The long road to Kaustinen

Last week I participated in a Näppärikurssi[1] in Kaustinen. As I have sat down many times in the attempt to write about what last week meant to me, I have very much struggled in deciding how and where to begin.

I have been literally all over the globe with my violin. It has moved with me, for long periods of time, to five different continents. Fresh out of high school in 2004, my violin lived with me in New Zealand for two years, where I busked on the streets as a hobby and played in a community orchestra, in addition to my au pair responsibilities with my host family. When I returned from this first major adventure abroad in 2006, I began my university studies back in Iowa—a double-major in music and international studies. But that was by no means the end to my violin and I’s travels to far-reaching corners of the earth.

Busking in New Zealand, 2005

Next, in 2007, we were off to Ecuador together—a 3-month summer trip to study Spanish and backpack from the high Andes to the lower Amazon, playing my violin along the way for anyone who was interested. In 2008 I left Iowa once again, this time for Morocco, where I spent 9 months in a study abroad program, living with a Moroccan family and studying Arabic. In the capital of Rabat, I somehow found myself integrated into the Moroccan Philharmonic Orchestra, rehearsing and playing concerts with Moroccan, Algerian, French, and Spanish musicians throughout the year. After returning to Iowa and eventually graduating from university in 2011, I moved to Cuzco, Peru, which sits at a measly 3,399 meters above sea level. I spent 12 months in Cuzco as the violin instructor at a music school: La Asociación Cultural de Qantu.  In the thin air of the Peruvian Andes, I learned about the school’s teaching method. La Asociación Cultural de Qantu  combines the Suzuki method with traditional Peruvian repertoire, arranged for students to play together with classical and traditional instruments. They sing in Spanish and in Quechua, and they come together in masses to do so.

In Ecuador, violin in tow, 2007


With the 3 female, Moroccan members of the Moroccan Philharmonic Orchestra, 2009


With a student in Cuzco, Peru, 2012


In 2013, I found myself back in Iowa, working on a Master’s degree in Spanish. Nevertheless, I continued to teach violin, this time to English-speaking students, and played with the Des Moines Symphony. When I finished this Master’s degree, I accepted a 12-month position to teach Spanish full-time at the same university, allowing me to stay in my great apartment in the same town, to teach the same violin students, and to continue to play with the Des Moines Symphony.

That was the 2015-2016 academic year, and it represents the most stability and grounded-ness I’ve ever had in my entire 14-year adult life. I had recently purchased an octave mandolin, and spent much of my free time exploring old and new American folk music, writing some of my own as well. As the year progressed, I sort of felt content, satisfied, even happy. And why wouldn’t I have? I was doing everything I loved (language and music), living in a town with a high quality of life, and making decent money. I had family nearby, a car that allowed me to travel with freedom, and an awesome apartment. I had many friends and I was doing work that was extremely fulfilling.

Teaching in Iowa, 2016


But I had made such a life for myself as a globetrotter—it had become an integral part of my identity. It felt very strange to think of giving that up, of not having that be the way I presented myself to the world. Was I ready to say that I “just” lived in Iowa? As I look back, I think that I felt that I was ready for that deep down. I was ready to say it to myself—but was I ready to say it to everyone else? It was, in many ways, an existential crisis. And there was the fact that I believed my bilingualism wasn’t enough. During university I had studied French, Portuguese and Arabic, and I couldn’t claim fluency in any yet. That was something I wanted, something I felt I needed. And then there was this folk music thing, which I had seen in Peru, and which I had experimented myself with in Iowa. And then—then, there was DYCLAM.

The program DYCLAM: Dynamics of Cultural Landscapes and Heritage Management, fell into my lap in some fateful way. Over coffee in Iowa City one Thursday morning in 2015, a friend mentioned some inter-mobile, inter-disciplinary Erasmus Mundus programs that were supported by the European Union. Upon immediately researching these dreamy sounding programs after the coffee date, I stumbled across a program which promised to give me everything I thought I wanted. Two years living in Europe, moving to five different locations during that time, including France and Portugal. Fluency in French and Portuguese? Check.  The program also promised to open the doors to this idea of intangible cultural heritage that I had become interested in, the possibility to study the musical traditions of other cultures. Folk music? Check.  And of course, it offered me further globetrotter status and experience—the whole wanderlust thing could continue to be a part of my life for two years, despite the fact that I had maybe begun to question its appeal. But anyway—globetrotter identity? Check.

So, in July 2016, my violin, my suitcase, and I headed off yet again, for an opportunity I felt was too good to be true. And if I had questioned that feeling for any amount of time, perhaps things might have been different. But I had always been a fearless traveler. And after all—this was my dream, right? So, I got rid of almost everything I owned, packed up a few boxes for my mom’s basement, and packed the necessities into one, large suitcase.

My empty apartment in Iowa and full suitcase—ready for Europe, 2016


Alas, they say, some things are too good to be true. And so it was. Just a few weeks into the program, I began feeling like a fish out of water in more ways than one. During the entirety of the program, I wondered why I had been chosen. As I refer back to my application essay, I see that I wrote only about intangible cultural heritage which was, for me, music and language. Yet, semester after semester, no one seemed to have any concern for or knowledge of the interests for which I had apparently been chosen. I considered, on numerous occasions, leaving the program. To put it politely, the deceptions I endured were many. Add to the mix all the logistics that go into moving to a new country every few months for two years. From France to Portugal, then back to a different region of France, and onto Italy before, finally, Finland. Even this jetsetter wasn’t prepared for all the complicated visa, accommodation, and healthcare concerns that would arise. And before you have it figured out in one place, you’re onto the next country to confront the same things. Most likely, in a new language.

But in the earliest miles of this very long road, I somehow started corresponding with someone named Matti Hakamäki, as I tried to plan the only self-designed semester of DYCLAM. Just a few months into my program, through a few e-mails with the director of the Kaustinen Folk Music Institute, I thought I might have found what could serve as the 5thand final semester of my program. And suspiciously (as I had learned to be), the opportunity seemed wonderful. It perhaps even resembled the exact reason I had decided to begin the program in the first place. And so, there was a dim light at the end of what seemed an endless tunnel. As the months of DYCLAM dragged on, I held on tight to that distant light. And on April 5th, 2018 I finally arrived.

Last week as I assisted in a Näppärit classroom full of Finnish teenage girls alongside Mauno Järvelä, one of the most important individuals involved in the Kaustinen folk fiddling tradition, I felt as much disbelief as I felt fulfillment. The random, English-speaking, American violinist was probably somewhat of a novelty for these adolescent girls. But oh, how I wish I could explain to those girls how much being with them meant to me. If I felt emotional in our small classroom early in the week, by the time we crammed 350 students and teachers of all ages into an auditorium built for half that, my cup runneth over.

Last week during Näppärit


As I stood there on stage enveloped by hundreds of Finnish musicians ages three to 70, I really did see my life flash before my eyes. Overwhelmed by the waves of gratitude that washed over me, I thought of the many paths I have tread all over the world that have, in some inexplicable way, brought me to this place and to that moment. To say that the Näppärikurssi in Kaustinen last week meant a lot to me explains nothing. To write a blog about it does little more. What last week meant to me? It is, simply, beyond words.

Final Näppärit concert

Suzanne Wedeking



What is a Näppärikurssi?

Näppärit[1] is a pedagogical method for teaching children music that was founded in Kaustinen, Finland. Its roots go back to the Kaustinen folk music groups for children and young adults that were initiated by Aaro Kentala in the 1970s. Mauno Järvelä took this well-planted seed and nurtured it, ambitious goals no less present on his mind than they are today. Järvelä didn’t believe students needed to pass entrance exams, as was the commonplace understanding in Finnish music education circles of the time, to be allowed into the world of music. Instead, he believed that “Music is the birthright of every child.” (A quote I fondly recall from Zoltán Kodály)

Järvelä believed music would be best understood and undertaken with the goal of practicing it as a hobby—by seeing it as something enjoyable in which everyone could join and share. Musical rehearsals and gatherings should not necessarily, then, be divided up, separating the “better” and the “worse” players. Rather, children who are less advanced, perhaps not yet even playing an instrument, could still join the Näppärit group as singers. In fact, such a diverse blend of ages verged on a multi-generational learning style. Järvelä might argue that this model resembles the master-apprentice approach that was typical during his own childhood in the Kaustinen village of Järvelä (yes, the name of the village also happens to be Mauno’s last name—that’s another story, for another blog). Järvelä himself picked up his first fiddle only after admiring his father and other older village fiddlers from birth and on through his toddler years. He watched and listened to them with such veneration that by the time he did pick up that fiddle, he just knew what to do. No one had to teach him the tunes. “I just began to play them,” he told me, as he played me a few of those earliest tunes, while sitting barefoot in his backyard during a recent interview I conducted with him and his wife, Maarit. If this master-apprentice model offered the younger Näppärit students an environment in which they found strong role models in their older peers, it in turn gave the older students the opportunity to practice their own leadership skills, as they learned what it means to pass along knowledge and share experience with younger peers. This same Näppärit model lives on today.

The Kaustinen Folk Music Festival[2] being in Näppärit’s “backyard”, and vice-versa of course, provided an immediate venue in which those first Näppärit players could share their new-found joy and hobby. The festival offered, similarly, a yearly goal in case motivation ever lagged when it came time for the young musicians to practice at home by themselves. Early on, with these large Näppärit gatherings serving as the archetype, Mauno Järvelä began to receive invitations to hold similar weekend workshops in other towns around Finland. These early Näppärit workshops were held in places with no previous Kaustinen connection—this unassuming phenomenon that was Näppärit was somehow spreading by word of mouth like wildfire, via the Kaustinen Folk Festival Festival audience and eventually the Finnish National Broadcasting Company (that made several documentaries within Näppärit’s first decade). And so, in addition to the weekly Näppärit gatherings in Kaustinen for the local kids, Näppärit began to expand its outreach, providing this same undiscriminating nature of musical education not only to a village, but to an entire country of children.[3] These workshops became known as Näppärikurssi.

Next week, Kaustinen will hold its 32ndNäppärikurssi. Näppärit still exists in Kaustinen in its original form, with a group of Kaustinen children meeting weekly throughout the long, dark winter, beckoning those light and lively Kaustinen summers and musical opportunities as they play jolly Kaustinen polkkas and other folk-based tunes from around Finland. The Näppärikurssi takes place in addition to these weekly meetings, though, and is based on those early weekend workshops with which Järvelä began to spread Näppärit values of all-inclusive music education all over the country. So, next week, although those same 30-40 young weekly Näppärit players from Kaustinen will be involved in the Näppärikurssi, they will be joining forces with a few hundred others—a total of 316 children. The population of Kaustinen is just over 4,000 so an extra 316 kids will not go unnoticed (or unheard!). And that’s without taking their parents into account. Of course, some aren’t traveling too far to attend the week-long workshop. But others may be coming from as far as Helsinki or even Spain, in the case of one Finnish-Spanish family.

I had the opportunity to travel to Eastern Finland a few weeks ago to assist Mauno and other Näppärit teachers with a Näppärikurssi in Joensuu, Finland. They expected that Näppärikurssi to be big, with around 100 children. The logistics of the Joensuu weekend workshop, which ran Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, were tricky for a group of 100, and that weekend workshop took place in a city of 75,000. This next week, Kaustinen (a tiny village in comparison to Joensuu) will see an increase in population and in musical activity (just when I didn’t think it was possible) for five days. This next week also represents the beginning of a new Näppärit year—the Kaustinen Näppärikurssi “sets the stage” so-to-speak for the Näppärikurssi workshops that will happen over the next 12 months. The repertoire the students learn next week in Kaustinen will be used all over Finland until Kaustinen hosts the 33rdannual Kaustinen Näppärikurssi a year from now. But repertoire aside, if I were Mauno, I’d be a bit more worried about the logistics. Notwithstanding my own preoccupations, often having heard him referred to as “a legend” or “the grand old man”, the notion of worry doesn’t seem to be in that fiddler’s bag of tricks. And a magician he just might be.

