so she can dance while she is playing the piano. So they are very open.


And is there anything you learn from performing with other musicians that you bring into teaching?

Yes, always. And I think the most important thing is to be humble and kind and to be open. Sometimes things don’t end up the way you planned them but maybe it’s better, the new thing that came around.


Did you listen to any Indian music before coming here?

I listened to Ravi Shankar and tried to play along with this CD.


Did you listen to any Rajasthani folk?

No, but I have been since coming here. I listened to them at the opening concert.


Do you see possible collaborations?

Yes, of course. When I was studying at Sibelius Academy with Maria Kalaniemi I had some improvisation lessons with her and my lesson was to do a solo improvisation for one hour. So that is very, very long but it was very useful also.  My tunes are kind of structured. So it would be nice to work with someone who is open to find something new in between. Some years ago I was in Mozambique, playing with musicians there and it was very different from our Norwegian music and that was a good thing because when it was two very different things, they met in the middle.


Did you like any particular instrument?

I loved the harmonium and I also like the way they are singing here. When they are sitting and singing with their hand, singing directly to you.


(Image: Linda Gytri. By Shantenu Tilwanker for Jodhpur Riff/ Oijo.)