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. 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


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