Hytkypolkka ja hyppivä puuhevonen - Folk musician as a composing instrumentalist

Pauliina Syrjälä
Publishing year: 

University of the Arts Helsinki, Sibelius Academy
MuTri Doctoral School
Folk Music Department
Doctor of Music degree, Arts Study Programme

Hytkypolkka ja hyppivä puuhevonen – Folk musician as a composing instrumentalist (PDF)
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My artistic doctoral degree “Hytkypolkka ja hyppivä puuhevonen – Folk musician as a composing instrumentalist” consists of five artistic parts, two peer-reviewed articles and a summary. The essential themes of the research project have been composing through improvisation and studying tradition through playing. From these themes emerged the need to examine the essence of folk musicianship more generally, as so far little has been written about the phenomena connected to today’s Finnish academic folk musicianship.

In my work, a kantele model from the end of the 19th century assumes an important role. This Jooseppi Pohjola kantele, as I have named it, is played with a wooden stick. I have also developed new playing techniques and ways of using the instrument. The five concerts in this doctoral project included my compositions for the Jooseppi Pohjola kantele, experimental improvisation and an in-depth exploration of the traditions related to the instrument. The first concert, “Lunkula – Compositions for the Jooseppi Pohjola kantele” (2013), was the artistic starting point of the project. The second concert, “Hienohelma (princess) and a jumping wooden horse – Rough traditional music for kantele” (2014), was based on traditional material that I had learnt by listening to archival recordings. “Vaaralla – Experimental encounters”, the third concert (2016), involved experimental improvisation as a trio. The aim of the concert was to discover new tone colors and playing techniques. The fourth concert, “Pohjolan Pauhu – A composition for ten Jooseppi Pohjola kanteles”, was a piece for ten musicians, in which I utilized the tone colors and playing techniques I had discovered during the course of the research process at that point.

My thesis includes two peer-reviewed articles and an introduction, which also summarizes the whole study. The first article, “Kantele players Arvi, Aarne and Alfred – Researching the traditional stick-playing styles through music making” (Etnomusikologian vuosikirja 2018), concentrates on stick-playing, which is one of the Finnish kantele traditions. The article is based on analyzing the personal styles of three musicians who represent the stickplaying tradition. I also seek to answer the question how a musician studies traditional styles through playing. The second article “Lempeä nostattamassa – Folk musician as an improvising composer” (Ruukku 2020), is in the form of an exposition. I examine a style of 8 composing that is based on improvising and explain the process of working as a composer that performs their own works. The Introduction summarizes the themes of the entire project. In it, I shed light on the background and methods of my artistic research and on the relationship between the concerts and the thesis.

One of the central aims of my study has been to verbalize the methods I use. Literature on the artistic practices of professional Finnish folk musicians is scarce, and letting the musicians themselves put their tacit knowledge of music making into words is highly important. Explicating my personal working methods to others is meaningful for the research on folk music. The methods I have developed emerge from musicianship and playing. The most important method I have used in studying the stick-playing tradition has been observing through playing. It is based on the careful listening of archival recordings and playing along with them. This method has enabled me to discover how the musician playing on the archival recording has executed his music technically. This method requires the researcher to have an in-depth understanding of the stick-playing tradition, in terms of both theory and practice. I decided to call the composing method I use improcomposing through playing. It is an instrumental approach based on using improvisation as a tool for composing. In the exposition I illustrate these practices through describing how my piece Lemmennosto (2013) originated.

Professional Finnish folk musicians employ a host of different methods when it comes to creative work. I illustrate this by examining the activities of a composer who performs their own works. Within the Finnish folk music pedagogy, creativity is a highly important value in itself, and this influences the diversity of the field. Each musician expresses their creativity in a way that feels most natural to them. In my study, I point out that different characters and individuality are an asset and a strength for the Finnish folk music field. A low-threshold approach to composing and encouraging students to improvise could be utilized in music education on a much wider scale. Professional folk musicians would have a lot to offer in this regard.

Keywords: kantele, folk musician, composing, improvisation, tradition, stick-playing, artistic research

© 2020 Pauliina Syrjälä
Kustantaja: Taideyliopiston Sibelius-Akatemia
Kansi: Jan Rosström / Taideyliopiston Sibelius-Akatemia
Kannen kuva: Jimmy Träskelin
Taitto: Alec Havinmaa
ISBN 978-952-329-152-2 | ISSN 2489-7981 | ISSN 2489-8163
EST 52 | Sibelius-Akatemian kansanmusiikkijulkaisuja 34 | etno.net/tohtoriopinnot