Musician-in-Residence: Beth Hoven Rotto

February 14, 2022

We are pleased to announce that Beth Hoven Rotto, a fiddler from Decorah, Iowa, is at UW-Madison as a Musician-in-Residence throughout the Spring 2022 semester. She is based primarily at the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, and is also spending time here at Mills Music Library poring over materials and listening to recordings from our Scandinavian music collections. For example, she’s already spent a good amount of time listening to recordings of Norwegian-American folk and old-time music performances from southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa in our Arnold Munkel Collection in search of tunes to be performed by the Scandinavian-American Old-Time Dance Music Ensemble she’s forming as part of her residency. The ensemble is open to both UW-Madison students and the general public. See the poster below and click HERE for more information about the ensemble.

Beth Hoven Rotto began playing the violin in the school string program in Wausau, Wisconsin and continued in orchestra into her college days at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Sometime in the 1980s she heard and was impressed with a radio program featuring Scandinavian fiddle music on Wisconsin Public Radio’s program Simply Folk and began to pursue fiddle workshops at Folklore Village near Dodgeville and elsewhere. In 1988, Beth began an apprenticeship with Bill Sherburne, the fiddler at Highlandville Dances, which she attended in an old two room schoolhouse. She then formed the band Foot-Notes, and they carry on the tradition of dances there since Bill Sherburne passed away in 1991.

Foot-Notes has played for community events including weddings, anniversaries, graduations, festivals and celebrations of many kinds. The band recorded Decorah Waltz in 1996 when they were invited to the Smithsonian Institution’s 1996 Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. In 1998, Foot-Notes recorded My Father Was a Fiddler. . . in honor of the Decorah area’s rich heritage of dance music, which came from tunes Beth collected from the daughters and granddaughters of some of the early fiddlers. In 2015, Foot-Notes organized The World’s Largest Schottische during Decorah’s Nordic Fest with 1881 registered dancers. For many years Beth taught a medley of Scandinavian tunes to a diverse group of fiddlers for a holiday concert. These musicians have ranged in age from 8-80. Beth has had the opportunity to lead fiddle workshops both on Zoom and in person. Most recently, she chose, researched and arranged music for a concert, Foot-Notes & Friends Play the Music of Johan Arndt Mostad- Lost Tunes from a Norwegian Immigrant’s Notebooks, which is available to watch on the Vesterheim Museum YouTube channel.

This residency is sponsored by Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, the Sustaining Scandinavian Folk Arts in the Upper Midwest project, Mills Music Library, Mead Witter School of Music, and the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic+.

Poster promoting Scandinavian-American Old-Time Dance Music Ensemble lead by Spring 2022 Musician-in-Residence Beth Hoven Rotto