The sound of Maija’s solo performances comes from simultaneously playing the kantele, percussion and singing on top. Maija’s percussion set includes a kick drum, cymbals, enamel pots, different shakers and wind bells made of for example clay, metal, and shells.
Maija’s main focus while making music is always on different sounds and moods. The instruments, especially the percussion instruments, in Maija’s solo set have changed during the years to meet Maija’s ideas and sound ideals.
There are many types and sizes of kanteles from 5-string kanteles to the 39-string concert kantele and everything between. There are about 5000 kantele players in Finland and the instrument has enthusiasts all over the world including the USA and Japan. The Kantele is a versatile instrument which adjusts to the needs of different musical genres and different players. The whole scene around the kantele is a forward thinking one with several luthiers developing the instrument further and teachers who always think of new ways to use this old instrument. The Kantele is the national instrument of Finland and its roots go back at least 2000 years. There are many kantele-like instruments in the Baltic countries and elsewhere.
There are also many ways to play the kantele: most commonly it is played by plucking with one's fingers, with a plectrum or by using a short wooden stick as a pick. There are also a variety of acoustic effects found on the kantele. The strings of the kantele are always open and to for example play chords on the instrument the player has to mute the strings that are not needed in the chord with fingers. The strings are made of the same material as piano strings: metal and the bass strings are covered with copper. Depending on the size, model and situation a kantele can be played on one’s lap, on a table or by hanging it around one’s neck. And depending on the playing style the kantele is played with either the longest or the shortest string closest to the player.
Maija’s favourite kantele model is the Saarijärven kantele, also known as the Saarijärvi kantele. The Saarijärven kantele has a rich and strong sound and it’s also easy to carry with you. Maija’s Saarijärven kantele has 23 strings: 16 melody strings and 7 bass strings.
The number of strings differ on Saarijärven kanteles: on many of the traditional kanteles of this model there are only three bass strings, but most players nowadays have five bass strings. During the years Maija has added more bass strings to her instruments with her father and nowadays Maija’s kanteles have seven bass strings. These extra strings allow Maija to play bass riffs in the way she wants.
The Saarijärven kantele is traditionally played by using a small wooden stick or a piece of leather as a pick. According to research this way of playing originates from Central Finland. The sound of the kantele changes with each pick material. Maija’s choice of a pick at the moment is a stick made of an orange tree.
SAARIJÄRVEN KANTELE COLLECTION
Maija’s Saarijärven kanteles, as well as many of Maija’s other instruments, have been made by Maija’s father Kari Kauhanen. Kari has developed the Saarijärven kantele according to Maija’s wishes for the past twenty years. As well as adding the extra bass strings they have curved the cover of the kantele which allows Maija to play the bass strings with a bow. They have also made a chromatic Saarijärven kantele as well as a kantele made with acrylic which one can see through!
Kanteles can be made from different types of wood of which each has their own distinct sound. The sound of the kantele depends on which woods are used for the cover and the bottom of the instrument. For example Maija’s Saarijärven kantele with a pine top has a very dark sound when compared with an instrument with a spruce top. The wood chosen for each instrument depends on the playing style and the sound ideal of the player in question. The most commonly used woods for kanteles are pine, spruce, alder, maple, ash and beech.
Maija has many small kanteles of different sizes and models which all have their distinct sound. Small kanteles have 5-20 strings and are often held in one's lap or hung on the neck while playing. Kari has made many different kanteles for various uses, but Maija also has instruments by other makers. The colours used on the instruments are earth pigments which have a bright hue, but let the wood resonate naturally.
On small kanteles Maija likes to imitate the playing styles of other string instruments. She has gotten inspiration from for example the accompanying techniques of the mandolin and electric guitar riffs. Maija plays small kanteles for example in the electro-folk band Okra Playground.
THE CONCERT KANTELE
The basic form of the concert kantele was developed about 100 years ago. The model used nowadays has 39 strings and it is fully chromatic. The concert kantele has a machinery with small levers with which the player can change the tune level of each string to flat, normal or sharp. The register of this largest kantele model in common use spans from F1 to c4.
Nowadays Maija uses the concert kantele most often in projects and in studio sessions. For Maija the main fascination of the concert kantele is the variety of sounds and acoustic effects. Maija’s concert kantele is made of alder, spruce and maple.
Learning how to play new instruments is a passion for Maija. Her collection includes for example a guitar, a mando-guitar, a harp, a bagpipe, a nyckelharpa, a harmonium, a fiddle, a jouhikko (an old Finno-ugric string instrument), flutes from around the world, a saxophone, different keyboards, effects, and about 20 different kanteles to mention a few. Maija has a deal with her father that every time she thinks of a new instrument she wants to play, her father makes her one and she’ll learn how to play it!
Maija uses the ideas she gets from new instruments and their sounds when making music on her kantele. When composing, improvising on her own, working in the studio and just playing for fun Maija is always on the lookout for new sounds. Her motto is “One doesn’t have to know how to play an instrument to be able to use it.” which was also the music making ideal of one of the most influential kanteleplayers of the 20th century Martti Pokela.
Harmonium (Pump Organ)
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