Merja_1

Kantele Stories

When I came to this country many years ago, I was prepared for a life that would be very different from what I knew in Finland. I had studied Finnish music at Sibelius Academy and was convinced that here in San Diego I would never find an audience for the music that I loved so much.

The first year in this country was the most difficult. I didn’t belong here, and felt I had no purpose in this community. That is when I turned to kantele and ancient Finnish music. It was the music that brought me the “home away from home,” a sense of being part of an invisible chain of women, the ones who came before me and told their story through these songs.

I soon started to share my songs with other people, first with Finnish-American, then with American audiences. I realized that even American people loved these ancient songs, they always told me that the melodies sounded so strangely familiar and soothing, even they knew they never had heard them before.

I decided to start teaching kantele and Finnish folk music for both Finnish-Americans and Americans. I traveled around the country performing and teaching workshops and soon started teaching Finnish music at San Diego State University (SDSU) and University of San Diego (USD).

Teaching at San Diego State University

At San Diego State University I first created a music program for non-music majors, then music majors as well. Eventually Finnish folk music was a required course at the university.   The music majors were so enthusiastic about Finnish music that we decided to form a professional ensemble called Suddenly Finnish

Suddenly Finnish performed at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., at the Institute on World Affairs in San Diego and at the Boise River Festival in Idaho. The group also appeared at the annual FinnFests in Thousand Oaks and Seattle. In Seattle, Suddenly Finnish was voted one of the most popular performing groups.

In 2001 and 2002 Suddenly Finnish performed at KIHAUS, the second largest folk music festival of Finland. The Finnish media was very interested in this American group that sings in Finnish. Suddenly Finnish was featured on major TV stations, radio stations and in many newspapers. HS Culture 5.7.2001 – American folk group to perform here …

Radio Aino of Yleisradio in Helsinki sent Suddenly Finnish a public email that was read in their morning show: “…it is wonderful that the musicians around the world are now taught to appreciate Finnish folk music. Let your kantele play beautifully and long. Let it tell everyone about this proud nation that lives in the North.”

Kantele was always a very important part of the music program at SDSU. For the students Finnish music was a window for a very different culture. I became interested in why these young people kept coming back to learn about Finnish music and I asked them to write and talk about it.

One of my first students, Cindy Dube (music major, violin) said: “Finnish music was the most beautiful music I ever heard, it was free. And I knew instantly, the way you felt about the music was how I wanted to feel, and I didn’t feel that way so I just had to come… I feel that one thing that draws Americans to Finnish music is that you care. You care where you came from. You care about your history and what’s special about you. And here you have such a hodge podge of things it’s easy to feel you are just lost in the middle… I feel that I have found, for the first time since I was little, a place inside of me that can make music – joyfully….”

Stacey Stroh (music major, voice) said: “It fits to my world perspective that I always have maintained… that each person has her own voice, her own way of expressing herself… and to bring that out instead of trying to make everyone to fit in this narrow little space and say; oh you have to be this way to make good music….”

In 2009, in the midst of many life events, I fell into Silence. I decided to stop teaching and performing Finnish music. I felt that there were no more stories to tell, no songs to sing. If you listen to the song all the joys I have forgotten it expresses beautifully, in ancient words  how  you have to deal with the inevitable losses in life but also, how there is hope if you just push through.

During that year I decided to open my own music program for young children. These children have brought so much joy to my life, they never stop amazing me with their wonder and curiosity for life.

After so many years of Silence, I am now finally returning to my roots and Finnish music. I have learned that nothing is ever lost, just forgotten, and that there still is a song, a story – an ancient memory that wants to be told.

2 Comments
  1. Thank you for your music and your blog. Arctic Silence is one of my favorite albums!

    Reply
    1
    • Thank you Christine! I hope to post many new songs and stories in the near future.

      Reply
      1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>