The April issue of Viking highlights Norwegian folk singer, artist and radio host Arna Rennan. She hails from Duluth, Minn., but has spent a lot of time in Norway throughout her life. Rennan currently hosts the radio program Nordic Roots Music for KTWH Two Harbors Community Radio. Here, we feature more from her interview.
Tell us about spending time in the United States and Norway as a child.
My parents emigrated from Norway to Duluth, Minn. My dad came in 1950, and my mom followed in 1952. Our social life was centered around activities in Sons of Norway. My mom taught folk dancing and liked to knit sweaters. When I was five years old, she brought me and my then two siblings to Norway to be with our grandparents for a year. I became fluent in the language and had many meaningful and vivid memories.
What sparked your interest in art?
We had paintings in our home made by my grandfather and uncle, which affirmed and inspired my interest in becoming an artist. It was simply planted in my mind that I would move to Norway to study art when I completed high school. Extended family in Norway helped along the way and were an assurance that I’d be ok far from home. I was extremely fortunate to be accepted into the National Art Academy in Oslo, with free tuition and a stipend for expenses, plus travel opportunities to Italy and Paris during my years as a student.
How did you become interested in Scandinavian folk music?
While working summers at Røisheim Hotel in Boverdalen, I attended dances on my evenings off. On Sundays, I listened religiously to Folk Music Hour on the radio, featuring archival recordings and interviews with musicians. After I moved back home to Duluth, I really missed the people and culture of Norway. Friends sent me tapes and CDs that I listened intently to. It was a way for me to import the culture and fill my world with it again – or at least within the walls of our log home. My interest became stronger in its absence.
Tell us about your Nordic Roots Music program.
I was asked by the founding organizers of KTWH 99.5 FM Two Harbors Community Radio to create a Nordic Roots Music program. It’s a low-powered station featuring unique, community-based programming. It can be streamed online at ktwg.org if you live outside the listening area. They refer to our broadcast area as the “Norwegian Riviera” here on the North shore of Lake Superior. I already had a vast collection of CDs from my folk music studies in Rauland, Telemark. My studies there also provided me with background information and context for the various traditional forms of folk music. I’m so happy to put it to use and share it with listeners.