Kalevalaic rune singing and oral composition in the Finnish new wave folk music

Heidi Haapoja

In a larger scale, the contemporary Finnish new wave folk music scene was born in year 1983 when Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department was established. After that, there has been a lively, professional and active folk music field in which new pedagogical methods and creative musical approaches have been created. The music made within this genre is often a mixture of traditional elements, avantgardistic improvisation and popular and world music fusion.

The head of the new wave runosong phenomena has been folk music group Värttinä that in 1990’s combined Ingrian and Karelian runosongs, self-made kalevalaic verses, characteristic and unique singing style, band instruments, and popular music conventions. During the 21st century there has been various styles, groups and artists. Some bands/artists follow Värttinä’s way and their popular music oriented style, some seek new and unique sounds, and some want to find a tradition-based, “archaic” way to understand storytelling and “long-lasting aesthetic”.

Almost every group or artist among this field share a mutual feature in their music making: so called oral composition is often present in the process. The musicians learn the songs by operating with a commonly used method that researcher Juniper Hill (2009) has called simulated oral composition. In this method the musical and textual material are learned by studying different versions (notations, archive recordings, literal rune texts etc.) of the songs/runes and by combining them together creatively. Based on my interview data and autoethnographic experiences, I have concluded that the ways of composition in a performance in the new wave rune singing are often a mixture of planning-in-advance, memorization, and composition (or with the language of musicians: improvisation) in performance that has certain frames based on traditional material and the conventions inside the genre.