The Hardanger fiddle is often referred to as the national instrument of Norway. It is distinct from a traditional violin in that it possesses four to five sympathetic strings located underneath the fingerboard that create a unique droning sound when the primary strings are played. Additionally, Hardanger fiddles tend to be ornately decorated, often with mother-of-pearl inlays, pen-and-ink decoration called rosing, or carved scrolls with the likenesses of human or animal heads. The development of this instrument is unique to Norway and as a result it has amassed tremendous significance as a symbol of Norwegian folk identity in the minds of both Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans.
Naturally Norwegian emigrants brought their instruments with them to America and among these was the Hardanger fiddle. The great popularity of this instrument in Norway at the time of mass emigration helped it to take root in America and in 1914 the Hardanger Violinist Forbundet af Amerika (The Hardanger Violinist Association of America) was founded. Interest in the Hardanger fiddle faded with subsequent generations in America, however, and the association dissolved with the break-out of World War II. Recognition of the instrument among Norwegian-Americans faded to the point where there may only have been a handful of Hardanger violinists in this country, but the 1980s saw an increased interest in traditional Norwegian and Norwegian-American culture. Attentions were again turned to this unique and interesting instrument. In 1983 the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America (HFAA) was established, picking up the mantle that had been laid aside for nearly 40 years. Today the HFAA is a not-for-profit organization that strives to preserve and promote the instrument after which it is named as well as the related traditions of Norwegian music and dance.