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36 String Kantele

World Music Instrument: Kantele

Sing the song of Kantele!

The kantele belongs to a large family of string instruments called zithers. Zithers have a resonating body with a variable number of strings, which can be plucked, strummed, struck, or bowed. In the case of the kantele, the strings are plucked or strummed and the smallest kanteles can be held in the player’s lap. The kantele is the national instrument of Finland. Finnish folk poetry recounts that the first kantele was made from the jaw bones of fish and the hair of young maidens. When the first kantele was played, the sound was so beautiful that all living things started to cry. Their tears rolled into the ocean, and when they touched the sea they turned into beautiful blue pearls.

This article is one in a series of reports on the fascinating variety of musical instruments that audience members encounter through Center for World Music programs. 

There are kanteles of many sizes: 5-string, 10-string, 11-string, all the way up to the 36-string concert kantele, as seen above.

My favorite instrument is the 5-string kantele. It is a very soulful and humble instrument. It teaches you to quiet your mind and allow the kantele to sing its stories–stories of hard winters and beautiful summer nights, stories of a resilient northern nation who fought hard for its independence.

 

You play the 5-string kantele by plucking the strings to create melodies. You can also strum chords by muting the strings that don’t belong to the chord. The strings of this small kantele are tuned to the first five pitches of the major or minor scale.

Larin Paraske, one of the great rune singers of Finland

Larin Paraske, one of the great rune singers of Finland.

The 5-string kantele is often taught in Finnish schools as the first instrument for young children. It encourages creativity, as it is easy to learn improvisation with this instrument. Children find the kantele fun because they experience the joy of playing together as a group. You do not have to be a Finn to appreciate and learn kantele.

Merja with her daughter and two other children

Merja, with her daughter, and two children.

I am a first-generation Finnish immigrant now living in the US, and for me, the kantele and Finnish music are the bridge that connects the two distant worlds.

2016 Christmas Revels – Northlands

2016 Christmas Revels – Northlands

When I close my eyes and let my fingers move across the strings of the kantele, I remember—I remember the Finnish spirit that is in me. The spirit that says keep going and never give up. All the while, singing the song of life through all the difficulties. Sing the song of the kantele!

Learn more about Merja at merjasoria.com. View a “vintage video” of Merja performing on a 10-string kantele soon after her arrival in the United States.

Merja Soria is a performer and teacher of Finnish folk music and a Center for World Music teaching artist.

Merja Soria

Merja Soria, Singing the Ancient Memories of Finland

Merja Soria, a native of Finland, was the first Finlandia Foundation Performer of the Year in 1996. She received a master’s degree in music at Sibelius Academy in Finland and has taught Finnish music at San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. In 2003 and 2006, Ms. Soria was featured in the Who’s Who in America, and in 2005 she received an award at SDSU for Academic Excellence and Community outreach. Merja has performed at the Los Angeles Music Center, Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., Toronto Centre For the Arts, Peninsula Music Fair and many other music festivals in the United States and Europe.

Last December Merja was the featured performer, the “tradition-bearer” at the 2016 Christmas Revels production in Washington D.C. The show celebrates the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year shifting toward light. The performances were seen by over 10,000 people. In December 2017 Merja will perform at the Christmas Revels production in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Ms. Soria’s CD Arctic Silence is a selection of ancient Finnish songs. A song from Arctic Silence was featured on the National Geographic Television’s program Beyond the Movie: Lord of The Rings.

Merja Playing

Currently, Ms. Soria teaches the young children of San Diego at her own music school, Miss Merja’s Music Room. Ms. Soria is dedicated to performing the touching music of Finnish heritage. She combines the kantele (Finnish folk harp) and voice to sing the haunting songs of Suomi. Finnish folk poetry tells that when the first kantele was played for the first time, the sound was so beautiful that everybody started to cry; when the tears touched the water of the ocean, they turned to pearls.

Her vocals are so haunting, her folk songs scholarship impeccable . . . Soria doesn’t need to clutter songs with much instrumentation, her voice carries the day all on its own.