Are Mauno and the other teachers up to the task? Am I? Recently, Siiri Järvelä mentioned to me that Mauno had quadruple-booked himself during the month of June, with three obligations spread out across Finland and a fourth in Denmark—all within two days. As I turned to him upon hearing this, with a skeptical raise of my left eyebrow, he turned up his grin and said, “No problem!” chuckling to himself. With a record-breaking Napparikurssi registration of over 300 students for next week’s workshop, I expect there should be “No problem!” And I wouldn’t put a Mauno Järvelä disappearing/reappearing act out of the question, either…!


Suzanne Wedeking




[3]Mauno Järvelä: Näppäripedagogiikka



An entirely unintelligible business

“What an odd thing it is to see an entire species—billions of people—playing with, listening to, meaningless tonal patterns, occupied and preoccupied for much of their time by what they call ‘music’. This, at least, was one of the things about human beings that puzzled the highly cerebral alien beings, the Overlords, in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End. Curiosity brings them down to the Earth’s surface to attend a concert, they listen politely, and at the end, congratulate the composer on his “great ingenuity”—while still finding the entire business unintelligible. They cannot think what goes on in human beings when they make or listen to music, because nothing goes on with them. They themselves, as a species, lack music.

 We may imagine the Overlords ruminating further, back in their spaceships. This thing called “music,” they would have to concede, is in some way efficacious to humans, central to human life. Yet it has no concepts, makes no propositions; it lacks images, symbols, the stuff of language. It has no power of representation. It has no necessary relation to the world.”

A musical mural under a bridge in Kaustinen

The previous excerpt comes from Musicophilia, a non-fiction book by Oliver Sacks, who was a renowned physician, professor of neurology, and best-selling author. The book, listed as one of the Washington Post’s best books of 2007, is about music and humans and the often odd and obsessive activity that music-making can prove to be. The book connects music and neurology and shares several fascinating anecdotes of music-incited neurological changes or vice versa, neurological changes which incited a flurry of musical activity in the lives of people who had, for example, been struck by lightning and survived.

It was well over a year ago that I began contemplating the possibility of coming to Kaustinen.  Slightly hesitant about signing up for four months in a place I could hardly find on the map, I googled furiously anything I thought I knew about Kaustinen, mixing and matching keywords such as “Kaustinen” “Finland” “folk music” “violin” “fiddle”. For many months, I repeated this process, hoping each time to come up with something new—anything to make me confident that this was the right decision. Whether or not Kaustinen had some form of intangible musical heritage was no longer a question. That had been confirmed in my earliest searches. But it seemed peculiar to me that a town hosting the largest folk music festival in Europe had nothing to say about anything else—besides the music. Despite the fact that Kaustinen appeared to offer exactly what I needed to carry out a research internship focusing on intangible musical heritage, I was still desperately curious to know more about the town where I might end up spending four months of my life—what did it look like, would I be able to find a place to live, was there even a grocery store?? But faithfully, GoogleEarth led me time and again to suspect that the most central point in this town hosting what some call Europe’s Woodstock was a traffic roundabout, which I truly had to see to believe.

What also seemed quite clear through my excessive googling was that Kaustinen and the violin went hand in hand. At one point, I came across an excerpt from a book entitled “Historical Dictionary of the Music and Musicians of Finland”, where I read that Kaustinen was thought to have a violin in every home. So, bearing this in mind, I decided to confide in the musical lyrics I had written upon receiving news of my acceptance to this Master’s program, which promised to take me to “Unknown Lands.” (also the title of the song) The lyrics go like this: “Throw your skirts all to the wind, bid your mother fare thee well, hang on tight to the tails of life, and trust lands unknown.”

More musical art in Kaustinen

And so, I decided to trust in what appeared to be the right “direction,” despite having the sense that it was a bit of a gamble. After all, what better place to study intangible musical heritage other than a village where having a violin in the home is as normal as having a couch or a refrigerator? Surely some of these instruments were being brought to life in daily practice, not just sitting in attics collecting dust. And being brought to life they are.…

Musical reflections at the Folk Arts Centre

While there may be other things happening in Kaustinen, I would have to say that my google searches were not all that misleading. If truth be told, I think google is underestimatingthe musical omnipresence in Kaustinen, if anything. And the pride that is shown for this living tradition is just as ubiquitous as the music itself. In the off chance that there is a morning where there is no music drifting out of the windows at the music high school (a public high school specializing in music studies) as I walk to work at the Folk Arts Centre, I can be sure that I will run into some sort of musical symbolism later that day, passing by a building or crossing under a bridge. The representations of this living tradition seem to be as prominent as the very musical practice itself; that is to say, they are everywhere.

Fiddle and beer at the Ravintola Pelimanni (“folk musician restaurant”)

On the evening of my arrival, as I settled into my new apartment, it seemed that music was already everywhere. Being as it was the Folk Music Institute that had arranged for me to rent this small wooden house while in Kaustinen, the musical elements of decor should not have come as any great shock, but these early signs of musical importance seemed almost too good to be true. Greeting me when I first walked in the door was a harmonium (pump organ), an essential instrument for the Kaustinen folk fiddling tradition, sitting right next to the coat rack. As I entered the living room, throw pillows with music notes adorned the sofa, and books chronicling the musical history, techniques, and methods of Kaustinen filled the bookshelf.

Mauno Järvelä’s book about the Näppärit music pedagogy method

But since settling in and getting to know Kaustinen a bit better, I realize that first evening in my new home was representative of a greater truth in Kaustinen—that musical symbolism is everywhere. Whether it’s the town crest which is a prominently featured golden fiddle bearing a blue background, music-themed murals underneath bridges, or a bar glass rack at the local Pelimanni(“folk musician”) restaurant adorned with oversized violin bridges, these symbols are as inescapable as the music itself.

Bar glass racks adorned with oversized violin bridges at the Pelimanni (folk musician) restaurant


Kaustinen’s town crest, featured at the entrance of the town hall

Regardless of whether you are participating in the act of playing music in Kaustinen or just a passerby, you can be sure of one thing—music and musical presence is unavoidable. I can imagine that the extraterrestrial Overlords from Sacks’ Musicophilia,observing human beings from galaxies afar, would pay particular attention to this small village in Central Ostrobothnia, Finland. They would surely delight in the perplexity of this “entirely unintelligible business” of music and music-making, which seems to verge on an epidemic here in Kaustinen.

