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An Epic Revisited

March 28, 2017

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Two storytellers stand onstage, facing on another. They join hands and begin to sway gently back and forth – and sing. The presentation of Finland’s national epic, “The Kalevala”, at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle opened the way it traditionally is performed – in song. The song was simple, repetitive… almost hypnotic. By the time the fourth teller (each teller presented one chapter or Runo) made her entrance, the audience was spontaneously humming it. It became the glue that held this performance of Finland’s national epic together.

Sixteen storytellers from Washington, Oregon, California and Canada came together to create this six hour long performance. (Yes, there were two intermissions.) I’d lay odds that most of the audience had never heard an epic told or knew much of anything about this one.  But, surprising to us all, they stayed – a good many of them -for the entire epic. Some of the chapters were funny, others dramatic, even violent, and others full of lyricism. Each teller brought his or her own energy and interpretation to their telling. But what bound it all together was the music: first the song, then a guitar, a harp, and the kantele, a Finnish zither-like instrument, which is featured in the story.

A Demonstration of the Kantele

For those of us who told, it was grand – to watch our own carefully prepared and rehearsed chapter magically mesh with all the others to re-create an ancient tale… to see our audience become mesmerized by a centuries old mythology. Happy 100th birthday to Suoni…to Finland.

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