Sing Out!

Events

Passport Series Spring 2018

Passport to Worlds of Music Spring Series 2018

The Center for World Music is pleased to announce an informal concert series of classical and folk music traditions that will immerse you in the sounds, aesthetics, cultural background, and meaning of music from a diverse selection of cultures from around the world.

Download the 2018 Passport to Worlds of Music Spring Series Flyer.


Saturday, February 17, 2018 – 7:00 PM
From Ireland to San Diego
The Máirtín de Cógáin Project
La Jolla

 

 


Sheela BringiSunday, March 4, 2018 – 7:00 PM
Raga, Roots & Re-imaginings
Sheela Bringi with Clinton Patterson
& Miles Shrewsbery
Encinitas

 


Merja SoriaSaturday, March 24, 2018 – 7:00 PM
Singing the Ancient Memories
of Finland

Merja Soria
La Jolla

 


Dornob TrioSaturday, April 21, 2018 – 7:00 PM
Classical and Folk Music of Iran
The Dornob Trio
La Jolla

 

 


Nomsa Burkhardt

Saturday, May 19, 2018 – 7:00 PM
Traditional Zulu Song, Dance,
& Stories

Nomsa Burkhardt
La Jolla

 


Venues

Kalabash School of Music and the Arts
5725 La Jolla Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037

Encinitas Branch Library, Community Room
540 Cornish Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024

Purchase Tickets


Financial support is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.
SDCAC Logo

 

Merja Soria

Singing the Ancient Memories of Finland

Singing the Ancient Memories of Finland is the third of five concerts in the Center for World Music’s Passport to Worlds of Music Spring 2018 series.

Merja Soria


Finnish folk poetry tells a story of the first time the kantele zither was played. The sound was so beautiful that everybody started to cry. When their tears touched the water of the ocean, they turned into pearls.


A native of Finland, Merja Soria performs the traditional music of her Finnish heritage. She combines the ancient kantele with the poignant sound of her voice to sing the haunting songs of Suomi (Finland).

Ms. Soria’s CD recording Arctic Silence is a selection of ancient Finnish folk songs, one of which was featured in the National Geographic Television’s program “Beyond the Movie: Lord of the Rings.”

In 1996 Ms. Soria was honored as Performer of the Year by the Finlandia Foundation. In both in 2003 and 2006, she was featured in Who’s Who in America. She has performed at the Los Angeles Music Center, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Toronto Centre For the Arts, the Peninsula Music Fair, and many other music festivals across the United States and in Europe. In 2016 and 2017, Merja was selected to represent Finland at the annual Christmas Revels production. The performances took place at the George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium in Washington D.C. and the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College, NH, reaching over 16,000 people.

Reviews

Her vocals are so haunting, . . . Soria doesn’t need to clutter songs with much instrumentation, her voice carries the day all on its own.
Sing Out!

Soria plays these traditional songs with wistful pleasure and a freshness, not so much in a strict traditional manner as in a creative style . . .
Dirty Linen

Certainly, she has stripped away the rackety style into which many modern players of this kind of music have fallen, and she has produced a shining example of Finnish roots music. . . . The quieter songs are absolute gems. . . . Merja’s shimmering kantele strings make Simon and Garfunkel seem overproduced.
New World Finn

. . . songs that sound as ancient as the roll of the seasons.
New World Finn

Purchase Tickets

Program

This program will be an intimate mini-concert, providing the audience opportunity to interact with the artist. Please note the schedule below is slightly different than other concerts in the series.

6:30pm – Doors open.
7:00pm – Performance begins. First set.
Intermission with light reception.
7:55pm – Second set.

This is a casual BYOB event. Feel free to bring refreshments for yourself and your friends.

We highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance. Because of the intimate and informal nature of the space, seating is limited to 35 guests. Only a small number of tickets will be sold at the door.

Tickets $20
Online Processing Fee $2

Listen to Merja’s music on YouTube.

Financial support is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.
SDCAC Logo