Saturday 21 July 1984

The Iceland Experience

A member of The Musician staff gives his holiday impressions 

Do visit Iceland, friendship's golden land, 
Come with glad eyes, with open heart and hand. 

FOR many people Iceland is a rather grim island in the middle of a frozen sea. They shiver when they think of her and wonder what they might find there. Some prefer not to think of Iceland at all when they are planning a holiday and think of places where they can spend their time idly in the sun and sea. Such a holiday was not for me, and it was with keen anticipation that I planned my visit to Iceland. Sometimes the land is cruel and the snow remains on road and field in June. Sometimes she is kind and the snow stays away and the fields are green in January. The visitor is never quite sure what is in store for him. 

* * * 

If Professor J. R. R. Tolkien had seen him he would have sworn that he had elvish blood in him. To the uninitiated let me explain that the elves are the highest beings the good professor created in his one-man mythology. They are the singers of wondrous songs, the tellers of splendid tales, the poets, the dreamers. 

I have often wondered whether the shadow of an elf fell across my cradle soon after my birth, but I have never been able to find out. The minibus carrying us from Reykjavik to Akureyri had battled its way from the capital in the south-west to Iceland's second largest town in the middle of the north coast through swirling rain and howling wind, though these had by now died down and given place to brilliant sunshine, so fickle is the Icelandic climate. 

All would, we hoped, be well for the 80th anniversary of the corps here, whose celebrations we had come to join. But we were weary and hungry and his glad smile and even gladder greeting did much to welcome us. `I understand you would like to stay on for a few days. You are welcome to do so,' he told me later. I responded to his invitation and spent a few unforgettable days in his company. He showed me some of his songs, some of them written specially for the young people of his corps who clearly adored him. 

He showed me the score of his rock musical on Moses and played it over to me. I was quite impressed. He has translated a song from Norwegian into creditable English. I felt that he has much to offer to the movement he clearly loves with all his heart. And all this was before I saw his photography. 

His picture of the sunshine emerging from behind a cloud with a low range of mountains in the foreground would grace any calendar an Icelandic publisher might care to produce. The Christmas card he produced would have gained a prize in any photographic competition. 
His album covering his training college experiences (at the International Training College, Denmark Hill) was a model of how to avoid boredom in such a collectanea. His flair for the English language was superb. He translated for me in meetings and in conversation with his soldiers. He enjoyed a joke and was a follower of the better type of situation comedy imported from Britain. 

His subjects for conversation ranged far and wide, shallow and deep and as we roamed the hills around the town he talked much about the Army and about spiritual matters. Captain Jostein (`Joe') Nielsen is now in another corps appointment in his Norwegian homeland. I am grateful, more than grateful, to have met him.

 * * * 

And all was well, as we had hoped, for the 80th anniversary of the corps at Akureyri. The thanksgiving service, attended by numerous local friends, civic and otherwise, the corps dinner party, at which I was a guest, with musical items by corps comrades and friends, were by now both over. I was sitting in the Sunday morning holiness meeting which was being broadcast live over Icelandic radio. The youth choir of about 14 members sang and the 20-strong singing company did the same. 

Any shortcomings musical were more than made up for in enthusiasm and in communication. I was reminded of the famous remark of Archbishop Ramsey at the 1965 centenary celebrations: 'I have never seen a miserable salvationist.' Certainly i never saw one at Akureyri. 

The congregational singing was fullthroated and forthright. Any faint fear that these folk didn't enjoy their religion was quite quickly allayed. The salvation meeting, in which I was privileged to testify, was all that a good Army meeting should be. There was complete freedom for the Holy Spirit to work, there was good congregational singing, again there was an item from the teenagers, there was a good crowd present (almost 100 in a hall where only a few years ago no more than 10 or 12 met regularly on a Sunday evening and where the average attendance on a Sunday evening is 35 to 40). And there were seekers. 

* * * 

`He's like a potato really—so useful in so many different ways.' 
It was Captain Jostein Nielsen who described Captain Daniel Oskarsson in this somewhat unflattering way, and although I thought he deserved a better description than this I knew what 'Joe' meant. 
Captain Daniel Oskarsson, an Icelander by birth, took great pride in pointing out to me the grammar school in Reykjavik which he attended, and the junior school before that. 

He has been four years in his present appointment as divisional officer and is outstanding in that position. His appetite for work of varying descriptions is phenomenal. He edits the quarterly War Cry, with his wife helping him, making up the pages in the 'editorial office' in his dining-room. 

He audits the accounts of the various corps in Iceland and the Faeroes, he is the public relations officer, he is the youth secretary, conducting Easter camps and other events for the young folk he bears heavily on his heart. `You should have seen him as Paul in Spirit,' Captain 'Joe' said one evening. 'He was absolutely brilliant, completely living the part, and refusing to end a rehearsal without getting to the point where he gets saved. "I can't leave without finding the Lord," he would say. And we wouldn't want to do so either. The scene where he was struck blind was really something. His performance was the king-pin around which the whole production revolved.' 

I marvelled again at the impact that the Gowans/Larsson musicals have had on the Army world, not only in Britain and other English-speaking countries, but also in lands where, as in Norway, where this presentation had taken place, the text and songs have had to be translated. 
Captain Oskarsson comes from a thoroughly Army and Icelandic family. Most members of his family are officers, local officers or soldiers. His nephew is the corps pianist at Akureyri and also plays the guitar. His brother-in-law is the young people's sergent-major there. His grandfather was the first salvationist in the town and became an outstanding officer, writing and translating songs, and blazing the trail for all who followed. 
His daughter, Brigadier Ingibjorg Jonsdottir, the captain's mother, is a splendid lady, full of love for the Lord and for people, playing her guitar in meetings and singing solos in open-air meetings. His heritage is a fine one and he is passing it on to his own children. Memories of his kindness will always be mine. 

* * * 

Anglers will always tell stories about 'the one that got away'. This journalist will now tell of the story that did the same thing. Captain 'Joe' looked up from some books and papers he was going through. `You remember that little old man we sometimes see when we're in the town—the one with the little flat black hat? He's a songwriter too. Here's a book of his songs he once gave me. He's 95 by the way.' 
I looked through the book. The words were obviously beyond me, my Icelandic being non-existent, but I could read the music, which was tuneful and attractive in a Mendelssohnian kind of way. 
'I'd like to meet him and talk to him about his writing and my own,' I said as I closed the book and handed it back. 

Some minutes later Captain 'Joe' came back into the room with a doleful smile on his face, if a smile can be described as 'doleful'. `He asked me to convey his good wishes to my friend, but to say that he has decided not to give any more interviews to the press or radio until his 100th birthday. You'll have to come back again in five years' time to get that story!' he said.

— Peter M. Cooke 
Published in 'The Musician' 21 July 1984 p 456-457

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