The day of the Finnish national epic, Kalevala (first published in 1835), approached and passed on Saturday the 28th of February. To join the festivities, I went to play in a kindergarden on Wednesday of that week. Together with my cousin, we organised a half-an-hour session of playing and singing, and the kids could re-act the singing contest of Väinämöinen and Joukahainen, two characters in the epic. I began by playing The Churchbells of Konevitsa with my concert kantele, and the kids were completely enchanted! This is not the first time that people have quieted down for my playing, but it definitely was the first time with kids. It is no wonder that in Kalevala the whole forest quiets down to the listen to Väinämöinen’s play:
All the beasts that haunt the woodlands
Fall upon their knees and wonder
At the playing of the minstrel,
At his miracles of concord.
The Kalevala poems describe the birth of the kantele twice. Or more accurately, the editor Lönnrot chose two different poems to be included in the collection. The editor was also an enthusiastic kantele player and developer, and he started playing the kantele between the 1830-40’s. Among other things, he developed the chromatic kantele…But I wanted to talk about the poems. The first kantele poem describes a kantele (or “harp”) made of jaws of a pike (Rune 40, 41), and the second one made of birch (Rune 44). It is interesting that Väinämöinen has already defined it to be a five-string kantele (and the string are maiden hair!). But when studying the rune, it becomes evident that the kantele playing has always been enchanting since these poems or runes started going around as word of mouth maybe even thousands of years ago.
Ps. I hear the singing contest is used almost on a daily basis in the kindergarden now. Highly recommended!