Eleanore Berntson Lundeberg
Eleanore Berntson Lundeberg was born in northern rural Wisconsin in 1926 into a Norwegian speaking family. The Berntson family home was a small dairy farm where kerosene lamps lit their evening activities, a wood stove heated the small farmhouse, food was either grown in the garden, picked in the woods, caught in the creek or hunted in the forest. Water was hand pumped from the outdoor spring well, heated on the wood burning kitchen stove, cows were milked, fields plowed with horses and a car battery powered the the only appliance the family owned ...a Kolster radio...that in addition to a wind up gramophone and the 1916 Beckwith pump organ.
It was in this almost 19th century setting that seven year old Eleanore began teaching herself to play the pump organ, learning the traditional Norwegian folk music which her father, a fiddle player, had been playing in the rural Norwegian community since the turn of the century. Bennie Berntson learned folk tunes by ear from Scandinavian fiddlers in the community and also in northern lumber camps where fiddlers were an important part of lumber camp life. He would play house parties, barn dances, grange and town hall dances.... he could play all night without ever playing the same tune twice and over the years built up a huge repertoire of waltzes, hambos, schottisches, and two steps which formed the basis of the music which the Berntson family has played over three generations.
The small Berntson living room became the gathering place for local Norwegian and Swedish musicians and Eleanore and her brother Maurice, a guitar player, quickly became fixtures of the music making even as youngsters. The inclusion of the pump organ and guitar brought in two new elements to the traditional Scandinavian folk music instrumentation....both Eleanore and Maurice further pushed the boundaries by not using their respective instruments merely as chording instruments, but by playing the melodies in unison with the violins. And, as Eleanore became older, she taught herself how to read music and began sending away for sheet music which came from Norway by way of Minneapolis. She, in turn, taught new Scandinavian tunes to the Berntson band members as they gathered around the wood stove, lit the kerosene lamps and played long into the night.
The pump organ itself presented the Berntson family with a subtle social issue in that particular time and place. Traditional Norwegian folk music was intended for dancing....many conservative Norwegian Lutherans looked on dancing as an absolute abomination and the folkdance music was literally regarded as "the music of the devil." The rural folk dances were of course lively affairs where drunkenness and fighting were all part of the scene... and even though the Berntson family was by nature a quiet and mild mannered bunch, the minister of the local Norwegian Lutheran Church was not the person one wanted to see pulling into the driveway when a music session was underway. The organ itself was considered by many to be an instrument for playing hymns and religious music...to use a sacred instrument in the playing of the devil's music then was in the minds of some, a moral outrage.
So, being the rather reserved folk they were, the Berntsons discreetly navigated the perilous moral waters of Norwegian folkdance music in the 1920's, 30's and 40's in rural Wisconsin by playing amongst themselves and their many musician friends in small gatherings, honing their musical craft and gradually incorporating subtle elements of music which they heard on the radio. The music of the Grand Ole Oprey, German Polka music, early country music and other popular music of those years began showing up, especially in Maurice Berntson's guitar picking style...Maurice often played extra grace notes and turnaround licks which gave his playing a jaunty sound. Eleanore's style of playing reflected both her brother's rhythmic playfulness and her father's very mellow violin playing style....although the pump organ functions in somewhat the same fashion as would an accordion, Eleanore's playing is more rustic and charming than many Scandinavian accordion styles and gives the music a real feel for old-timey music from a different time and place.