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Life is a Time of Learning/Lærdómstími ævin er

by Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson

Length 15:40
Original language: Icelandic
Consultance: Tim Hinman

This piece was produced as part of the radiofeature/documentary project

RANA is funded through EU´s Lifelong learning program. More information
about the RANA project can be found on

A man’s voice, singing: Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all
sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…

Jón: I've been so lucky. It's a psalmestry I got when I was eleven.
11.10.1962, Aðalgötu 19, Ólafsfjörður, born in 1951, Jón Þorsteinsson
(laughs). This was the favorite hymn of Pálína (turns more pages) from
Syðstibær...There are so many things to give thanks for. There are so
unendingly many things to give thanks for...Here are one, two, three, four,
five, six, seven doors. I guess it’s not much more than one and a half square
meter, this entrance lobby. This cabinet, this file cabinet, which is of course
my score cabinet, dates back to hold many good things (sound of
sheet music)... So...these are the domestic facilities at Sluisstraat. At Mr.
Þorsteinsson’s. Many people think I went abroad to study singing, but that
was never the plan (laughs), I was going to study psychological nursing and
go back to work at Kleppur (an institution for the mentally ill in Reykjavík). I
liked this job so terribly much. And I belonged very much in the nursing job.

Music starts

And then this pops out like thunder from a clear sky...It was an incredible
experience - singing at Bayreuth...the acoustics there are incomparable
....incomparable. The orchestra pit is designed like a grand piano. Very
interesting. And again, you can never fully thank for this experience...yes...

Sound of wind and seagulls

There were I think four of them who were called "Mrs" when I was growing
up. The doctor's wife, the pastor's wife, the savings bank manager's wife,
and my grandmother, Mrs. Emma (laughs). My great-grandfather, who I
remember, was named Jón Þorsteinsson. He was a smith, a true craftsman
in everything, both wood and iron. Grandfather was a blacksmith, as well,
Jón Frímannsson. He was...he was, I think, the best man I've ever known in
my life. My goodness, how grandfather Jón was a good man. I miss him
very much. Always. I think about him every day, remarkable. Yes. And, he
was a big singer, he sang in the church choir in Ólafsfjörður for more than
60 years. He had what you call "absolut gehör", or absolute pitch. I started

going to church with him when I was about four or five years old. And uh,
was raised to a big extent with him on the church loft.

Sound of church bells

(laughs) When I think about the church loft at home, I always think about
the same hymn. Or the same hymns, really. And they are "Son of god, our
loved one is" or..or..."the life is a time of learning". I'm standing on the left
side of the organ, where the alto is. We've just stood up, after Kristinn, the
father of Sigursveinn D. and Dúddi and Sigga from Grashorn has read the
prayer and lifted his head up and give us a sign so that we can start playing.
And Auður has begun playing. I'm standing between - Next to Auður stands
Birna...then there's Lára Þorsteinsdóttir, then me, then Jón Antons.

Music begins

Cousin Jónsi, Jón Ásgeirsson, they were sons of brothers, my dad and
him...bass singer, good voice...excellent voice. I remember Sigríður
Þorsteinsdóttir ... Freygerður, her sister..."Freyja", Freyja Þorsteins..And then
the daughter of Sigríður, Lovísa, she's still in the choir, I think...An
untarnished, good voice...Jón Ellert Sigurpálsson...(laughing) yes, his mother
should be the first to be named, Fjóla Víglundsdóttir.
Margrét...Ólafsdóttir..Brynhildur Einarsdóttir..These were the women in the
soprano, Eva Vilhelmsdóttir..Guðrún Jónsdóttir, daughter of Jón Ellert...and
Hrafnhildur Einarsdóttir and Brynja. They come in later. In the alto, there’s
Birna Björnsdóttir..They would stand rather tightly together, and sometimes
I’d land in between them (Jóna Antonsdóttir) And they swayed a little back
and forth (Lára Þorsteinsdóttir) and I’d do it with them [laughs]. Líney
Jónasdóttir..(yes)..Svana Jónsdóttir...Sigurbjörg Þengilsdóttir from
Skeggjabrekka..And Auður, Auður Jónsdóttir. Sigurlína was her
name...called Lilla..Sigurlína Axelsdóttir. Magnús Magnússon. Sigursveinn
Magnússon..headmaster of the music school..And Örn Magnússon, pianist.
They are all brothers. They had one sister called Aðalbjörg Jónsdóttir.
Bogga Þóris, as she’s called. Good voice, fine voice...At the organ was of
course Guðmundur Jóhannsson. Klara Arnbjörns, of course! ...I love these
people so much...

