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Minnesota folk musician brings ‘Ancestral Fires: Songs of Finland and Finnish-America’ to Cokato
SEPT. 27, 2010

As part of grant, 15 kanteles were donated for lessons to be given by Finnish artist Diane Jarvi

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

COKATO, MN – The Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society (CFAHS) recently accepted 15 kanteles, Finnish folk harps, from internationally-known artist Diane Jarvi in conjunction with a year-long residency in the community.

“This is a great way to have the traditional Finnish music expanded,” said Susie Keskey, CFAHS member.

The 15 kanteles will be used in a series of music lessons given by Jarvi to any community member interested in learning how to play the Finnish instrument at no charge.

“It’s a really nice opportunity for anybody in the community,” said Heidi Barberg, member. “You don’t have to be Finnish. It’s very close to the Scandinavian [string] instruments,” she added.

The donation was made possible through a folk and traditional art grant Jarvi applied for, in association with the New Bohemian Arts Cooperative based in Minneapolis.

The grant was funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, which is a percentage of sales tax made possible by the vote Nov. 4, 2008.

Jarvi is a singer, songwriter, kantele player, and teacher of authentic Finnish folk music. She is also a renowned performer and interpreter of world music as well as a contemporary songwriter and published poet. She has performed all over the US, and several of her albums have aired internationally.

Through her travels – including a performance in Cokato in 1997 – Jarvi found that Finnish-American communities like Cokato are very rare.

Jarvi said, for her, it is “very moving” how the Cokato community has kept it a sacred place, particularly Temperance Corner.

In the early 1990s, Jarvi studied at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland. She has been playing the kantele for 25 years and has wanted a long-term teaching experience. When the opportunity arose to apply, Jarvi thought of Cokato.

“I’ve always found [Cokato] to be special and dear,” Jarvi said.

The grant, titled “Ancestral Fires: Songs and Stories of Finland and Finnish America,” included the construction of the 15 kanteles by Gerry Henkel of Duluth, along with classes, workshops, and demonstrations by Jarvi.

In Finland, the kantele is the first instrument introduced to school-age children, according to Jarvi, who is excited for the opportunity “to unleash something that, hopefully, can carry on to future generations.”

“This is my little contribution to keep people connected with their heritage,” Jarvi said, noting what a unique opportunity this is for a community.

The first lesson will begin (including registration) Thursday, Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Cokato City Hall.

The number of sessions will depend on interest from the community.

For more information or to sign up (limited availability), call Heidi Barberg at (320) 286-5823.

Jarvi is also hoping to have a student component within the school district if that is of interest.

“It’s such an honor for me to do this,” Jarvi said, adding she was pleasantly surprised in being awarded the grant.

Jarvi’s first public performance as part of “Ancestral Fires” will be at the CFAHS’s fall festival at Temperance Corner Saturday, Oct. 9.

She will also perform at the Cokato Historical Society’s holiday potluck Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Cokato City Hall.

Jarvi will end her residency in Cokato with a concert event in May at the Performing Arts Center. More information to come.

The history of the kantele

A kantele is considered a traditional folk music instrument that has been played in Finland and other Baltic countries since pre-historic times, according to information provided on Henkle’s website (www.kantele.com).

Earliest reference to the stringed instrument is in an epic poem of Finland, the Kalevala.

In the poem, the kantele is attributed by a mythical sage named Väinämöinen, who built the instrument with the jawbone of a giant fish and the strings from the long hair of a young maiden.

It began with just five strings, but instruments with up to 36 strings became more common when European music became more popular in Finland.

The Finnish kantele, Henkle explains, is basically a triangular-shaped sound box with strings running across the top.

When the strings are plucked, ringing bell-like tones are produced.

Cokato Historical Society member Audrey Tack owns a kantele and said, “It’s one of the most mellow sounding [instruments].”

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