Suzanne Wedeking

For the Love of Music 

For so many reasons, traveling with musical instruments can be the bane of existence for any musician. For example, when traveling by plane, one’s instrument suddenly becomes more important than anything else. On long international flights, I am lucky if I remember to carry on a toothbrush and an extra pair of underwear in case I get stuck somewhere without my checked bag. If I happen to remember these two things, they are certainly tucked in my violin case. You’ll find them wedged somewhere between my shoulder-rest and an extra set of strings.

When flying, a well-traveled musician cares little about leg room but is prone to high anxiety when it comes to assuring that extra cubic inch for his or her instrument. In my many instrument-laden travels, I have been known to purchase 50 kilos of luggage when I only needed 30, just to be sure I could carry on my violin. I have paid for two seats on a practically empty bus across Finland to be certain my small backpack wouldn’t hinder the possibility of keeping my violin with me inside the bus. Once, upon being told by a flight attendant that I would have to gate check a newly purchased, acoustic guitar because the overhead bin wouldn’t close, I removed the guitar from its case, which had added an extra inhibiting inch to the width of the instrument and then gently and successfully placed the guitar, barebones, into the overhead bin, triumphantly gate checking the empty case and keeping the guitar with me in the plane. Call me crazy. Or, if you’re a musician, chime in with your personal anecdotes.

These issues that we “small-instrument” musicians deal with on a regular basis are just the beginning for our larger-instrument cohorts. Compare these woes to what cellists, bassists, and harpists have to consider in order to travel. And what musician doesn’t travel? It is practically a prerequisite of the profession. From purchasing airplane seats for instruments to making decisions about what kind of car (and even home) to purchase based on your instrument of choice: the larger the instrument, the more complicated the logistics.

Well, here in Kaustinen, home of the Kaustinen fiddling tradition, I have been teaching marimba. In case you were wondering, the origins of the marimba are not from around here, nor anywhere nearby. A musical exchange between Kaustinen and Johannesburg, South Africa has existed for some 10 years, and during a Näppärit[1] exchange in South Africa two years ago, the visiting fiddlers from Kaustinen noticed something that, amongst many differences, reminded them of home. The South African students and teachers were taking part in a pedagogical program that encouraged the practice, preservation, and continuation of a longstanding, local musical tradition: arguably some form of their Intangible Cultural Heritage. The South African students were learning about the marimba tradition in a similar way to that in which Kaustinen students learn about the Kaustinen fiddling tradition.

The idea was developed to continue this cultural exchange in three parts, with the initial Näppärit trip to South Africa as the first part in 2016. The project has been assisted by three different grants and the second part of this project took place last year, when marimba players and teachers Michael and Onisimus Sibanda came from South Africa to Kaustinen to build 20 marimbas. The plan was that these marimbas would then stay in Kaustinen, diversifying and enriching the musical lives of these young, blossoming folk musicians. This year, the marimbas are being integrated into the Näppärit method, as the students learn about the living musical heritage of another part of the world all while practicing the preservation and continuation of their own cultural heritage.

As I rode along with Mauno to my first Marimba session, the sky was blue and ice still covered the ground—and we were dragging a trailer full of marimbas behind us. And here commences my rite of passage into the large-instrument world. When I signed up for this, I had not taken the time to consider that these marimbas had to be set up. (naïve violinist, perhaps?) We arrived and began to unload, and I marveled as Mauno and his daughter Siiri each took hold of a gargantuan wooden keyboard (also known as “bars”), carrying them one-handed into the school gymnasium. When they returned for the second load, I was still trying to figure out how to get both of my arms around one set of bars.

After setting up a gymnasium full of marimbas—two basses, two baritones, four tenors, and four sopranos, the first group of students began to file in, peering and whispering at the instruments. Throughout the morning, Siiri directed four workshops with the young marimba novices, accompanied by demonstrations and support from Mauno, Teresa, and myself. Although I didn’t understand much of the instruction in Finnish from Siiri (though I could count to four by this point!), I heard the word “Maleta” loud and clear whenever Siiri referenced the mallets that are essential to making this instrument sound. That linguistic hint alone was enough to remind me these instruments were quite far from “home”.

And speaking of just how far the marimbas really were from home…

…Last week I was inquiring further about the marimba project with the chair of the Näppärit association. During our conversation, I found out that “Marimba Project Part II” not only brought the Sibanda brothers from South Africa to Kaustinen to build marimbas—it also brought many of the parts to be used to build the instruments. Huge wooden keys and plastic gourds for the sound pipes underneath were among the parts to be, somehow, transported from the southernmost part of Africa to the northernmost part of Europe. My jaw might have dropped a bit before asking however on earth they accomplished this task. “Well, that’s another story” he began, chuckling…

I have since assisted with many other marimba workshops and have successfully figured out how to carry some of the smaller marimbas on my own. Loading up the trailer again after the first workshop, Mauno, whose subtle sense of humor I hadn’t yet begun to grasp, commented to me as we were contorting our bodies around the enormous instruments: “I wonder what the musicians’ union would have to say about this,” he said, chuckling. “Sorry?” I replied, not yet realizing what he was referring to. He was referring to the fact that the “hired musicians” (players/teachers) were also lugging all of their own gear, in addition to accomplishing the main goal of the gig, something which, under musicians’ union regulations, would be prohibited.

I have since helped, hauled, and strained my back on a few more marimbas, along with some harmoniums (pump organs used in the Kaustinen fiddling tradition). But I’ve watched Mauno do it even more. In fact, I think he hauls instruments every single day. I’ve observed him do this so much that I’ve often neglected to remember that his main instrument is among none of these. He is, first and foremost, a fiddler.

I watch this, I think about flying those marimba keys and pipes from one end of the world to the other, and I remember the times I’ve been stuck overnight in an airport without a toothbrush or an extra pair of underwear. And I remember that music might be a hobby, or it might be a profession, or it might be both. But it is always and most definitely, a labor of love.

