The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, December 03, 2007

An un-Finnish-ed song

By Tamara Lee

Time to confess: I have a bit of a crush on Finland.

Nothing I can’t handle, really. Nothing too embarrassingly obsessive. Except for those occasional late-night googlings when I can’t sleep and suddenly need to remember the dates of the Greater Wrath and the Lesser Wrath Russian occupations. Or wonder what Finns do for fun on the days when the night doesn’t stop. Holy Hannah, I have to increase my vitamin D dosage just to get over the winter humps here on the 49th parallel; I can’t imagine what the Finns need to do to get over theirs.

So I googled some more. And discovered Finland has several times been voted among the happiest countries in the world. The big little country that could, I say. Maybe having endured battle after occupation after battle, near extinction of their language, and all manner of yearly weather obstacles, they are settling into themselves. Well-earned self-acknowledgement can do that.

Truth be told, I can’t say if I know many, or any, Finns, but over the years the king of Finn-droll, filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki, has given me a sense of what I might expect. Kaurismäki films—from the wacky Leningrad Cowboys series; to his darkly hopeful variation of La Vie de Bohème; to the much-loved The Man Without a Past—have all left an indelible impression on me. Yes, my Kaurismäki-crush is long-standing but I’m now extending my arms to the whole blessed country.

Why all this potentially creepy enthusiasm over this faraway land? A couple of weeks ago, I joined a chorus, and one of the first songs I’m learning is a Finnish carol, “On lapsi syntynyt meille”. After boldly, even somewhat proudly, blurting out a line of the song to a bemused Finn stranger the other day, I know my Finnish is wholly unrecognisable. But no matter. I’m learning, or relearning I suppose, after a 30-year absence, to sing again. My throat, once occupied by a heavy smoking habit, has been cold long enough and...forgive me...held hostage by shower walls. I’ve treated mia voce poorly, mocked it, let it be ridiculed just to get a laugh, and otherwise kept it tethered.

Today, while I was supposed to be working to deadline, I snuck in a search of “Finland” again, and learned that on December 6 the country will celebrate 90 years of independence. After, as one official website notes: "Proclaiming independence in the throes of the Russian revolution of 1917...a courageous step in an uncertain situation, with no guarantee of success." No wonder they’re so damned happy. They know what it means to shake off years of impediments.

And I think I get that. So even when the chorus performs later this month for a small group of friends and family, I’ll know no one understands what we’re saying, Finn or not. But I'll also know that that is hardly the point of the exercise anyway.

On lapsi syntynyt meille ja poika annettu on.
Hänessä elämän löysin, Jumalan suosion.
Hän on sen ylhäisen koitto, mi maailmaa valaisevi,
vaan ehkä hänen soittons' maan ympär' kajahtavi.

Maan päällä, metelin alla se kansa, kansa soitti,
vaan piltin hartioilla se Herruus lepäilevi.
Hän on sen ylhäisen koitto, mi maailmaa valaisevi,
vaan ehkä hänen soittons' maan ympär' kajahtavi.


(Images: Top, from La Vie de Bohème; Bottom, The Salvation Army Band from The Man Without a Past. Lyrics from "On lapsi syntynyt meille")


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

So glad you've unwrapped your voice, Tamara. Must be quite liberating. I knew a few Finns when I lived in Minnesota and there's a robust community of them in Thunder Bay. During a visit there I got the impression Finns were especially proud of their pancakes. That's it -- the sum total of my knowledge of Finns.

Mon Dec 03, 12:54:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Do you know the Finnish shouting men's choir,? You can see them do a couple of numbers on youtube! I tried to post a youtube inbedded video in this comment, but blogger wouldn't let me.

Mon Dec 03, 05:39:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Also, I can't spell embedded. And I don't know how to do a hyperlink properly. But I do like Finland!

Mon Dec 03, 05:40:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

On second thought I think I would like to be inbedded.

Mon Dec 03, 05:41:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Thanks, Tricia. I've never been a big fan of pancakes, but maybe I just need to try a Finn-style one though.

And Andrew... I couldn't get the site's audiofiles to work, but that group seems like something I'd want to hear :)

Mon Dec 03, 11:04:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Tiernapoikafani said...

I'm still wondering... how on earth a Canadian chorus came to sing a carol in Finnish?

Nevertheless, I can't help giving a piece of additional information (we Finns always love it): The carol comes from the beloved traditional Christmas play in Northern Finland, called Tiernapojat ("Star boys"). It is usually performed by a traveling band of four teenagers with varying level of musical skills. A more thorough explanation in English was written by somebody called Kutri at her website.

Mon Dec 17, 03:10:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Thank you for the additional info! I'll be singing tonight, and I'm a bit nervous, but I'll get to come into it now with a greater sense of the song. I'll look into that site you suggested. I am especially relieved to hear about the 'varying levels of musical talents.'

Our instructor/conductor is a very interesting woman, with wide-ranging musical tastes, but the song is in a great collection called something like 'Carols from Around the World.'

Mon Dec 17, 03:32:00 pm GMT-5  

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