Juhannus 2018: Interview with Jim Kurtti, director of the Finnish American Heritage Center

Jun 12, 2018

Jepokryddona ("Spice of Jeppo") will headline the area's Juhannus celebration.
Credit Finlandia.edu

Jim Kurtti, director of the Finnish American Heritage Center at Finlandia University, spoke on the phone with Kurt Hauswirth regarding this year's Juhannus 2018, the annual mid-summer festival to celebrate Finnish heritage and the communities in Hancock, Toivola and Jacobsville.

Jim Kurtti, director of the Finnish American Heritage Center at Finlandia University
Credit Finlandia.edu

The Finnish folk band Jepokryddona (“Spice of Jeppo”) will headline the area’s Juhannus celebration, performing the upbeat, lively tunes that represent the heritage of their part of Finland, and offer workshops in their region’s music tradition. Jepokryddona is a folk group made up of Swedish-speaking Finns who, for the most part, play traditional wedding music from Jeppo. Led by Christine Julin-Häggman — a Sibelius Academy graduate and native of Jeppo — the band (which was founded in 1994) consists mostly of students of the region’s music school, where Häggman teaches.

As part of Finnish American Folk School programming during the festival, the band members will offer lessons in traditional Finnish folk dance, greatly inspired by the minuet, as well as a class (presentation and jamming) on the traditional wedding tunes of Jeppo. The programming will take place June 22 and 23 at the Finnish American Heritage Center (FAHC) in Hancock and in the nearby community of Toivola. 

Festival programming gets under way at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 23 with the raising of the Midsummer pole on Quincy Green in Hancock, next to the FAHC. That ceremony will include a performance by Jepokryddona, who will then invite interest folks to join them inside the FAHC for instruction in Finnish folk dance. 

Along with their offerings at the FAHC, the band will offer a folk music workshop at 4 p.m. that afternoon in Toivola, then perform for a dance at Toivola’s Agate Beach for that community’s traditional Juhannus celebration. They’ll play for the evening dance from 7-9 p.m., culminating with a performance along the shore of Lake Superior as the kokko (bonfire) is lit.

Registration for dance workshops with Jepokrydonna are $10 per individual or $15 per couple; music workshops with the group are $10 per person. To register for a workshop, call (906) 487-7549.

Jepokryddona’s time in the Copper Country wraps up on Sunday, June 24 with a concert at the historic Finnish Lutheran Chapel in Jacobsville. Organizers encourage concert-goers to come as they are, and pay what they can, to enjoy the musical talents of this young group in one of the region’s most picturesque and significant Finnish-American sites. Attendees are also encouraged to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy while socializing with other guests after the concert.

Jouhikko – the instrument people hate to love

There’ll be plenty of other Finnish American Folk School offerings at Juhannus as well. Hancock resident and stringed instrument builder Alice Margerum will lead a workshop in the construction of the Finnish instrument jouhikko. 

On June 22-23 (the class will take place over two days, and attendance both days is required), Margerum will instruct a maximum of 12 students on assembling the ancient Finnish lyre known for its droning sound, including making and attaching the horsehair strings typically included on a traditional instrument. Whereas Jepokryddona represents western Finnish music tradition, the jouhikko hails from the east regions known as Karelia.

Once students have assembled their jouhikkos, they’ll have an opportunity to learn to play them, taught by Clare Zuraw, a Copper Country resident who’s a veteran music instructor. Clare, like many other area musicians, has been swept up in the recent resurgence of interest in the jouhikko, so much so that she and Alice have formed a jouhikko ensemble, aptly named Jouhikombo. Zuraw’s workshop, which will take place in Toivola from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., is open not only to the folks from the building class, but also those who’ve caught the wave of jouhikko and want to further develop their skills.

Registration for the jouhikko building workshop is $135 per person (which includes all materials except the bow) and includes a seat in the jouhikko playing workshop. Those interested in only the playing workshop will pay $10 per individual. To sign up for these classes, call (906) 487-7549.

Juhannus is an annual celebration at Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center, incorporating Finnish American Folk School (FAFS) workshops into a festival atmosphere. The FAFS, which is made possible by a grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, is designed to provide instruction in Finnish folk arts, with a goal of creating a new generation of tradition bearers in Michigan’s Copper Country and beyond. 

For more information about this festival, visit www.finlandia.edu/juhannus, or call (906) 487-7302.