Suzanne Wedeking



Purists, Folk music, and video games

I may not be a purist, but I admit to having purist tendencies. Blame it on my mother. When I was growing up, the musical options in our family environment were either Classical or Classical. From drifting off to sleep at night to the sounds of my mom practicing piano, to Christmastime recordings of chorales from St. Martin in the Fields, to Classical music radio in the car—I was most often clueless to the latest pop music trends to which my friends were privy.

In my adult life, I have had the opportunity to explore many genres of music throughout the world. Regularly attending reggae-roots festivals for two years in New Zealand, teaching traditional Andean music to violin students in Cuzco, Peru, and now studying the folk fiddling tradition of Kaustinen; these are amongst the multi-genre experiences I have had. With 14 years of such endeavors, one would think that those purist tendencies would have subsided. But even for (or especially for, one might argue) musicians and artists, changing our ideas about what our preferred mediums “should” be like, or what they “should” represent, can be difficult. Why is that?

Change can be hard. But change can also be exciting. In less than two years, I have moved from the American Midwest to Saint-Étienne, France, then to rural Portugal, after that to Paris, and onto Naples, and finally here, to Kaustinen, Finland. Now that is a lot of change. And oh, boy have there been challenges—some of which seemed impossible at times. But among the seemingly infinite difficulties, I became fluent in French and Portuguese. And I spent 5 months attending classes at Le Musée de l’Homme in Paris, staring directly out my classroom window at an enormous Eiffel Tower 100 meters away. And I lived in a wooden cabin overlooking the Tagus River in the Portuguese woods, where I found myself welcomed into the home of strangers as if I had always belonged. So why are we purists, and often we humans, so afraid of change?

Well, imagine my surprise when I walked into the Kaustinen Folk Arts Centre gift shop my first day and saw the following postcards.

Postcards in Folk Arts Centre shop

Amongst the plethora of breathtakingly beautiful postcards that recalled a nostalgia for those “good-old-days”, complete with black-and-white photos of folk musicians holding acoustic instruments, I was blindsided by a postcard that stood in stark contrast to that romanticized past of a supposedly static society and culture. My first reaction to this was a perplexity as to what the intended meaning of this postcard could possibly be. All I could see was a pixelated image of a cartoon-like character playing the violin. Nearby I saw a flyer with a similar image and the phrase Pelimanni 8-bit. What’s going on here??

I said to myself…I thought I came here to study folk music…

When I eventually overheard Pelimanni 8-bit mentioned in conversation, I inquired further, and found out that: Kaustinen had turned the folk fiddling tradition into a video game!?!

And sure enough. Last year, published by the Folk Music Insititute[1], Pelimanni 8-bit became a free app available for download on your preferred medium of smart phone. “Pelimanni” is a word that is used an awful lot around these parts of Finland. In Finnish, Pelimanni means “Folk Musician” and it was and still often is associated with folk fiddlers. “8-bit” refers to the video game era that was launched in the early 80’s, bringing with it Super Mario Bros, for example. Combine that with the image on the front of the postcard and you might be able to come up with a couple ideas as to what this app is all about.

This is a video game about Finnish folk music traditions, specifically of the fiddling variety. There are various levels through which you can, if you are a savvier gamer than I, work your way, moving forward in the video game world as you advance ever-closer towards the title of Master Pelimanni (Master Folk Fiddler), a title actually granted to the best players each year at the Folk Music Festival here in Kaustinen. As Amanda Kauranne explains in her article about the game in Finnish Music Quarterly[2], in each new level you are introduced to a traditional tune. As the article also points out, these traditional tunes are arranged by Antti Janka-Murros in a style that Kauranne terms “Nintendo-influenced”. Nintendo-influenced, traditional tunes? Does that not lead the purists among us to the following question: doesn’t this kind of change mean that these tunes no longer get to be called “traditional”?

Last week I was discussing the game with a colleague here at the Folk Music Institute, and he told me that during the Folk Music Festival last year, the creators of the game, Jimmy Träskelin and Antti Janka-Murros put on a live performance of Pelimanni 8-bit for the public here at the Folk Arts Centre. While Träskelin worked through the levels of the game on a projection screen, simultaneously giving the audience tips about the trickier parts of each level, Janka-Murros played his Nintendo-influenced arrangements of the traditional tunes live on an electronic keyboard, attempting to maintain the pace of Träskelin and his fiddling character (whose name is Friiti).

There were about 50 attendees at the live performance of Pelimanni 8-bit, including adolescents, teens, and their respective parents, most of whom recalled the 8-bit style of video game from their own childhood. This project had reached one of the harder target populations in the folk music world: teenagers. As Träsklein himself asserts, the folk music here is approachable, all while serving and representing the folk music genre.

I downloaded the game myself a few days ago and played through a couple of levels. It is, seriously, too good. Finding myself humming the tunes from the game a while after I had put my iPhone away, I realized that I must I left my purist tendencies back in the gift shop with that postcard. I am reminded, retrospectively, that change can be great—and that maybe it is the only way to have a sense of continuity between past, present and future.

So, what do I think about Pelimanni 8-bit? I think you should try it yourself. You might just find yourself whistling Finnish folk tunes throughout the day tomorrow. And what’s wrong with that?


Suzanne Wedeking




A week in Kaustinen

“So, why are you here?” I’ve been asked a time or three over this past week. I suppose it is a reasonable question to pose to a recently arrived 31-year old American woman who doesn’t speak a word of Finnish. After all, Kaustinen is a village where, well, there aren’t too many foreigners. And it’s not exactly on the well-beaten track either. Only after a 7-hour bus ride from Helsinki did I arrive to this village in Central Ostrobothnia, where, as far as I can tell, the city center consists of little more than a roundabout.

Let me be clear—I’ve had the warmest welcome. My awkward supermarket encounters are proof to that. Exhibiting an impressive lack of knowledge of the Finnish language, I have been forced, many a times already, to admit that “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Finnish” when the cashier is simply telling me “The total is €12.65”. I don’t actually need to say anything other than the sole word I know in Finnish: “Kiitos”. However, as far as I am concerned, she might as well be reciting a line out of the Kalevala, or at least telling me that that I, once again, forgot to weigh my bananas in the fruit aisle. But here in Kaustinen, the response to my Finnish ignorance has most often been welcomed with a smile and a shy yet dutiful attempt to communicate whatever I might need to know in a rusty but fluent English.

So, why AM I here? If I had any doubts the first few days, during which I reveled in the stunning silence and tranquility of Kaustinen in comparison to that of Naples, from where I had just arrived, those doubts were quickly abated over the past week. I admit, I had initially wondered to myself if loneliness might soon set in, the weekends and the evenings spent alone in a town where anyone and everyone close to my age seems to be married with at least two children. But, today being Sunday, I can officially say that any concern regarding boredom or isolation has in no way had time to find itself into my Kaustinen experience so far—and the snow is just beginning to melt. They say it only gets better.

This first week in Kaustinen has kept me busy. Starting my research internship at the Folk Music Institute Monday morning had me exploring the abundant resources both the Institute and the building itself, known as the Folk Arts Center, have to offer. And they really are endless. Add to those resources the people behind them, and you are in for a real treat. Regardless of what aspect of Finnish culture you might be interested in, there is an expert, whether it be in the birthright or the academic sense (or both), that will be more than happy to share their knowledge with you. And whatever they might decide to share is earnest and it is humble. In fact, both culturally and climatically, I don’t feel too far from my good, old Midwestern girl roots. Iowa? It’s just a few thousand miles away, directly south of the Finnish-American state of Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes. But the dirty, melting snow and the blue skies of Kaustinen in early April along with local hospitality, ironic humor, and genuine conversation have helped me to settle right in. Now about learning this language…

So, I’m little more than one week in here in Kaustinen and in that time I have: 1) seen a Golden Globe Best Picture film in a visually and acoustically pristine theater (in the Folk Arts Center), 2) attended a musical evening at the local Pelimanni bar that featured both a classical Baroque string duo and local Kaustinen folk music groups (perhaps here commences the debate as to which tradition, classical Baroque or Kaustinen fiddle, has a longer history?), 3) observed and participated in Näppärit, the “pluckers” children’s folk music ensemble open to children ages 3-18 at the music high school, and 4) traveled to Lapua, 45 miles south of Kaustinen where I was honored to play with the young Näppärit musicians for a regional Youth Association event. If my Thursday evening plans had panned out to attend the adult Kantele group rehearsal, I would have been so imbued in cultural activities that I wouldn’t have spent a single evening at home. Come to find out, belatedly, that there was a musical event Friday night that I didn’t even know about! Luckily for me, I’m quite sure there’ll be more. In fact, Wednesday this week I’m already double-booked.

So, what is this little roundabout of a town all about? I’d say that so far it’s the quietest, most lively place I’ve ever been. Does that mean Kaustinen has the best of both worlds, so to speak? I suppose this oxymoron might be altered in July, when the population surges from 4,000 to 50,000+ for one week during the 50-year old Kaustinen Folk Music Festival. But for now, I’ll enjoy the many cultural happenings spread nicely amongst the quiet moments of the melting snow. And in the meantime, I might try to learn the numbers in Finnish.

Suzanne Wedeking


Suzanne Wedeking is currently an Erasmus Mundus research
intern at the Folk Music Institute in Kaustinen, Finland,
under the generous support of the European Union. With this
research project in Kaustinen, Suzanne will complete a
European Joint Master’s Degree entitled DYCLAM: Dynamics of
Cultural Landscapes and Heritage Management. Originally from
the United States (Iowa), Suzanne is a violinist by training,
both teacher and performer. Her wide range of musical
interests speaks to her travels across the globe and have led
her here to Kaustinen, an ideal place for her sub-field of
interest within Heritage Studies: Intangible Cultural
Heritage. She is interested in the tradition of Kaustinen
Fiddle Playing, its related musical practices, and how this is
intertwined with current conceptions of what Intangible
Cultural Heritage means for our world today.


Kansallista kulttuuria

Taiteella ja kulttuurilla on aina ollut suuri merkitys kansallisvaltioiden olemassaololle ja koossapysymiselle. Valtion näkökulmasta tarkasteltuna taiteella ja kulttuurilla voi nähdä olevan erilaisia, joskus jopa toisilleen vastakkaista tehtäviä.

Toisaalta yhteiskunta tarvitsee elinvoimaista, autonomista ja vapaata taidekenttää synnyttääkseen tuoreita näkökulmia ja innovaatioita yhteiskuntakehityksen polttoaineeksi. Mutta samalla taiteella ja kulttuurilla pyritään pitämään yllä ja pönkittämään kansankunnan yhtenäiskulttuuria ja kansallista identiteettiä.

Virallinen kulttuuripoliittinen totuus puhuu ensimmäisen roolin puolesta, mutta jälkimmäisenkin perään haikaillaan yleisessä keskustelussa tämän tästä.

Kuinka nämä kaksi tehtävää tulisi huomioida kulttuuripolitiikassa? Tulisiko yhteiskunnan suosia esitetyistä näkökulmista toista, vai tulisiko painotusten olla riippuvaisia vallitsevasta yhteiskunnan tilasta: kriisin uhatessa vapaa taide valjastetaan kansallisen yhtenäisyyden palvelukseen, mutta rauhan aikana autonominen taidekenttä saa innovoida ilman kansallisuuden rajoitteita.

Taiteen ja kulttuurin merkityksen ja sille asetetun roolin tarkastelu onkin tärkeää erityisesti nyt, kun maassamme juhlitaan satavuotiasta Suomea. Tällaisina aikoina kulttuuri ja taide saattaa nimittäin typistyä kaanoneiden ja kansallissymboleiden esittelyksi. Kulttuurilla nähdään helposti arvoa vain valtioiden välisen kilpailun välineenä, ja moniarvoisen kulttuurikentän ihanteet saavat väistyä.

Itsenäisen Suomen tulisi kuitenkin tuntea ylpeyttä ennemminkin kulttuurisesti hyvinvoivan yhteiskunnan tunnuspiirteistä. Runsas taideharrastaminen, vapaa ja moniarvoinen taidekenttä, ymmärrys omasta perinteestä ja suuri kulttuurinen sivistys tarjoavat tukevamman perustan terveelle kansalliselle itsetunnolle.

Taiteen kansallisista ikoneista saamme luonnollisesti olla ylpeitä. Ne ovat tärkeitä samaistumisen kohteita ja kollektiivisen tajunnan kiinnekohtia. Niiden rinnalla olisi kuitenkin hyvä muistaa se laaja sivistyksellinen perusta, jolle koko suomalainen kulttuuri rakentuu.

Itsenäisyyspäivän juhlintaan liittyvissä juhlapuheissa isänmaamme kulttuuriin tullaan varmasti viittaamaan lukemattomia kertoja. On mielenkiintoista kuulla, mainitaanko niissä Sibeliuksen ja Kiven rinnalla myös vaikkapa yhdenvertainen taidekasvatus, aineeton kulttuuriperintö tai lukuharrastuksen yleisyys.


Matti Hakamäki / Kansanmusiikki-instituutin johtaja

julkaistu 29.11.2017 sanomalehti Ilkan kulttuurisivun kolumnina

Taiteen vapaudesta

Vapaus on käsitteenä harvinaislaatuisen monisyinen ja helposti valjastettavissa palvelemaan asiaa kuin asiaa.

Vapauden käsitteeseen liittyy kuitenkin aina jonkinlainen paradoksaalinen vastapooli. Vapautta ei saa rajoittaa, kunhan sen rajoittamatta jättäminen ei rajoita kenenkään toisen vapautta. Minun vapauteni voi olla jonkun toisen vapaudesta pois.

Toinen moniselitteinen ja -tulkintainen termi on taide. Mitä on taide, kenen tekemää, kenen määrittämää ja minkä arvoista se on? Kenen kuuluisi siitä maksaa, ja kuka saa kutsua itseään taiteilijaksi?

Jos nämä kaksi termiä ovat jo yksinäänkin vaikeaselkoisia, niiden muodostama sanaliitto ymmärrettävästi aiheuttaa usein harmaita hiuksia.

Taiteen vapaus on ymmärretty länsimaisessa yhteiskunnassa muun muassa vapautena valita taiteen muoto, tekijän mahdollisuutena toteuttaa vapaasti itseään ja yhteiskunnan velvollisuutena mahdollistaa taiteen autonominen asema.

Taiteen vapaus onkin yksi sivistysvaltion perusperiaatteista, jota tulisi myös nykymallisena kaikin mahdollisin keinoin vaalia ja puolustaa. Taiteen vapaus tuo sivistystä, sivistys hyvinvointia, ja hyvinvointi taas mahdollistaa demokraattisen moniarvoisen oikeusvaltion.

Tähän asti kaikki hyvin.

Taiteen vapaudesta keskusteltaessa taiteen määritelmä kuitenkin lähes aina sisältää ajatuksen vain ns. institutionaalisesta taiteesta. Taidetta tekevät tutkintokriteerit täyttävät taiteilijat, taidetta kuluttavat valveutuneet katsojat tai kuuntelijat ja taidetta ohjaavat ylhäältä päin erilaiset taideorganisaatiot.

Taiteen vapaudesta voisi puhua toisinkin. Eikö kyse ole taiteen vapauden rajoittamisesta silloinkin, kun lapsi haluaisi aloittaa musiikkiharrastuksen, mutta perheen taloudellinen tilanne, asuinpaikkakunta tai pääsykokeiden tasovaatimukset estävät sen? Entä kun eläkeläinen tahtoisi laulaa sukujuhlissa, mutta murskaavat arviot kuusikymmentäluvun kansakoulun laulukokeissa tekevät sen hänelle edelleen mahdottomaksi?

Usein suomalaisessa taidekeskustelussa kiistellään taiteen vapauden tärkeydestä ja merkityksestä ymmärtämättä sitä, että itse kiistan aiheuttavat keskustelijoiden eri sisällöt termille taide. Niin kuin taiteella, myös taiteen vapaudella on monta ulottuvuutta. Toinen ymmärtää taiteen vain ammattitaiteena, toinen pitää myös opiskelijan, lapsen tai harrastajan tekemistä tai sen tulosta taiteena. Näiden tulkintojen eron ymmärtäminen olisi hedelmällisen keskustelun aikaansaamisessa ratkaisevan tärkeää.


Matti Hakamäki / Kansanmusiikki-instituutin johtaja

julkaistu 27.9.2017 sanomalehti Ilkan kulttuurisivun kolumnina

Puoli vuosisataa kaustislaista kuhinaa

Piskuisella keskipohjalaispaikkakunnalla tapahtui puoli vuosisataa sitten jotain merkillistä. Maaltamuuton kolhiman seutukunnan ihmiset saivat erikoisen idean: järjestetään kansainvälinen kansanmusiikkifestivaali.

Kansanmusiikkia pidettiin Suomessa yleisesti kuolleena tai ainakin kuolevana musiikkigenrenä, ja maaseudun tulevaisuus nähtiin vähintään yhtä harmaana. Jostain löytyi kuitenkin uskoa toisenlaiseen tulevaisuuskuvaan.

Tavoitteet määriteltiin heti koviksi. Nimen piti olla englanniksi, ja ministeriöön ilmoitettiin, että aiotaan kasvaa mittavaksi ja merkittäväksi kansainväliseksi kansanmusiikkitapahtumaksi.

Jo ensimmäisinä vuosina huutoon vastattiin. Väkimäärä yllätti rohkeimmatkin odotukset, ja Kaustisen kansanmusiikkijuhlista tuli nopeasti koko kansan tuntema instituutio. Vähintään kerran elämässä tuli jokaisen suomalaisen kokea Kaustisen maaginen tunnelma iltanuotioineen ja pihasoittoineen.

Viisikymmentä vuotta on valtavan pitkä ikä tapahtumalle. Missä piilee Kaustisen koukuttavan ilmapiirin salaisuus. Mikä on pitänyt juhlat hengissä läpi vuosikymmenien kulttuuristen muutosten?

