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Music in the Westfjords

Just off the heart of town in Isafjordur is located Tónlistarskóli Ísafjarða, the town´s music school. Playing music is an activity which has a long tradition is Iceland, and particularly in Ísafjörður, whose first music school was opened around 1911 by Jónas Tomasson, who owned the bookshop in town. The original school only ran for about 10 years, until a very cold winter in the 1920s during which it became impossible to heat the building. Not easily foiled, however, Tomasson remained interested in music education, and hired Ragnar H. Ragnar, whose was living in the United States, to run and teach in the present music school. That was in 1948.

Today the principal of the school is Sigrdur Ragnarsdottir. When I spoke with her last week, she joked with me that the school has only had two principals: her and her father. She told me some about the early history of the present school and how her father came to teach in it. He had moved to North America when he was young, where he learned to play music, and lived in Canada and in North Dakota. During WW II he wanted to go to fight the Germans, but he was rather old for doing so at the time, and he was sent back to Iceland because the US was developing a presence here during the war and needed Icelandic speakers. After the war, he moved back to the US for a couple of years, until Jonas Tomasson persuaded him to move to Ísafjörður to run the music school.


When Ragnar and his wife, Sigridur Jonsdottir, moved to Ísafjörður, they were to live in a third floor apartment near the book store in the center of town, above Jonas who lived on the second floor. Ragnar was to give piano lessons in his home, but when it came time to move in, the piano was too large to get to the third floor. So he and his wife moved into the second floor apartment and Jonas moved upstairs. Ragnar directed the school until 1984 when his daughter took over.


Now housed in the building next to the town´s swimming pool, Tónlistarskóli Ísafjarða offers music lessons to students of all ages. Children in first through seventh grade in the Grunnskoli (located just across the street) are excused from classes during the week to attend lessons at the school, and all children in the 4th grade take instrument lessons twice a week. Music instruction for school credit is also offered to older students in Grunnskoli and to students of the Menntaskoli. The school also provides instruction to people beyond school age. Part of the tuition for instruction is paid for by the municipality, and part by the student or his or her parents (the latter generally going towards the maintenance of the facility.


When you enter the school, and walk up the steps, you are greeted by the sounds of lessons taking place behind the doors of each of the practice and instruction rooms which line the halls of two of the schools three floors. Students here have instruction in piano, violin, guitar, drums, accordion...most instruments you might imagine. And students learn a variety of styles of music, ranging from classical to more contemporary and folk music.While some of the instructors are from Ísafjörður, many of the courses are taught by instructors from Europe who have moved here to teach in the school.


In addition to instruction, the school organizes concerts bands and orchestras for concerts around town. These are open to members of the community of a variety of ages. They also sponoser a number of concerts and guest musicians each year. Their website is located at and information in English is located at

More than a thousand words...