Photo: Recording a new album with my Death metal band Wachenfeldt

Short reflection on a musical and educational journey of a hellbilly


​So, how did a hillbilly from the countryside without a family tradition of academic work (most of them were lumberjacks, shoemakers or blacksmiths) end up as a researcher and Associate Professor at a Swedish University?

            The answer is to be found in music – Extreme music.

Performing with the Gävle Symphony Orchestra with music I have arranged and to some extent composed

(video: performing with Gävle Symphony Orchestra with music I have arranged and to some extent composed)

My project together with Assistant Professor Ketil Thorgersen (Center for Teaching and Learning in the Humanities, Stockholm University, Sweden) that will be included in the forthcoming book Perspectives on Music, Education, and Religion: A Critical Inquiry, turned out to be an introspective journey and revealed some personal insights. The informants in the study reminded me of myself and my own pursuit for knowledge and personal excellence that was - and is - flourishing as an idea within the field of Black and metal – a genre that got me into playing music during my teenage years. The pretentious aesthetics that permeate the lyrics and song writing is in many respects a legacy of the western Bildung tradition and especially a celebration of the 19th century genius and overall the ideals and ideas of the romantic era. Both now and then, many Black metal musicians have been inspired by composers such as Wagner and Beethoven, but also philosophers like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

The genre and its main ideology can in many respects be summarized with one word: Elitist.

For myself, Black metal opened doors to the western classical music, but also Scandinavian traditional music through bands like Satyricon and Dissection. It also made me go and buy the book Also sprach Zarathustra by Nietzsche. But first and foremost, it possessed me and made me practise like hell on my guitar.

I don’t know whether it was the music that initiated the journey for my own personal perfection, or if it already was a seed within me that was fertilized by the ethos within the genre. But I know for sure that the world of extreme music was, to say the least, most fascinating and made me curious – not only with regards to the music itself, but also curious about the different levels and dimensions of the world around and inside of me. To know that certain individuals within the field boldly confronted the big philosophical and metaphysical questions of life.

Later on I began playing the violin and praised the music of Bach, Roman and Kraus, but also the traditional Swedish fiddler music. The quest for knowledge challenged my own musical and intellectual limits. I later studied classical violin and composition at the university, and began teaching and touring around the world as a folk fiddler and classical violinist. But this wasn’t enough. My new goal was academia and I finally received my PhD in Music education in 2015.

The quest continues, and more and more I realize that the ideals of Black metal have in many ways shaped my view on the inner and outer world. The constant endeavour for personal perfection and the faustian conviction that it is only you who decide the limits.

Or as Aleister Crowley puts it: “Do what thou wilt, shall be the whole of the law”.

-- Associate Thomas von Vachenfeldt, Department of Creative Studies (Teacher Education), Umeå University, Sweden


A Playlist: