Arja Kastinen

The kantele player Arja Kastinen (b. 1963) was the first Finnish folk musician to take the Doctor of Music examination in the artistic study programme at the Sibelius Academy in December 2000. What inspired her to do this was the ancient Karelian kantele improvisation. The examination included five concerts and a written dissertation.

Arja ja 15-k_Rimma

Arja Kastinen (Photo: Rimma Lillemägi 2012)

During 1997-2000, she gave five solo performances based on improvisation, entitled “Music based on the ideology and the acoustical phenomena of the kantele in the Karelian kantele improvisation”. The instruments she used were a 15-stringed kantele made by Keijo Säteri from Leppävirta, Finland, a 14-stringed kantele made by Rauno Nieminen from Ikaalinen, Finland, and a 9-stringed kantele brought from Karelia during the War in the 1940s. The original model for the 15- and 14-stringed kanteles was found in Korpiselkä, Finland, in 1916 and is now kept at the National Board of Antiquities (The  National Museum of Finland). In her performances, Kastinen mixed the old and new playing techniques presenting the versatile timbres and acoustic properties of the kantele. The concerts were experimental journeys to the dim and distant past seeking to uphold tradition while creating new things.

The title of the doctoral dissertation was “An Acoustical investigation of a 15-stringed kantele”. The first chapter deals with the basic principles of musical acoustics mainly examined from the perspective of string instruments. The second chapter introduces the results of the acoustical investigation of the 15-stringed kantele. The measurements were performed in an unechoic chamber in the Instrument Research Centre of the Ikaalinen Institute of Arts and Crafts, Finland. Some strings of the kantele were played using different techniques and at different points of the string. The recorded sounds were then analysed by computer using the Intelligent Speech Analyser (ISA) program of Pitchsystems Oy, developed by Raimo Toivonen. M.Sc. (Tech.). The third chapter deals with tuning – first, introducing four different tuning systems and then clarifying the tuning of the 15-stringed kantele.


Performing in Finland for about 25 years. Performances outside Finland in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, Ireland, Serbia, USA, Kanada, Russia,Vietnam and Brazil.


  • “IRO” Solo-CD, MIPUCD401, Mipu Music, 1995. Re-released under the name “Kantele Meditation”, Warner Innovator Series, 1996
  • “VITA” with goathorn player Virpi Forsberg, SibKaCD027, Sibelius-Academy Folk Music Department recordings 55, 1999
  • “KAJO” with flutest Riitta-Liisa Joutsenlahti, TEMPSCD-01, Temps Oy 2005, Sibelius-Academy Folk Music Department recordings 55
  • ANI” Solo-CD, TEMPSCD 02, Temps Oy 2008
  • Vaskikantele 1833” Solo-CD, AANIA-6, Kanteleen Ääniä, 2008
  • Annex CD for the book Taivas auki – Itäisen Suomen ja Karjalan kanteleista 1800-luvun käsikirjoituksissa, TEMPSCD 03, Temps Oy 2009
  • Two folkmusic videos for Finnish Television, Yle Teema, released on spring 2010, Director: Mirja Metsola                   [The 5-String KanteleThe 10- and 14-String Kanteles]
  • Lavender Calm” with world flutest Peter Phippen, Promotion Music Records 2011
  • The Last Gathering” Solo-CD, TEMPSCD 04, 2012
  • Runoitrio“, Taito Hoffrén, vocals – Arja Kastinen, kanteles – Markus Ketola, percussions (Juminkeko Foundation, promo CD published in Vietnam 2014)
  • Music for the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum video, 2014
  • Emanuel“, Solo-CD, TEMPSCD 05, 2016
  • Annex CD for the book Pisarassa laajat lammet – Improvisaatio ja luova musisointi pienkanteleilla, TEMPSCD 06, 2016

Playing also on collection-cds etc.:

  • “Kuulas hetki” OMCD 46, 1993
  • “Tulikulkku” KICD 30, 1993
  • “Satoyama Finland” documentary released in Japanese television in August 2007, Director: Shohei Shibata, Assistant Director: Misa Kishi, Cameramen: Koichi Nagura, Masanori Sawahata and Shinichiro Kawaguchi, Music: Heikki Laitinen and Arja Kastinen
  • “Kantele Continuum”, IMU-CD 081, SibKaCD 80, 2008

Sound installations:

To listen to Arja’s music, please visit at:  and:



  • A guidebook for the 5-string kantele (in Finnish): Juhlivat hiiret. Leikkiohjeita ja viisikielisen kanteleen soitto-ohjeita varhaiskasvattajille (Arja Kastinen and Pirjo Pirinen, Temps Oy, 2006)
  • A guidebook for the 11-string kantele (in Finnish): Heilani sydän teräksestä (Arja Kastinen and Pirjo Pirinen, Temps Oy, 2007)
  • A book (+ a supplement CD) about the 19th century kantele tune manuscripts (in Finnish): Taivas auki – Itäisen Suomen ja Karjalan kanteista 1800-luvun käsikirjoituksissa. (Arja Kastinen, Temps Oy, 2009)
  • Wilho Saari, Tune-a-Day, Compositions for the 36-, 10- and 5-string kanteles (Ed. Kastinen, Temps Oy,  2010)
  • A guidebook for the 11-string kantele (in English 2011): In Visible Vibration (Arja Kastinen and Pirjo Pirinen, Temps Oy)
  • Articles about Karelian kantelemusic in the Finnish music research journal Musiikin suunta:                                              – Vanja Tallas – kanteleensoittaja kahden musiikkikulttuurin murroksessa (in Finnish, Musiikin suunta 3/1993)                   – Karjalainen kanteleimprovisaatio 1800-luvulla ja nyt (in Finnish, Musiikin suunta 3/2002)                                                   – Karelian Kantele Improvisation in the Light of the 19th Century Manuscripts (in English, Musiikin suunta1/2009)             – One Hundred Years of Beauty Sleep (in English, Musiikin suunta 3/4 2012)
  • An article about the Karelian kantelemusic at the beginning of the 20th century (in Finnish): Totta vai tarua – vuosituhantisen jatkumon osavuosikatsaus (Kantele 4/2012)
  • A book about the Karelian kanteleplayers, their music and instruments at the beginning of the 20th century (in Finnish): KIZAVIRZI karjalaisesta kanteleperinteestä 1900-luvun alussa. (Arja Kastinen, Rauno Nieminen and Anna-Liisa Tenhunen, Temps Oy, 2013)
  • The final report: Pienkanteleiden luova käyttö musiikkikasvatuksessa (The creative use of small kanteles in the music education), 2014
  • On-line publication: Porvoon museon ja J. L Runebergin kotimuseon kanteleet, 2015
  • On-line publication: Hämeenlinnan kaupungin historiallisen museon kanteleet, 2015
  • On-line publication: Turun museokeskuksen kanteleet, 2015
  • A guidebook about the improvisation and the creative way of making music on the small kanteles: Pisarassa laajat lammet – Improvisaatio ja luova musisointi pienkanteleilla. Arja Kastinen ja Tuula Olkanen. (Temps Oy, 2016)


  • State grants from the Arts Promotion Centre Finland between 2002–2003 and 2004–2006
  • Research grants:
    – Alfred Kordelin Foundation, 2008
    – Arts Promotion Centre Finland, Regional Office of Southwest Finland, 2009
    – Finnish Cultural Foundation 2010
    – Kone Foundation, 2011–2012
  • A grant for composing: Alfred Kordelin Foundation, 2011
  • One year grant for reviving the use of small kanteles in music education in the area of Finland Proper: Finnish Cultural Foundation, Varsinais-Suomi Regional Fund, 2013-2014
  • A grant for recording music at the Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum, Oslo, Norway: Alfred Kordelin Foundation, 2015.
  • A grant for Arja Kastinen & Sanna Kurki-Suonio for building up the improvised six-hour-concert with the brain researchers: The Foundation of Jenny and Antti Wihuri, 2016.

Invited memberships

  • Kalevalaseura (Kalevala Society) 28.2.2002
  • Armas Otto Väisänen Association 10.11.2005


  • Vuoden Wäinö 2013 (The Wäinö of the Year), the Finnish Central Committee of Folk Music and Dance