Beth Hoven Rotto playing the fiddle

2022 Musician-in-Residence

Fiddler Beth Hoven Rotto from Decorah, Iowa was based at the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures as a Musician-in-Residence throughout the Spring 2022 semester. Rotto’s residency included forming and leading a Norwegian American folk music ensemble (which included UW students, faculty/staff and community members) and working with Scandinavian music collections at the Mills Music Library.

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 Institutions 1996 Festival of American Folklife in Washington, DC. 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 led fiddle workshops both on Zoom and in person. In 2021, 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 on the Vesterheim Museum YouTube channel.

As part of Beth’s residency, she was interviewed by then-graduate student Caitlin Vitale-Sullivan about her practice of tune-hunting in the Driftless Area and her work with the music collections at the Mills Music Library during her time in Madison. Read portions of their interview in Vitale-Sullivan’s article “An Interview with Beth Hoven Rotto.”