Monday, July 30, 2012

Finnish Folk Music

Falling in love with the music of my Finnish ancestry was easy. It is beautiful and many songs can be played on my five string kantale. The Finns are known for their rather dark sense of humor, but there is another way of looking at it. Marjorie Edgar was a collector of Finnish folk music in the first half of the twentieth century and she had this to say about it:

Finnish dance tunes are gay and Finnish humor is charming. The latter appears in many of the songs, and there are so many hearty rollicking tunes that one wonders if the usual American idea of "the gloomy music of the northern countries" Is not a misconception. Even the melancholy airs, of which there are plenty and among the most lovely, have no feeling of self-pity; they are rather detached in spirit and have a mysticism of a purely Finnish type, as unconscious of its quality as a stream or a spruce would be.
On the other hand, I personally have a tendency to get into some down moods. But it's not depression, I've decided, it's just my Finnish nature. It's taken me until middle-age to realize that it's OK when things don't go your way, and if you truly love something, keep at it no matter what. At the same time I need to be practical and pragmatic, but pursuing my love of zithers relentlessly is my ultimate musical goal. Another way of putting it is a uniquely Finnish term called sisu. From Wikipedia:
Sisu is an ability to finish a task successfully, as defined by Roman Schatz in his book From Finland with Love (2005), and decisiveness. Usually sisu means the will and decisiveness to surmount challenges against impossible odds.

I've never considered myself as disciplined, but rather stubborn and determined. Add to that a willingness to do the work, and I think I'm beginning to understand sisu a bit. I have goals, in that I want to share Finnish folk music and the Finnish folk instrument of the Kantele by writing some music books in the next year. To that end, I've begun learning a program to create tabulature for the Mountain Dulcimer, plan on learning the 10 string Kantele after I build it, and I just learned about Finnish music camp. I missed it this year, but I'll keep an eye on the website for next year. For more on Sisu and the Finnish mentality, check out this video on car racing. It makes me proud to be half Finnish.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dream to Reality: Autoharp Aquisition Part 2

My vision of what my life is with music is pictured here, specifically, my new Autoharp sitting inside Bag End in Hobbiton. The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien have, for the past 30 years, been a delight and inspiration to me. This coming winter The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be coming out in theaters near you, (get your Facebook covers now!) and I am thrilled beyond belief. So much so that I really wanted to share this feeling with everyone here, because it ties in with my Autoharp in a big way. In my last post I mentioned the Bards of Old, and I have to say, that Tolkien was one of the best bards of all time. My goal, when I get my Autoharp, is to learn some Tolkien inspired music. Lucky for me, Marc Gunn has been out there playing his Autoharp and writing songs! His most recent release is Don't Go Drinking With Hobbits, and I had to get a copy, of course. He even signed it! Now that I'm totally into music, adding some of his tunes to my repetoir is a key goal. Since my love of LOTR began, the lyrics Tolken wrote have filled my mind. My sister once put some to music, and I hope to be able to do the same as well, and I also want to learn the theme to the animated Hobbit movie.

That's the goal. The reality is I still need to make one more payment and patiently await the arrival of my Autoharp. Or not so patiently. Every once in a while, I'll pick up my poor old broken autoharp and hold it and press the buttons. I can never play it again, but it's good to feel it in my arms, close my eyes, and imagine myself in Bag End with my new one. For me, music has become the greatest adventure. I can create and learn and share, it's just so exciting! I also get to dive deep into the folk music of my ancestors while I'm at it. I've gone a year without being able to play this instrument which opened up a whole new world to me. To be able to hold and play one that was made just for me, well that will be a day of joy indeed. Until then, I am still accepting donations, there's just $312.00 left on my layaway. Please consider making a donation today.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Itchy Fingers

It's summer and I have itchy fingers. They are itching on a daily basis for the Autoharp that I have on layaway. It will be several weeks yet before I get my new baby, but they are itching nonetheless. This malady is coming with increasing frequency and intensity as the day of arrival draws near. Visions of songs dance in my head, the ones that I learned on Autoharp that I never learned on Dulcimer, and the ones I had planned to learn...all are popping into my mind as I wait for my new Autoharp. Tonight I write the check for the fourth of five payments, and I'm amazed at how quickly time has passed since I made my decision in April.

A lot has happened since then. I've written another song on the Dulcimer, and learned two new lovely standard folk tunes: "Southwind" and "The Storms are on the Ocean" which I play just about every day. It's fun learning just the melody on the mountain dulcimer and not worry about the words.  Maybe I'll learn the chords and lyrics when I get my Autoharp, so I'll have two different versions to choose from on my different instruments. And as much as I enjoy practicing my dulcimer, and it sits so joyfully on my lap, I long to embrace my new Autoharp. Nothing can compare with the intimacy of that instrument, as it vibrates against my body, my heart can't help but respond. So much joy these zithers have brought to my life! They are like members of the family, as much as the cats are. I learn to care for them, play with them, and share them with others. And then there are the long moments we spend alone together, getting to know our abilities and strengthening them together, my zithers and I. It is a mystical relationship, and I feel connected to the Bards of Old as I learn tunes played hundreds of years ago.

The feelings go so deep, I feel as if there are strings on my soul that I awaken as I strum my zithers, a resonance and mystery fills me as I play. I wonder what songs I will write on the Autoharp, and how will she feel under my fingers? I can only imagine and long for the end of summer to come, darkening evenings and hours by candlelight to practice. It's so exciting! I feel like I'm off on a new adventure.