Kaustisen peruskävijä ei saavu kuuntelemaan yksittäisiä esiintyjiä tai konsertteja. Paikalle on tultu nauttimaan tunnelmasta, jonka saavat aikaan tuhannet pelimannit ja tanssijat, sadat ammattilais- tai harrastajayhtyeet sekä suuri joukko musiikinystäviä. Tämä sekalainen seurakunta, samaan aikaan sekä konservatiivinen että avantgardistinen, väreilee ja törmäilee keskenään kuin atomit astiassa. Perinteet vilahtelevat silmissä kuin maisema junan ikkunassa, mutta häkellyttävästä ylitarjonnasta huolimatta tunnelma on yleensä seesteinen ja leppoisa.

Kuva: Lauri Oino, Kansanmusiikki-instituutin arkisto

Kulttuurien sulatusuuniin tuovat tehoa puskasoitot, jamisessiot, tanssityöpajat ja yhteislauluhetket, jotka tarjoavat monelle astetta henkilökohtaisemman kokemuksen. Usein kyse on oman taiteellisen minän kohtaamisesta sallivassa ympäristössä. Se voi olla suorastaan pökerryttävä tunne.

Viime aikoina on alettu yhä enemmän tiedostamaan taiteen ja kulttuurin merkitys hyvinvoinnille. Ei enää riitä, että tuetaan konsertteja ja teatteriesityksiä; tarvitaan myös toisenlaista osallistumista. Tarvitaan taidetta arkeen. Kulttuuria perheisiin, koteihin ja ystäväpiireihin. Taide on kieli, jonka avulla yksilöt ja yhteisöt käsittelevät menneisyyttä, nykyisyyttä ja tulevaa. Se eheyttää ja rikastuttaa elämää.

Kaustisen festivaali on perustunut tällaiselle taidekäsitykselle koko olemassaolonsa ajan. Sen hengen toivoisi edelleen leviävän.

Matti Hakamäki / Kansanmusiikki-instituutin johtaja

julkaistu 5.7.2017 sanomalehti Ilkan kulttuurisivun kolumnina

Härkää sarvista


Anneli Jäätteenmäki bloggasi viime viikolla pettyneensä naisten ja miesten välisen tasa-arvon nykytilaan. Kritiikkiä saivat niin maan hallituksen miesvoittoisuus kuin politiikan ja yhteiskunnan valtarakenteiden miesvaltaisuus ylipäänsäkin. Jäätteenmäen mielestä olemme ehtineet tuudittautua siihen, että tasa-arvoasiat ratkeavat omalla painollaan ja aika kyllä hoitaa. Näin ei kuitenkaan ole käynyt.

Yhtenä räikeänä esimerkkinä voidaan pitää palkkatasa-arvon onnetonta tilaa. Kuinka on mahdollista, että edelleen vuonna 2017 järjestelmän valuvian vuoksi äitiys- ja perhevapaiden kustannukset koituvat pääosin naisen työnantajan kustannuksiksi ja työnantajat pitävät naisten palkkaamista usein taloudellisena riskinä? Miksi naisvaltaisten alojen palkkakehitys jää edelleen miesvaltaisista aloista jälkeen?

Nämä ongelmat on kyllä tiedostettu ja asioista keskusteltu jo useampi vuosikymmen. Jäätteenmäki esittää ratkaisuksi hyssyttelyn lopettamista ja kissan nostamista pöydälle. Tarvitaan esikuvia – tasa-arvotekoja.

Musiikkimaailmassa ja sen tuotantorakenteissa tasa-arvoasioiden kehitys on ollut myös hidasta. Edistystäkin tapahtuu, mutta aika ajoin vanhoille sukupuolirooleille perustuva maailmankuva puskee esille. Tasa-arvo ei löydä kaikupohjaa, kun moneen musiikin tyylisuuntaan kuuluu edelleen sitkeästi henkilöpalvonnan ja korostuneiden sukupuoliroolien piirteitä. Rokkikukkojen ja räppistarojen möläytyksille hymistellään usein hiljaisen ymmärtävästi.

Yhden valaisevan näkökulman aiheeseen antaa naisartistien ja ‑muusikoiden osuus suurten musiikkitapahtumien ohjelmistoissa. Helsingin Sanomat uutisoi viime viikolla, että Suomessa prosenttiluvut vaihtelevat Weekend-festivaalin viidestä prosentista Flow-festivaalin 39 prosenttiin. Parannettavaa tälläkin saralla siis löytyy.

Ruotsissa on otettu musiikkitapahtumien artistikiinnitysten osalta käyttöön sukupuolikiintiöitä. Tällaista on kuitenkin Suomessa ainakin suurimpien musiikkitapahtumien osalta vastustettu.

Helpompi vaihtoehto olisikin, että ala nostaisi oma-aloitteisesti asian pöydälle. Yhden ”härkää sarvista” ‑tasa-arvoteon tarjoaa Tuusulassa ja Järvenpäässä järjestettävä Meidän Festivaali, jonka taiteellisena johtajana toimii Pekka Kuusisto. Tapahtuman artistien ja esitettävien teosten säveltäjien joukosta ei löydy tänä vuonna nimittäin miehiä ollenkaan. Festivaalin ohjelman tausta-ajatus ja arvopohja on komeaa luettavaa, vaikka itse sukupuoliasiaan nettisivuilla ei suoraan viitatakaan.

Musiikkimaailma kaipaa kipeästi tämäntyylistä ravistelua. Kiihkotonta, esimerkillistä ja tehokasta.

Matti Hakamäki / Kansanmusiikki-instituutin johtaja

julkaistu 24.5.2017 sanomalehti Ilkan kulttuurisivun kolumnina

Havaintoja, kannanottoja ja huomioita kansanmusiikin ja kulttuuripolitiikan ajankohtaisista asioista. / This spring 2018, Suzanne Wedeking from Iowa US, an Erasmus Mundus research intern at the Folk Music Institute is sharing her experiences of Kaustinen, Finland and heritage in this blog / Blogiin on myös koottu Kansanmusiikki-instituutin johtajan Matti Hakamäen Sanomalehti Ilkkaan 2016 – 2017 kirjoittamat kulttuurisivun kolumnit.