Saturday, January 14, 2012

Instrumental Roots

I am 100% Minnesotan, with equal amounts of Norwegian and Finnish ancestry. My mother was 100% Finnish and was born in Minnesota from Finnish parents, and my father was 100% Norwegian. Naturally, when my musical inclination led me to find the Finnish national folk instrument, the Kantele (pronounced KAN-te-leh), I had to have one. It was so exciting when my Kantele arrived, my Autoharp was with a luthier at the time getting some work done, and I had been without an instrument for a couple of weeks. She looked just like the pictures on the Kantele shop, and is made out of pine and birch, two trees common both in Finland and Minnesota.

My lovely 5-string Kantele has been my quiet companion ever since. I play her outside and at home when ever the mood hits me. I had discovered this lovely little folk instrument when I was searching for Autoharp music online. I found some recordings of the concert Kantele, a 36 string instrument, and was intrigued by the similarity to the Autoharp. Why did I take up the Autoharp in the first place? Maybe the music was in my blood all along. Both intruments are part of the zither family, so I realized that I really liked zither instruments, and my ears would prick up and I would pay attention any time a zither was mentioned.

One instance was at a concert by Ruth Barrett, when she said the fretted dulcimer is also a zither. The difference  is that it has a fret board running the length of the instrument. Aha! And my interest in the mountain dulcimer began. It turned into a mild obsession when I discovered the Dulcimerica Podcast on Youtube. And the rest is history, as I am now the proud companion to a beautiful mountain dulcimer.

But wait, there's more. It seems the origins of the American mountain dulcimer trace back to European Zithers, specifically the scheitholt, which was brought over from the old country by the Pensylvania Dutch. The Scotch-Irish of the Appalachian mountains adopted and adapted these zithers, using the same fretboard and drone quality creating the wonderful folk instrumenet we know today as the mountain dulcimer. It turns out there is a Norwegian instrument in that family, here's what Wikipedia has to say about it:

There exists a variety of box zithers in Europe. The German scheitholt and the Swedish Hummel have been suggested as the predecessor of the langeleik. However, in 1980 a langeleik dated as early as 1524 was uncovered on a farm in Vibergsroa, Gjøvik, Norway. This instrument predates any documented occurrences of the scheitholt, the hummel or any other similar instrument.

And so my instruments of choice have roots in my ancestory on both my mother's and father's sides. I was raised to be musical, starting with the piano when I was just five years old. Music is part of my heritage, and I'm very excited to be exploring the folk music of my ancestry. Minnesota is also a haven for folk musicians generally. Something about the long cold winter causes us to want to sing across the dark night skies with one another, I think. For me, my zithers give me great joy even just playing by myself. The cats seem to like it too.

No comments: