Kantele concert at the domicile of the runosinger Simana Sissonen, July 5, 2020


June 25, 2020

Arja Kastinen will play the museum kantele replicas and tell about their history and about the background of the music at the domicile of the runosinger Simana Sissonen in Mekrijärvi, Ilomantsi (Mekrijärventie 22, Ilomantsi) on the 5th of July, 2020, at 1 p.m.

Simana Jyrinpoika Sissonen (1786–1848) was perhaps the last great runosinger of the significant runosinger family Sissonen in Ilomantsi.

Photo: Arja Kastinen

According to professor Julius Krohn (1835–1888), the researcher of Finnish folk poetry, Simana Sissonen was the best runosinger among the singers on the Finnish side of the border – he “rose like a pinewood in the jungle”.

Simana was also a powerful wise man who is said to have had better catches than other hunters and fishermen because of his skills. Indeed, the campfires during the trips in the wilderness were places where Simana is often said to have sung the epic runosongs to the delight of the evenings.

The Sissonen Family Society and the Contributional Society of Sissola maintains the old domicile of Simana Sissonen in Mekrijärvi, Ilomantsi. The Sissonen Family Society organizes this concert in which the kantele of the runosingers will be heard on the 5th of July.

The music of the concert is linked to a time and music culture before the stanza form and before the instruments with the ambitus of several octaves. To a time when runosingers and storytellers were able to mesmerize their listeners for hours. When they were able to sing a world in which both the singers and the listeners were moved to tears.

In that world the kantele was the musical instrument #1.

In the families of Vornanen and Shemeikka, for example, many of the great runosingers were also kanteleplayers. In 1838 Elias Lönnrot wrote that there were kanteles in every house on the area of Kovero (in Ilomantsi) where he was collecting runosongs.

Kantele was used both as a solo instruments and as an accompaniment to the runosong. Sometimes, if the other singer, whose task was to repeat the main singer’s phrase, was missing, the repetition phrase could have been played on the kantele.

Simana Sissonen is not mentioned as a kanteleplayer but his second cousin, Jyrki Sissonen, is said to have accompanied on his kantele when Simana Sissonen, Simana Huohvanainen and Ontrei Huohvanainen sang together. Jyrki had both 5- and 8-string kanteles.

When kantele was used as a solo instrument, its main function was probably to play one’s own power, “soittaa omaa mahtia”, to describe one’s own feelings by means of musical improvising. This is the music that will be heard at the concert in Sissola.

There will be 7 different museum kantele replicas with strings from 5 to 15 at the concert. Before the music, Arja will tell about the history of each instrument and of their individual structural features. After the concert, the audience has a possibility to try out and have a closer look at the instruments.

Arja Kastinen_photo Tuomas Ylönen, 2019

In addition to remembering an incredible amount of runosong phrases they had learned earlier, the skillful runsingers were also able to create new phrases while singing, or create totally new songs of their everyday life. In the same way the kanteleplayers, while playing their own power, were improvising their moods by using old scales and the old plucking technique.

The folk music researcher Armas Otto Väisänen named this old playing technique in Finnish as “yhdysasentoinen näppäilytekniikka” which means the kind of plucking technique where the left and the right hand fingers are interlocked.

Because of the research and collection work Väisänen made in the Karelian villages in 1916, 1917 and 1919, we have been able to revive this unique kantele playing technique of the runosong culture, at least partially.

When the kantele player of the 21st century plays her/his own power, it is inevitably linked to her/his own era, as well. Thus, the goal of the concert is not to demonstrate literally the 19th century Karelian kantelemusic. The aim is to describe the esthetics of this music which suits perfectly the people of the 21st century, as well.

You are warmly welcome to Sissola!