I asked James Solheim, composer of Kyrkjebøbakken in the most recent issue of The Trumpet, to tell us a bit about where the name “Kyrkjebøbakken” comes from. This is what he wrote:

About “Kyrkjebøbakken” by James Solheim

The tune’s name (approximately pronounced CHURCH-uh-bu-BOCK-en, with a Norwegian lilt) refers to the farm where my grandfather was born, on a hill overlooking Svatsum Church in Vestre Gausdal, a valley in central Norway.

Svatsum Chruch is a tiny, octagonal, all-wood country church with incredible acoustics about forty-five minutes northwest of Lillehammer. Shape-note music would sound great in this church, the building where my grandfather was baptised—but I doubt if the pews can be moved into a square.

“Kyrkje” means “church, and “bø” means the meadows where a farm’s buildings are located. Historically, rural churches in Norway had their own prosperous farms—so “kyrkjebø” would be the land where a church stands. Since “bakken” means “the hill,” “kyrkjebøbakken” would be the the hill over the church’s lands. A decent English translation of “Kyrkjebøbakken” would be “The Churchyard Hill.”

My ancestors had a beautiful view of Svatsum Church, and my relatives still live on the hills there. You can go to and see views of the church and surrounding hills.
Norwegian is a complicated language, with two official written forms and hundreds of dialects, and “kyrkje” is perhaps more often spelled as “kirke” in the valley where Svatsum Church sits—but I chose “kyrkje” because it’s the more historically Norwegian spelling and because that crazy mix of letters is so fun to read!


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