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Embracing our Musical Heritage: What I Learned at Fiddle Club this Weekend

Saturday evening I went to a Fiddle Club of the World gathering to hear Finnish fiddler Arto Järvelä play with the American duo Kaivama. How was it, you ask? Click through to Arto's website and listen to the tune he has playing on the main page. Yes. Do it! Before reading any more, click the link. It'll open in a new window and the music player will start automatically.

Now multiply that sound by two exquisite fiddlers playing in harmony and add in a brisk rhythm from mandolin or guitar or a slow drone accompaniment on harmonium and you will understand why  the only word I have to describe the experience is, well, "incredible."

And what does this have to do with Chicago genealogy? Plenty, actually.

Kaivama musicians Sara Pajunen and Jonathan Rundman are Finnish-Americans hailing from Finnish immigrant communities in Michigan and Minnesota. During a break between tunes, Sara noted, with great feeling, the connection that the music provides to their cultural heritage.

In the midst of collecting names and dates and places, maybe even photos and family stories, let's not overlook the power that music has to strengthen our ties to our ancestors.

For an fascinating overview of ethnic music in Chicago, check out the "Ethnic Music" article in the Chicago History Museum's Encyclopedia of Chicago. Then, if you're in the Chicago area, here are a few examples of ways to learn more about the music of your ancestors:

  • Irish? Check out programming at the Irish-American Heritage Center. Click on the "Education" tab to explore classes in music and dance.

  • Swedish? Stop by the Swedish American Museum. I see both a dance and a jam on the calendar for March. 

  • Ukrainian? A search for the topic "music" in the Ukrainian National Museum's library catalog returns 80 results.

  • Polish? The Polish Museum of America has a music library with 4000 78rpm records donated by the family of a Polish music store owner.

If your ancestors came from other places or if you're not local, just Google. I suspect you'll be able to turn up all sorts of creative ways to learn about your family's musical heritage.

Arto, Sara, and Jonathan are touring the mid-west right now and they have concerts planned for Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, California, Oregon, and Washington. Kaivama Concert ScheduleIf you have Finnish ancestry and live near one of the cities they'll be visiting, or if you'd just like to be inspired to learn more about the music that accompanied your own ancestors through life, you should go. Really. You should go.


Greta Koehl said…
Thank you for posting this! I am a huge fan of Finnish fiddling (have JPP and Troka CDs, among others) and of Scandinavian fiddling in general, with cross-tuned fiddles, resonating strings, etc. Good to see that Chicago has a great ethnic music scene - looks like my daughter will be going to grad school there, so I hope to catch some of the music when we go to visit.
Chicago has a wonderful ethnic music scene. Check out the Old Town School of Folk Music website. Great stuff there.

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