This autumn has been a time of loss for Finnish-American traditional music in Upper Michigan. Our old accordionist friend and National Heritage Award winner, Art Moilanen, died in September, and then in November, Michigan Traditional Arts Program Master Folk Fiddler Ed Lauluma left us. It will take time to fully assess the importance of these two gentlemen in the history of Finnish-American music, and I'll leave that for another day. Suffice it to say for now that both Art and Ed were called to play at the Kaustinen Folk Festival in Finland, and at the Smithsonian Institution's Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. Their abilities to preserve, develop, and pass on the Finnish immigrant music traditions were recognized and honored in our own Finnish-American community, but also by the cultural institutions of mainstream America. I owe them a lot, and there will be more said about that some other time. Kiitos, pelimannit.
The summer of 2005 was certainly a gala time in Upper Michigan for those who love Finnish folk music. Finn Grand Fest in Marquette brought return visits from Ulla Suokko, Mauno Jarvela's family, and the Kajaani Accordions. Leikarit made their first-ever trip to the USA, and gave absolutely wonderful concerts that were as notable for their informative English-language commentaries as for their fine musicianship.
Another excellent ensemble making its Midwest debut this summer was the Karelian band "Sattuma", from Petrozavodsk, Russia. Arto Rinne and Dmitry Demin had toured in our part of North America in years past as members of "Myllärit," and now introduced us to the quartet that they have formed with Arto's daughter, Eila, and Dmitry's son, Vladek. Although these youngsters are still in early adolescence, they have both studied the violin for years, and have also become accomplished fiddlers and folk singers. The two "dads" are multi-instrumentalists, with Arto now focusing mostly on accordion and bouzouki, and "Dima" on clarinet, flute, and an array of wind instruments that he builds, such as bagpipes, birch-bark flute, and panpipes.
Sattuma made a number of performance and workshop stops in the Upper Peninsula before Finn Grand Fest. This enabled us to hear, meet, and even play a little music with our Karelian cousins. The group fathers are old pros, but they showed some skills that had not been so apparent when they were with Myllärit. Arto Rinne now proves himself to be a fine accordionist, who can play the liveliest polkas with ease. More importantly in this group, he also demonstrates the art of accompaniment-something many accordionists never seem to "get." Arto can keep the band moving with a strong and impressive left hand on the bass, and crisp, rhythmic right hand chords. His playing is proof that an accordion can rival a piano or harmonium for pelimanni music accompaniment.
Dmitry Demin's superb clarinet, bagpipe, and whistle playing adds richness to the textures of this group's music, as it did to that of Myllärit, but he now also has all the band members playing overtone flutes and/or panpipes-that is, when he's not taking us into a sonic shadowland with his didgeridoo.
The two youngsters often steal the show, however, and their proud fathers let them get away with it. Eila Rinne and Vladek Demin are amazingly good performers, not only musically talented, but also poised, relaxed, mischievous, and obviously enjoying their shows as much as the audiences do.
Sattuma's second CD, "Kudelma," reflects much of the group's program from last summer. The title translates as "a weaving," a theme which is reinforced by the cover photograph of a Finnish rag-rug. This is a particularly apt theme for Sattuma, which weaves diverse Western Finnish, Finno-Karelian, Ingrian, and Karelian-Russian influences and sources into musical reflections of multi-cultural Karelia.
Arto Rinne has three original melodies on this CD, all of which are very much in the tradition of Finnish dance and folk music. His "Saunapolkka" and "Sapsan Masurkka" are eminently danceable, and sound as if they could be at least 100 years old. Arto's "Sorrow of the Forest Maid" is a lovely instrumental lament that one might believe to have come out the Karelian forests 500 years ago.
Weave these sounds with Northern Russian chastuskas, Karelian children's songs, traditional jouhikko melodies, a schottische-tempo Finnish peddlar's song, and one has Sattuma's latest "musical rag-rug." Disparate elements skillfully crafted into a strong and beautiful unity-rather like the carpets that inspired the title. The CD "Kudelma" is highly recommended to all lovers of Finnish and Karelian culture. It can be ordered from Sattuma's North American manager, Sherry Merrick, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I have said before, the two-row accordion seems to me to be the Finnish equivalent of the acoustic guitar in American "roots music"-the instrument that country people would play while sitting out on the cabin steps after a hard day's work in the fields and forests. Compared to the piano accordion or the various chromatic boxes, the little kaks'-riviset is noisier, the basses are simpler, and the sound is somehow more "folky," like a fiddle or bagpipe. Also, for some reason, tunes played on a two-row sound more "Finnish" to me than the fast, smooth melodies played on the "other accordions."
The two-row was played in this country by a lot of Finnish immigrants, but was quickly eclipsed by the more versatile piano accordion. Richard Koski and Kip Peltoniemi are keeping the two-row alive in Finnish-American music, but so far, there don't seem to be many younger players.
That's not the case in Finland. Diatonic accordions are still very popular, and many different sizes and configurations are available. There are clubs for two-row players, and younger musicians stretch the limitations that seem to be imposed by the non-chromatic nature of the instrument. At the same time, the older traditional music is being played and preserved.
A delightful CD of this haitari-pelimanni music was released last year. "Mestaripelimannit Tepot" features the playing of three musicians, all of whom have won the title of "master folk musician"-or mestaripelimanni-and all of whom share the same first name: Teppo Valimaki; Teppo Alajuntti; and Teppo Aho. The recording (TEPCD-01) appears to be self-produced with assistance from the Kaustinen Folk Music Institute staff: Tallari's Antti Hosioja and Risto Hotakainen play bass and fiddle or mandolin, respectively, on several tracks, and the accompanying text is written by the Institute's staff researcher, Simo Westerholm.
Regarding the origins and provenance of the tunes, the notes read, "Vanhanajan kappaleita,, kaikki Tradin saveltamia", which I take to mean "Old pieces, all traditional melodies," but most cuts have indications of from whom the players learned them. In fact, some of the melodies, such as "Hiskin Iikoon Polska" and "Nestorin Polska," are ones I recognize from tapes that Al Reko gave me many years ago. "Vuoma-Pertin Masurkka" is a tune I learned from another cassette that was passed along to me by two-row master Dick Reese, and it has haunted me for almost 25 years-how delightful to hear the Teppos' version. This is the real deal, the good old good stuff-recorded digitally!
Some of the tunes are played "en masse," and it is interesting to hear how the three Teppos are able to synchronize their playing. Each of them also plays solo on a number of cuts, and the difference between their styles-and instruments-becomes more apparent. The Teppos are masters of their tradition, indeed, and if organizers for Finnfest USA and the Canadian Suurjuhlat are looking for musicians to invite from Finland, I suggest they listen to this CD. If you want to hear the kind of music to which your grandparents or great-grandparents were dancing 100 years ago-or if you want to learn 28 great old dance melodies-this CD could be for you.
The only problem may be finding it-it did not come up on a Google search, and neither CDroots nor Digelius list it on their respective websites. However, the review copy came from the Kaustinen Instiute, and the Kaustinen Institute Folk Music Shop has it on their website, so I suggest that those with serious interest send an e-mail inquiry in that direction. The address is email@example.com.
Here's a wish that your holiday season will be filled with music, kindness, and good humor-and that we all find peace and health in the new year.
New World Finn