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.

Photo: Tuomas Ylönen 2019

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.

What’s up

During 2018-2022 Arja works on the five year grant for artists (Arts PromotionCentre Finland).


Curitiba, Brazil, Nov 10, 2015. Photo: Elis Riberete.

Performing in Finland for about 30 years. Performances outside Finland in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Belgium, Italy, 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)
  • Emanuel; Solo-CD, TEMPSCD 05, 2016
  • Annex CD for the book Pisarassa laajat lammet – Improvisaatio ja luova musisointi pienkanteleilla, TEMPSCD 06, 2016
  • Single Riivattu; (AANIA-33), 2019 (digit.)
  • Forest of a Thousand Songs; with world flutest Peter Phippen, TEMPS07, 2020

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

Photo: Tuomas Ylönen

Sound installations:

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



  • Research on aesthetics of the 19th Century Karelian Kanteleimprovisation in the light of contemporary sources; studies at the University of Tampere, 1984-1987.
  • A biography of the Karelian kanteleplayer Vanja Tallas and the study of his music by FFT analysis, a thesis for the Master of Arts degree at the Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department, 1993.
  • An acoustical investigation of a 15-string kantele; the FFT analysis of the harmonics and changes in their performance during different playing techniques. The doctoral dissertation, Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department, 2000.
  • Research of the late 19th century manuscripts and field trip information from Karelia; research published in the book (+ appendix CD) Taivas auki (Temps Oy, 2009.)
  • Researching and re-writing the kantele-tune manuscripts from the beginning of the 20th century by Armas Otto Väisänen and Armas Launis, 2009–2010; research published in the book Kizavirzi (Kastinen-Nieminen-Tenhunen, Temps Oy, 2013.)
  • Elemental analysis and comparison of bronze and brass wires in museum kanteles, 2009–2012; research published in the above-mentioned Kizavirzi book (2013)
  • From 2008 onwards, comparison study of different brass and bronze wires in kantele replicas and modern small kanteles; some of the timbre experiments are published on videos at
  • Mapping and researching historical small kanteles in Finnish museums during 2011–2013.
  • Measuring and photographing all kanteles in the Museum of Porvoo, 2014
  • Measuring and photographing all kanteles in the City Museum of Hämeenlinna, 2015.
  • Measuring and photographing all kanteles in the Turku Museum Center, 2014–2015.
  • Measuring and photographing all kanteles in the Sibelius Museum in Turku, 2015–2017.
  • Brain and music: a six-hour exploratory improvisation concert (Musiikkitalo, Black Box, 6.2.2017) and related EEG measurement from the Cognitive Brain Research Unit, University of Helsinki, under Mari Tervaniemi, PhD. Analysis of the improvisation by Arja, 2019–2020.


  • Erään 15-kielisen kanteleen akustisesta tutkimuksesta (Sibelius-Akatemian kansanmusiikinosaston julkaisuja 5, 2000) [An Acoustical investigation of a 15-stringed kantele, Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department publications 5, 2000. Helsinki. The written part of the artistic dissertation.]
  • 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
  • An article (in Finnish) about the Karelian kanteleimprovisation: Laulo päivän, laulo toisen, laulo kohta kolmannenki (IssueX, Taideyliopiston lehti [The journal of the University of the Arts, Helsinki], October 2016)
  • An article (in Finnish) about the kantele instruments in the Sibelius-museum, Turku: Sibelius-museon kanteleet (Suomen musiikkimuseo -yhdistyksen vuosikirja 2, 2016)
  • 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)
  • On-line publication: Sibelius-museon kantele SM68, 2019
  • On-line publication: Sibelius-museon kantele SM811, 2019
  • On-line publication: Sibelius-museon viisikielisiä kanteleita, 2019
  • On-line publication: Suomen Kansallismuseon kanteleet K1855:12 (Ruskeala/Ilomantsi), KF1178 (Korpiselkä) ja K1763 (Pielisjärvi), 2020
  • An article about the history and aesthetics of the so called quiet exaltation, the kantele improvisation inside ancient runosong culture: Soitti päivän, soitti toisen, soitti kohta kolmannenki (Satasarvi, Finnish Journal of Folk Music Research Vol 1, Dec 2020)
  • The analysis: Six Hours of Exploratory Improvisation


  • Artist 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
  • Five-year artist grant 2018-2022, the Arts Promotion Centre Finland

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

Photo: Tuomas Ylönen