Making and Playing a Finnish Kantele with John C. Van Orman



Date: August 13 – 16, 2020 (4 days)

10 am – 5 pm

Skill Level: Some woodworking experience helpful

Class Registration Fee: Early Bird – by July 24, 2020: $320.00

After July 24, 2020: $350.00

The kantele is a traditional instrument of the Finnish people, categorized as a lap harp, and deeply tied to the folklore and folk music of Finland. Kanteles have a distinctive ringing sound, due to the absence of a nut or bridge, and the use of wire for the strings.

The origin of the kantele is attributed to a mythical Finnish sage and shaman by the name of Väinämöinen. The first one he built was made from the jawbone of a giant fish and a few hairs from Hiisi’s stallion. The music it made drew all the forest creatures near to wonder at its beauty.  Later, after losing and greatly grieving over his kantele, Väinämöinen made another from birch, strung with the hair of a willing maiden, and its magical powers proved equally profound. That original kantele had only five strings, like most that were made and played up until the 17th and 18th centuries, and which were used to accompany the singing of traditional epic poems and stories.

Students in this class will be building the traditional, 5-string small kantele.  First, the sound box will be constructed and finished; then the instrument will be strung.  On the final day, students will be instructed in the rudimentary techniques of playing their new instrument.

This class will be an excellent introduction to the craft of building musical instruments.

Materials fee: (To be collected directly from students by instructor in class): $50.00

John C. Van Orman began building folk music instruments professionally at Here Inc. in Minnesota in 1976. From 1978 to 1993 he worked at North American Carousel and Cart Manufacturing Co. where he was design engineer and shop foreman. During that period he engaged in building historical replicas of wagons, amusement rides, artillery, stage sets and signage while continuing to design and construct musical instruments.  He has served on the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Folk Festival, and of the Arkansas Craft School. He was Music Director at the Ozark Folk Center from 2000 to 2006 where, in addition to his other duties, he oversaw a documentation project to digitize forty years of nightly amphitheater concert recordings. From 2010 to 2017, he was instructor of Anthropology, Sociology, and Russian culture and language at Ozarka College.  He was also an instructor at the Arkansas Craft School, where he taught students to build ukuleles, mountain dulcimers, and pirogues, the flat bottomed canoes of the southern U.S.

John holds an MA in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies from the University of Kansas, and a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Hamline University. In 1995 he traveled to China in order to study performance on China’s oldest stringed instrument, the guqin, his research on the instrument being published in academia, and earning him honors including the Sidney DeVere Brown Award. His graduate thesis was focused on the music traditions of the Turkic-speaking peoples of Siberia, a subject in which he had become interested after visiting the Altai Republic. He was a FLAS Fellowship recipient in support of his studies at Ivano Franko University in L’viv, Ukraine where he conducted research on the blind minstrels of that nation.

John is a multi-instrumentalist and singer, and has performed regionally in the Midwest and in the Ozarks – solo, as a duo with Adam Helwin, and with the band, Finnegans Wake.

Here’s the lovely sounds of the Finnish kantele, with an ancient Finnish lullaby, “Nuku, Nuku” played by Merja Soria:

Your registration includes your lunches, and one free admission to Saturday night’s Ice Cream Social.