Schola Instrumentalis – Norway´s oldest medieval music ensemble?

The early years
When the Institute for Musicology at the University of Oslo was established in the 1960s, professor Finn Benestad has a vision: The students should be given a broad scope of music, with practical interpretation, history, theory and direction all in one mix. To cover the need for instrumental training, he hired the Danish recordist Leif Risager (among others), who had studied music of the baroque and renaissance eras. Risager established a number of ensembles, related to the studies. Thus, the institute had a renaissance ensemble as far back as 1964, in which Kjell Skyllstad, who in due time became professor himself, was a member. We are not exactly sure about this, but we reckon that Risager was the one to come up with the name «Schola Instrumentalis», as a counterpart to the newly established choir, Schola Cantorum, which was started at the same time.
Risager worked as a teacher at the institute for several years. His main occupation was recorders and early music. In the early days, Schola Instrumentalis was mainly a recorder ensemble because of this. Risager quit and left for Denmark in 1970, and then Tom Toftaker took the helm. From this point, a more genuine interest for medieval music developed. At the same time, new students joined the ensemble, and from this point, we might say the medieval music ensemble Schola Instrumentalis emerged on the scene. Tofteberg led the ensemble in this phase, and he set the standards and musical choices the following years. In 1976, he and three others were playing in a production for the Norwegian Broadcasting Company NRK: «Jeu de Robin et Marion» by Adam de la Hale.

Enter Sverre Jensen.
There is always a need for new instruments in an ensemble like this, and you have to reconstruct original medieval ones. The instrument builder Sverre Jensen came into the group in the late seventies, and through him, Schola Instrumentalis got access to new instruments of all kinds. Jensen came as a student, but turned out to be a resource, both because of the instruments, but also because of his knowledge. When Tofteberg had to resign because of bad health in 1986, Sverre Jensen was the logical choice when pointing out a new leader. Tofteberg died in 2001, 56 years of age. The «classical» phase for the group goes from 1986 to 2001. That is 25 years, while new students joined every new semester while others quit. In this period, Schola Instrumentalis was a regular at concerts at the institute, and at the most, the band could have as much as 20 member on stage. At times, Schola Instrumentalis could seem to be a real «ragtag band» to qoute Sverre Jensen´s own words to me (as I was about to join them i 1992). While some musicians stayed on for years, others were there for a short time, and quit when their studies ended. Others left to organize separate groups on their own. Through this ensemble, Jensen made a good base for recruiting musicians to the Norwegian medievalist movement. Schola Instrumentalis became a «mother group» for other ensembles which emerged as spin-off-groups.

Farewell to the institute.
From the very beginning, Schola Instrumentalis was tightly woven into the fabric of the Institute for Musicology. Because of new economic directives and mergings at the university at large, the band was «cut loose», and had to cope on its own from 2002. Sverre Jensen left the group in 2011, and the most dedicated musicians were at a loss about how to continue. At the worst, the ensemble was
down to two: Are Boye Hansen and Henning Holen, who still works as a continuo section in the group today. Soon Øystein Bech Gadmar joined the band, and I, currently serving as a fiddler, was asked to come back to the group after a hiatus of 18 years, in 2015.Today, the ensemble counts at least five members, with Ina Skara joining on percussion and song. We have built it gradually over a period of seven years, and are currently in shape for touring, concerts, even a home studio, as well as a new base of knowledge for performance.
Eilev Groven Myhren.