I have a major announcement! I was just awarded my first grant! I can’t thank the Central Minnesota Arts Board enough! It’s truly an honor that you thought my ideas were worthy of funding. Furthermore, the name of this grant was absolutely perfect for someone in my situation. This was from the Pandemic Recovery For Individuals grant. As soon as the pandemic started, my roster of 50 students per week dropped to only seven online and has not recovered. I also had arthroscopic hip surgery in July of 2020 and the recovery has not gone as planned, to say the least. I was thisclose to not being able to pay my rent this month.
Since I've had so much extra time on my hands during these pandemic times, I was able to explore more projects in the field of composing and arranging, two things that I'm very passionate about. One project that seemed like it had potential was when I started arranging Finnish folk tunes for classical guitar. I have Finnish ancestry and speak a little bit of the language. I’ve visited Finland a few times and have made some great friends there. I’ve even met some of my DNA relatives here in the United States as well as in Finland after doing some ancestry research and DNA tests. It’s been a very enlightening journey over the years while I’ve explored my Finnish roots. I'll never forget the time my grandmother heard me speak Finnish for the first time and she quickly corrected my pronunciation. She then broke out into laughter and said, "I don't remember what that word means, but you said it wrong!" Finnish was her first language but she hadn't spoken it to anyone since her grandmother passed away in the 1970s. My grandmother passed away in 2017 and I am dedicating this project to her. ❤️
When I first heard Finnish folk music, I fell in love instantly. I found the Digital Archive of Finnish Folk Tunes on the University of Jyväskylä’s website. The website doesn’t seem to have been updated since about 2004 and a lot of the features on it do not work properly anymore. But don't take that as criticism because they still have a priceless archive of over 8,000 folk tunes that were collected in Finland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Without this archive, I don't know that this project could happen. Sometimes the melodies have lyrics, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they have just two or three notes, sometimes they’re more elaborate and complex. They're all traditional tunes that have been passed down over the centuries by oral tradition. Most of the tunes have a note about where in the country they were collected. That means I'm able to look up my ancestral villages and hear melodies that they could have heard as well. I started to feel like I should do something with these melodies instead of letting them sit there in the archive. I started to arrange some of these for fingerstyle guitar with some counterpoint and harmonies. I couldn’t believe how nice they sounded and how great they made me feel. As I did a few more, I realized I shouldn’t limit these to just guitar. So I started adapting them for piano, banjo, and ukulele as well.
With the help of the CMAB grant, I’ll be able to dedicate the time to go through all 8,000+ melodies in the digital archive. My goal is to find and arrange as many melodies as I can for these four instruments so you can have sheet music to play. There certainly won't be 8,000 arrangements made because not all of the melodies work in this context. I will definitely have some sheet music ready by the end of the month for you to try out.
I have so many more things I want to share about this project but I should get everything more organized first. For now, here are three demos I made for the arts board of arrangements I have done already. I've also included a description of each track below.
I’m playing my nylon string guitar along with my electric guitar on all of these tunes. I want to show that this is not only for classical players but that they sound great on electric guitar as well. The playlist starts with “Kokkolan Polska,” or "The Polka of Kokkola,” a village where some of my ancestors came from in western Finland. It’s a slow piece in A major that repeats the main melody twice. When the melody comes a third time, you can hear a little bit of the piano arrangement I made.
The next selection is “Pikkuinen Lintu,” or “Little Bird.” This is one that was collected from Suomussalmi, in the eastern part of Finland where a large number of my ancestors came from. The melody is presented three times, first in a typical range for the guitar. The second time, I took the melody up an octave. For the third and final pass through the melody, I put it in the lowest register the guitar can play while higher strings play accompaniment.
The final piece in the playlist is “Kun Sinä Olet Rakastanut Minua,” or “When You Have Loved Me.” It’s in F major and a bit more uptempo than the previous two songs. This is a combination of two different tunes with the same name and same basic melodic content. Both of the variations that I combined are from the little town of Juva in southeastern Finland.
I hope you enjoy these demos and I hope you'll join me on this journey as I explore more of this music and bring it to your music stand.
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Central MN Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.