"Life is a time of learning - oh, my lord that...wait a that I may

please thee....I don't remember (silence). Then there is a hymn that I never
sang which didn't like. "The church of our god is an ancient house". Then
I'd always sit down. Then I'd let the people sing it, I never learned it - I
thought it was such an ugly song (laughs). It was very low, AAAAA, low for
the bass. I was never allowed to attend rehearsals, they rehearsed in the
evening. Ohh no. That...I was never allowed to go to rehearsals, I learned it
all...not until I became an adult, naturally. Nonono, that was entirely
forbidden, we couldn't go out in the evening, my siblings and I. No. Grandpa
was cuddly, he loved to hug people, and grandpa's hug was - there was
nothing like it. He was not tall, he was portly, a stubby bellyman, he called
himself, he sometimes called himself a tummyman. He was stout on the in
stature and stout in temper as well. He was merry, and keen on singing, he
always sang at work, always humming.“Life is a time of learning / Oh my
lord knows I...” How come the sentence doesn't come...(stands up).

Sound of waves and birds

It was 1965. This would have been in May, probably. Rather than the
beginning of June. And my job was to weld into rings. When the wires went
into the rings, they would scar them, and sometimes all the way through.
And my job was to weld into the rings - it was a nasty job. Many people got
poisoned because of this, I don't understand why I didn't get poisoned.

I think the time was around...just over three in the morning. And I was
inside, and I had done welding (I remember this so clearly). I had finished
welding into the rings and had cleaned the most dirt from them, and was
filing them on the inside with a file. All of the sudden, I hear my grandpa
calling "Nonni, Nonni! Come here!”, he says. And I hear that something's
wrong. He first said to me "I'm going outside for a minute, let's take a small
break." And I tell him "I'll come in a minute, after I finish this ring." And then
after a moment, he calls out, "Nonni, Nonni!" he said. And I rush out and
ask if everything is okay. "Do you see what I see?" he says. "Where?" And
then he points out to the fjord. And then I saw a sight - this must have been
around 3:30-4:00 in the morning, yes. Then I see a sight that will never
forget. There were these mirages. The wind was completely still and we
saw Grímsey (an island in the fjord) like it was just floating right by the
harbour. We saw the houses, the electric poles, everything. I'll never forget
this. Never. He thought that he had become sick...he couldn't believe it,
he'd never seen anything like this before. You could see the people, like the
man walking out of his house to go down to his boat. I'll never forget this.
Yes. Yes, I can still see it. I've learned heaps of roles in my life and
oratorios and then I can't remember my favorite hymn. Oh of course,
(starts singing) "Life is a time of learning / oh my lord knows I can / learn all
that pleases You / Your wisdom cherish the most. Let me gather truthful
treasures / Let me blossom in wisdom and good deeds". That's the way it is.

Sound of bells

You sometimes hear older people talk about...people you thought were
older people when you're a boy, maybe 10-12-15 years old, maybe under
twenty or so...when people grow to be fifty or a little older, that they remain
children on the inside. I thought it was so ridiculous - but then it turns out
to be exactly true! Because, of course you grow older, and I've got two
years until I turn sixty, and you grow older and all that, but the child inside
of you just continues to exist. It's so bizarre. It's a very good and pleasant
feeling. An awfully pleasant feeling. Maybe I've never even grown up! Who
knows (laughs).

Organ music

The End

©2009 RANA/Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson