I wrote the first version of this exposition in September 2021, and since then the world has dramatically changed. The war in Ukraine and the shock of seeing the consequences of the brutal aggression of Russia have made everything look different. Although daily work has often felt meaningless amid the news flow, I have also found reassurance in the fact that the long-term and determined grassroots action of all pro-democracy activists concerning equality and general well-being is now even more important than before. I can and I should use my daily work to strengthen the values important to me. I argue that the aesthetics and the philosophy of musical improvisation within the subject of my research can be used as a tool for learning and strengthening democratic interaction. I call it the dialogue of creativity.
My research focuses on the cultural-historical background of improvised kantele music as a part of the Finnic runosong culture, its aesthetic-philosophical nature and its potential present-day applications. In the remote areas of the Ladoga and Aunus (Olonets) Karelia, the 19th-century illiterate kantele players retained a distinctive way of improvisation which they called soittaa omaa mahtia– “playing one’s own power” (– the word "power" in this context means inner strength and knowledge). In this article, I call it inner power improvisation. It included both shorter improvisations directed at other people and introverted hours-long improvisations in an altered state of mind. Artistic research opens up a way to study this interaction, its evolvement, effect, structures and meanings.
The big challenge for the research is that no audio recordings of playing the inner power improvisations exist. We do have information about the instruments, the special playing technique, the tuning methods and the scales. In addition, there are both manuscripts and some wax cylinder audio recordings from the early 20th century that include various dance tunes and some church bell imitations (SKS KRA; Väisänen 2002 ). We can combine this information with the historical texts describing the playing situations and try to reconstruct the improvised music of the past. An important point is to connect the music to the information we have about the runosong culture, of which this particular manner of playing the kantele was a part. Borrowing methods from experimental archaeology, we can produce replicas of museum instruments and use them as a tool for opening up the ancient musical soundscape.
The study of this tradition also includes the important question about its origins. The prehistory of the kantele instrument is unknown, but it seems obvious that it functioned as a part of the shamanistic culture of the Iron-Age Finnic people who sang runosongs about Väinämöinen (Kuusi et al. 1977, 46–49; Laitinen 2010, 77–99; Siikala 2002, 242–280). In runosongs, the kantele is often described as a shamanistic tool and as the initiator and implementer of mythical events. According to Anna-Leena Siikala (ibid.), it is possible that the Finnic laulaja-tietäjä, a singer-sage who had diverged from the shamanistic practice and who, instead of fetching knowledge from the other world, relied on his own väki (supernatural force), used both the kantele and the drum as an instrument of ecstasy.
The inner power improvisation kantele players playing in an altered state of consciousness have been documented among the Ladoga and Aunus Karelian people who still practised the old the slash-and-burn culture that included hunting and fishing as an important part of one’s livelihood. We have no such documentation of the farmers near the coast of Ladoga, nor, perhaps surprisingly, from the Viena Karelia. The centuries-old coexistence between the Karelians and the Sámi people from at least the 13th century onwards (Kuzmin 2013, 69–72, 98; Kuzmin 2014, 99–144, 176; Könönen 1969, 59–65; Parppei 2021, 51) and the stories attesting to the power of the tietäjä and the distinguished Ladoga Karelian tietäjä-families’ ancestor’s visits to Sámi shamans (SKVR VII5: 3349; Basilier 1886, 123–125) confirm the connections of this cultural form with shamanism.
However, the inner power improvisation kantele music of the Karelian kantele players at the turn of the 20th century was far from shamanism. If the Finnic kantele has at some point been used as a shamanistic tool beside the shaman drum, that function must have disappeared well before the Reformation. Otherwise, the kantele would have been banned as an instrument, and its use, like that of the Sámi shamanic drum, would have been forbidden by the church in every way. However, what occurred was the opposite: in Mikael Agricola’s Finnish translation of the New Testament in 1548, the kantele was raised among the heavenly instruments (Laitinen 2010, 103–108). During the rise of Finnish nationalism in the 19th century (Anttonen 2005, 155–177; 2012), Elias Lönnrot made Väinämöinen's kantele a central symbol of the Kalevala epic, and after Finland’s independence in 1917, the kantele received the status of Finland’s National Instrument. My research is mainly focused on the old small kantele and its music as part of the ancient runosong culture and not on the modern kantele, which has since evolved into many forms.
Because the inner power improvisation kantele players led a life that was very different from our current life and society, we are unable to use the existing data to produce an entirely reliable auditory image of the kantele improvisation of the 19th century, let alone the earlier centuries. However, exploring the aesthetics and philosophy of the music and combining it with information about the instruments and the musicians within the culture deepens our understanding of the meanings and possibilities of both past music and new music influenced by it. From an aesthetic-philosophical point of view, the inner power improvisation was, in any case, each individual's personal and unique musical output.
Under the Responsibility theme, this exposition approaches the ancient tradition of musical improvisation as a part of my own roots. I am addressing the question of whether I can achieve an insider view through artistic research, or does the huge change in society after the 19th century force me to stay in the role of an outsider, and further, whether it means that the tradition is lost. Am I able to learn the essence of an oral tradition by studying its basic elements from archival documents and historical texts and then producing music myself, or would that only be an act of representation inside the literary culture? According to Pertti Anttonen (2012, 325), the term “textualisation” refers to “the ways in which oral performances and orally expressed utterances are transformed into literary representations of orality”. He states that “no written document of oral tradition can be ‘authentic’” (ibid. 326). Thus, my question is: is it possible to cancel the effect of textualisation through artistic research by digging deep into the musical tradition and by aiming to understand its core through artistic self expression?
In addition, the theme of Responsibility is addressed through two case studies on two types of improvisation workshops, one for children and another for adults, which use tradition as a music educational tool. The two types of improvisation workshops are addressed separately. The processes in the workshops are one of my research tools for exploring the different possibilities and deeper meanings of the philosophy of this kind of improvisation as part of a creative activity. My basic aim is to restore parts of the tradition and incorporate them into the active music practices of today. The question is whether the music produced can be called a part of the tradition or is it simply modern music on the kantele. Does keeping the tradition alive mean that it is allowed to change over time, and how big can the change be in order for the product to still be accepted as a part of the cultural heritage?
In my experience, the activity of the inner power kantele improviser is more subconscious than conscious and the musician is free to make different choices which are all equal but affect the whole in their individual way. Following this philosophy, you are free to explore this exposition in any order you want, although, as you will see, some texts are related to certain videos.
Special acknowledgments to Turo Rautaoja for the English proofreading.
Change Means Survival?
In my research, I have approached the 19th-century Karelian kantele improvisation by learning to play the kantele according to the information that can be found in archives, historical documents and folk music research. In addition, I have examined the older small kanteles in Finnish museums and ordered replicas of some interesting models. Some bronze and brass strings of the museum kanteles have been examined with EDS analysis (Kastinen 2013, 277–279) and I have tested different string materials on the replicas.
Playing the museum kantele replicas confirms the big differences between individual instruments both in the sound quality and in their playability (Videos 1, 5–7). When the goal is to achieve the best possible resonance for each instrument, the proper pitch and the details in the plucking technique have to be individually adjusted. This strengthens the idea of the special relationship between the musician and the instrument: the music is a result of a meeting of two individuals. In the runosong tradition, the metric rules (Leino 1994, 56–74) and codifying the information inside the patterns and formulas of the runosong serve as tools for remembering and preserving information inside an oral culture. I have come to the conclusion that the old plucking technique – one of the archaic features of the instrument – similarly serves as a tool for preserving the important musical elements in the long-term memory.
In the old plucking technique, the strings are plucked upwards, and the fingers of both hands alternate on the scale with different fingering options. Thus, there are no separate roles for either of the hands but they work together to build up different rhythms and interval combinations. The instruments were originally hollowed out from one piece of wood, and they typically had 5 to 12 strings. From the point of music, an important aspect is that the tuning was performed with the help of fifths, fourths and octaves and the scales were based on modes with different sizes of thirds. Thus, we cannot use the equal temperament which is usual in today’s music. The strong resonance, which was achieved by tuning and supported by the special playing technique, created a constantly varying sound space, whose various elements the player was able to emphasise.
Since there are no audio recordings of the inner power kantele improvisations, the improvised music and the playing technique are usually approached by learning to vary the dance tunes and church bell tunes recorded in the early 20th century. As this kantele tradition was part of the runosong culture and there are about 200 runosong melodies collected from the area where the known inner power kantele improvisation players used to live (Launis 1930), and since we know that these kantele players played the runosongs as well, it is also possible to study the musical aesthetics through them. Learning to vary the melodies according to the information we have from the runosong tradition and making different interval combinations and rhythmic variations according to the information we have from the early 20th-century kantele players might bring us closer to understanding the musical thinking of the inner power kantele improvisation players.
In this exposition, you can find four previously unpublished videos where runosong melodies are varied on kantele replicas (Videos 1, 5–7). The music is improvised and in addition to showing my way of dealing with the short runosong melody manuscripts, they also make apparent the significant differences in timbres between the kantele replicas. Another video, also previously unpublished, is an excerpt from a longer recording and provides an example of how I sometimes combine different kanteles and examine the resonance they form together (Video 8). Here a replica is combined with a modern steel-string kantele with 10 diatonic and 4 drone strings. The hands are separated, but they still principally function together and communicate as in the old plucking technique. The scale is in accordance with one recorded in 1916 in Suistamo, Karelia.
The exposition also contains three of my older videos from YouTube (Videos 9–11). Two of them have subtitles explaining the details of the playing technique and the tradition. The music is improvised. The video Antero Vornanen’s 5-string kantele from the 1930s (Video 10) shows one example of my experiments with different string materials. At the beginning of the 20th century, steel strings had principally replaced bronze and brass strings. This video shows the effect of the change in string material and pitch on the timbre. It also shows details of the old plucking technique and different fingering options on the five-string kantele. The video A kantele from Iivana Shemeikka (Video 9) introduces the background of a replica made of Iivana Shemeikka's kantele and demonstrates my experiments on it. The video Psyke Kantele (Video 11) contains sound editing and is basically a 51-minute continuum on one theme.
From the philosophical point of view, it may be the logical and only possible outcome that there are no audio recordings of the own power kantele improvisations. The music was meant to be lived in the moment and each moment was different – as was each person’s experience of it. Trying to repeat or copy a previous performance exactly as before would nullify the original idea of the improvisation and the philosophy behind it. In addition, the archival material is never giving a full and balanced picture of the past tradition. As Pertti Anttonen (2005, 53) describes:
“Archived materials – or any other ethnographic materials, for that matter – are never transparent in their ways of mediating and representing the cultural contexts from which they were extracted. [– –] ...the reliability of the picture is always a question of interpretation and authorization[– –].”
The folk music researcher Armas Otto Väisänen met improvising Karelian kantele players when he was collecting their music in 1916 and 1917. Later, he described the challenges in trying to capture their music:
“His clumsy-looking fingers start to move agilely on the strings. He varies the same motive with ever-changing nuances, making it impossible for the transcriber to authentically capture the endless melody on a sheet of music” (Engl. transl. by the author) (SKS KIA. The archive of A. O. Väisänen).
Eliel Wartiainen (1987 : 86) described his meeting with Iivana Shemeikka, a famous runosinger and kantele player from Suistamo:
“But the most memorable moments I have spent with the old man were after that meeting when the two of us sat in a small side room. Here, face to face, we pondered the mysteries of life, and the old man played in utmost ecstasy alternating between feelings of gloom or joy." (Engl. transl. by the author)
The next excerpt recounts a meeting that explorers had with a kantele player in Aunus Karelia in 1882:
“Gradually he began to play softly, sometimes warming up and getting more excited, sometimes playing so that he was barely audible. Upon being told that this was precisely what we wished to hear and being asked what it was that he was playing, he replied that it was nothing, that he was simply playing his own power. We, therefore, left him in peace, each going about our business. But the kantele player, no longer being asked any questions and left in peace, played throughout the evening, and we listened to him to our delight” (Engl. transl. by the author) (Relander 1917: 19–20).
In addition to revealing the vivid and strongly varying nature of the music, the text also describes how the musician experienced his improvised music as a commonplace part of everyday life.
All this information confirms the idea of improvised music being tied to the moment. To be alive, it has to change with the times and the performer. Thus, the videos of my improvisations are nothing more than examples of fleeting moments. In my effort to respect and understand the original tradition, I have studied the historical context of the music, its musicians and their instruments. In this respect, the videos also show some steps along the expedition. Eventually, it may also well be that my own power improvisations have nothing else to do with the music of the 19th-century Karelian kantele players but the philosophy of the music’s aesthetics.
The Dialogue of Creativity
This case study shows how I have explored the different possibilities of small kantele improvisation as a part of the creative activity in music education. Two workshops with short video examples at the Mika Waltari school in Laukkoski, Pornainen (Finland) are introduced (Videos 2 and 3). The first one was held in May 2018 and the other in February 2022. In the current world situation, I find the subjects of the workshops even more topical than before.
Initially, the children who participated in these workshops were given a brief introduction to different playing techniques for producing various timbres and sounds, in addition to which they were encouraged to use their imagination while working together in small groups. In 2018, the musical improvisations were based on 20 prints of works from the Ateneum Art Museum’s collection. Each group chose one picture, after which the groups’ task was to describe the image with sounds they could create using the tools they were given. The children were given approximately 15 minutes to plan and rehearse, after which they presented their compositions to others and the original names of the painting and the artist were revealed.
Several teachers were actively involved, visiting the groups during their work and providing support as needed, but the responsibility for the actual process remained with the children. The video above (Video 2) is one example of the creative processes that arose during the workshop. The two boys chose a famous painting by Eero Järnefelt from 1893, Raatajat rahanalaiset (Kaski) (Image 1), where a family burns a forest as a part of slash-and-burn agriculture. In the boys’ minds, the picture was like a post-war landscape, and they entitled their music Sodan jälkeen - “After the war”. In addition to fascinating them, the painting also clearly evoked images of frightening and threatening subjects that perhaps resembled images they had seen in the media. From this point of view, it was interesting to witness how they processed the subject through their musical improvisation.
During the process, the boys acted with an enormous amount of imaginative energy that knew no boundaries or obstacles. One remarkable process concerned the materials they were given: The boys were provided with tuning keys for creating slide sounds, and they could not resist to try tuning as well. As one instrument fell out of tune, they began looking for the proper tones and found a perfectly descriptive scale for their subject. They also utilised a vast variety of techniques to produce different sounds, listened to each other carefully, responded to each other’s actions and in the end had clearly made a plan for the musical plot. The fact that the music was also based on improvisation became apparent when their performance to other children differed from this video recording in response to their actions. The focus of this activity was not on the tool or the final result but on the process. This is also the reason why there were no rules for “right” or “wrong” practices and why no one therefore called attention to the fact that the boys had turned the kanteles round and played them in a non-traditional manner.
In 2022, the improvisation workshop was planned to be part of the ongoing nature, forest and biodiversity theme at the school. The children were asked to invent a background story related to forest life, on which the musical improvisation would be based. According to plans, the resulting music would be used as a soundscape in the nature theme exhibition built by the children that was to open later in the spring. At the beginning of the workshop, we discussed the effect the changing of the place of the “home tone” (tonic) on the scale had on the nature or atmosphere of the music: we switched between the first and second strings on the five-string kantele and did a few improvisation exercises with them. We wondered how using the same tones can result in a completely different perspective when the position of the tonic on the scale is changed. This was likened to different people’s perspectives on the same event.
The adjoining video (Video 3) is an example of one process during the second workshop. The short example shows how the dialogue between the participants evolves as they search for the form of their musical communication. These processes are one of my research tools for exploring the different possibilities and deeper meanings of the philosophy of this kind of improvisation as a part of the creative activity. In my opinion, the process in many ways follows the same kinds of principles as democratic dialogue, leading me to call it “the dialogue of creativity” or simply “creative dialogue”. The diagram next to this text shows the basic elements of the process and the possible different outcomes. Drawing on the ideas presented in the book Dialogi demokratiassa (Dialogue in Democracy) by the philosopher Kai Alhanen (2020), I created the diagram (Image 2) from the perspective of an improvising musician.
Creative dialogue requires participants to have a common understanding of the key principles and practices that support the development of improvisation in the interaction between participants. The personal reaction of each individual becomes a part of the whole, modifying it in its way. The goal is not a pre-agreed outcome, but the improvisation is allowed to proceed freely, and participants should be given an equal opportunity to act. Effective improvisation requires that participants be able to listen and react, that is, to concentrate, to be genuinely present, and to strive to understand different ways of performing. Communication is based on trust and mutual respect between group members, which in turn encourages participants to experiment in a playful manner and diminishes the fear of failure.
The outcome of improvisation may be expected and unsurprising, which may lead to the continuation of the existing dialogue or the start of an entirely new improvisation. An unpredictable, surprising result can lead to new ideas being discovered through improvisation that could not have been imagined in advance. Improvisation can continue from this new perspective, or a new creative dialogue can be initiated inspired by the novel discovery.
The result of improvisation can also be chaos, which at worst leads to the end of the dialogue, the reluctance to continue to cooperate. Another possibility is to start again by a joint decision after the chaos – to create an entirely new dialogue. The third option for reacting to chaos presented here is to continue to communicate despite the chaos. This is a path that I have often experienced as an almost integral part of the activity. After tenacious communication, order is created in chaos, and with this, an opportunity arises for the expansion of understanding and new insights. Tolerating uncertainty is one of the demands that improvisers are expected to internalise. However, the most important thing in improvisation workshops is not the result (which is also often received with gratitude), but the process itself, which, if successful, strengthens the participants’ self-knowledge, capacity for empathy, creative thinking and collaboration skills.
The introduced case study is an example of how the small kantele tradition is used as a tool in music education in Finland. The aim of these two workshops was not to learn the original playing technique but the philosophy and the aesthetics of musical improvisation according to the tradition. It can be argued that the resulting music has nothing to do with traditional music anymore. As I see it, it has much more to do with the core of the inner power kantele improvisation than a strict reproduction of any archived kantele tune.
As Pertti Anttonen (2012, 326; 2005, 53) has pointed out, written documents in archival collections are not authentic or full representations of oral traditions. It is problematic to see tradition as an unchanging product of a past culture:
”...one of the central ways in which the discourse on change is put forward in folklore studies is the conceptualization of the object of study within a discourse on modernity as loss. Loss of culture, loss of tradition, loss of identity, loss of traditional values, loss of morality, and loss of exceptionally valued folklore genres. […] Because of its alleged lack of traditionality, modernity in this paradigm is seen as fake, artificial, superficial and trivial. The dichotomy of modernity and tradition thus authenticates tradition as a cultural other and sees deliberate making – that is, faking – of tradition as taking place only in the modern. This bias constructs folklore into a travel account from authenticity to inauthenticity[…]” (Anttonen 2005, 48–49).
From this perspective, instead of looking at these children's improvisations as disconnected, random practices of education, they should be seen as a source for creativity in tradition. Their improvisations include the possibility of making an individual situational choice at any moment and, thus, instead of being ”produced” the music is ”lived” as in the original context (Laitinen 2003, 333–334).
Since I look at the 19th century Karelian kantele improvisation from the personal perspective of a researcher-musician, I have often had to think about my role as an interpreter of the material. In the course of decades, I have pondered my legitimacy as an interpreter, the impact of my expectations and aspirations on my interpretation and my ability to understand and perceive people in a completely different society and culture.
I was born in a remote North Karelian village and spent my childhood in a secluded house surrounded by a forest. Although the Finnish society of the 1960s and 1970s was far removed from the Karelian kantele players’ life in the 19th century, the Karelian wilderness had not changed that much in a hundred years. A boundless forest view opened up from hilltops, and countless ponds, lakes and extensive bog landscapes appeared behind slopes. They provided a powerful experience of the connection with nature and previous generations who lived there, as well as an understanding of how important living in the wilderness has been for the people of the area for centuries. I believe this experience gives me a small advantage in trying to see back in history beyond the previous century.
Karelian kantele players’ lonely, introverted music-making can also be seen as a connection, as internal communication. The feeling of connection produced by music is explored in studies on the effect of music on emotions and brain activity (see, for example, Schäfer 2019; Saarikallio & Erkkilä 2007). Some musicians of our time have stated that in situations where the musician plays as if entranced, it is actually the instrument which is playing the musician and not the other way round (Rollins 2014; Liu et al. 2012; Titon 1978: 96, 98). In their fMRI study of freestyle rap, Liu et al. (2012) point out that the experience of not being the one who is actually creating the music while improvising might be connected to the decreased activity of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the increased activity of the medial prefrontal cortex. Their study suggests that this kind of brain activity reflects a state where conscious volitional control is absent and internally motivated, stimulus-independent behaviours are enabled. The deliberate, top-down attentional processes may be attenuated during improvisation, and this state of defocused attention enables the generation of novel, unexpected associations.
Limb and Brown’s (2008) research on jazz-musicians suggests that those regions of the lateral prefrontal cortex which are thought to be connected with conscious self-monitoring and focused attention are deactivated during improvisation, in contrast to playing of a memorised song. In the absence of conscious control, spontaneous, unplanned associations, sudden insights and random, unfiltered or unconscious thoughts and sensations are allowed to emerge. Limb and Brown’s study also suggests a possible connection between the altered state of mind during musical improvisation and the physiological change responsible for altered states of consciousness such as hypnosis, meditation or daydreaming – even REM sleep.
Although carried out in totally different musical genres, these research results may also explain something about the nature and function of the Karelian kantele improvisation. Armas Otto Väisänen described one playing situation as follows: “Gradually, as the same melody continued with constant variations, his body began to sink against the table, his eyelids closed, the old man played as if in a dream” (Engl. transl. by the author) (Väisänen 1990 , 42–46). In my experience, an improvising musician wanders inside their thoughts, which can float freely, and does not think about how or what should be played. The automatised playing technique takes care of the instrument and transforms the musician’s internal journey into a musical soundscape. At least at times, the resulting music seems to be created by the subconscious rather than the conscious self. The distinction with the kind of improvisation where the tempo, the pulse and the style are expected to follow certain rules is clear.
Perhaps one of the most fundamental differences between the performances of the old tradition kantele improvisation and most of the current musical genres is the attitude they show towards communal experience. In my experience, in the inner power improvisation with an altered state of consciousness, each individual reflects the music against their personal life history, past events and thoughts - in other words all the elements of identity. The experience is deeply personal and thus indivisible. This concerns both the musician and the listeners. Instead of being shared, the experience is more like a private, internal journey.
Interestingly, sight did not seem to play a significant role in the process of playing the kantele among the traditional players. The loss of sight only seems to have strengthened the importance of music, and even those musicians who could see did not follow the strings of the instrument or the fingers but “stared into the distance” (Tenhunen 2013: 53–55; Wartiainen 1923: 111, 126) or played with their eyes closed as in the quotation from Väisänen above. Even in some old runosongs collected from Ingria and the Karelian Isthmus, the only one who can make the kantele music alive is the blind musician (SKVR IV:2, 2020, 2021; V:1, 127, 129, 141, 158; XIII:1, 307, 312, 314, 338). These details emphasise the introverted nature of the music and would be an interesting subject to study further.
Another interesting question is the effect of illiteracy on the manner in which musician perceives musical structures. From the collected dance and church bell tunes, we know that Karelian kantele players were much more liberal than we usually are when making melodic and rhythmic variations and when combining various phrase lengths and metrics. It is likely that as a person who grew up in a literary culture, I may never be able to understand the illiterate way of improvising music, and that alone would doom my attempt to reconstruct the original music.
Thus, in the end my aim is not to create a reconstruction but an experience. A conflict arises when this music is put on stage. The original essence of the music vanishes as it is no longer a private journey of the musician but a performance directed at other people. The function of the music changes, and if it is introduced as a Karelian 19th century inner power kantele improvisation, it can be said to be staged. I am not innocent in this regard. The best moments I have lived with these instruments are those with no audience or video equipment and no recollection of what I have played, only a memory of the feeling.
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Equality and Freedom
This case study is an example of using the ancient tradition as a tool in a workshop for adults. The participants are encouraged to explore their own creativity by understanding the improvisational and varying nature of the original music. The principles of creative dialogue (Image 2) are strongly present and affect the processes.
In June 2021, we organised a five-day summer camp for adults in Ilomantsi, Finland, concentrating on how to make your own music based on the local runosong tradition. The participants had very different musical backgrounds: some participants had never played any instrument, while others had played the kantele a little or for several years but with a different playing technique on a modern kantele, and a few participants were professional musicians already well-acquainted with the old plucking technique. Foreign students were also present both on-site and online, and therefore both the English and Finnish languages were used. In the end, both the various musical backgrounds and the nationalities had very little to do with the actual process.
During the course, the participants studied the historical background of the tradition, the runosong texts and the special metre (with Liisa Matveinen as the teacher), local recorded runosong melodies, the special, old plucking technique on the kantele, improvisation based on the tradition and the possibilities of varying the melodies. After a couple of days, they began creating their own texts, melodies and kantele improvisations – some alone, some in groups. The video above (Video 4) demonstrates one creative process.
The main mindset among the participants was enthusiasm. They felt joy finding a way to express themselves through their own music and understood that in this tradition it was actually possible for everyone: they could be a creator and a performer at the same time and be equal with everyone else in that respect. While learning the basic elements of the musical tradition was an important part of the course, participants were given the freedom to invent and create new ways of expressing themselves if they wanted to, as this is what folk musicians have always done. Freedom and the right to self-expression through music was something that was considered self-evident by every member of this ancient musical culture. This is a fact that is often overlooked in the modern world of strictly separated roles.
Internalising the idea of equality helped the participants to trust and support each other. Exposing unfinished personal work in front of people you do not know can be daunting and highly restrictive unless the environment feels safe. The idea of extreme equality within music states that all sounds are right and OK, there are no wrong sounds. All you need to do is to make a choice at each moment. The next moment the choice may be different, but the choices are never right or wrong. They are only different possibilities from which you choose and move on to the next moment accordingly. This is pretty much the same thing that is often heard in today’s creativity education: It is OK to make mistakes – you can always do it differently next time if you wish. This philosophy is easy to implement with an instrument that, when properly tuned, has no false sounds.
The sense of equality also enabled constructive collaboration, where it was possible to accept different views and discuss them openly. When people felt that they all had a common goal to which everyone was allowed to find their individual route, they were also able to support each other. They felt responsible for one another and wanted to help others progress in their mission. It was not a competition, but a common experience, where everyone’s contribution was equally important and valuable.