Tämä haastattelu julkaistiin Värttinän kotisivuilla 2000-luvun alussa

Former Värttinä member Kari Reiman Speaks About Runos

Q1) One thing that's still confusing to westerners is the concept of "runo". What exactly is runo: song, poem, poem set to music? How does it differ from "rune"? What are the characteristics? What role did runo play in the music of your early days and what role does it play in your music today?

KR: Runes are most often connected to rune stones, which can be found in Scandinavia, but not many in  Finland. They are often memorials to persons, sons and fathers, who died at sea or in wars. They were written using a certain alphabet which is not very close to the one we know now.

The word runo is Finnish and its original meaning was "singer" or "wizard". Nowadays the meaning has changed and most people read it as "poem" (in any style) or  "song" (in Kalevala style). To be more specific, we call the old songs "runo songs" instead of just "runos". Before western influences, runos were the most common songs in Finland along with laments, which are even older.
Slowly but surely, runos escaped the western styles to the east, where most of our runo collections were written down on the 19th century. The collections are huge, and what's really great, maybe unique in the world, is that you can buy a big part of those collections as a book. The book has 34 parts, it's almost 2 meters wide in the bookshelf.

Runo songs are sung with a certain poetic style which we nowadays call "Kalevala style", since Kalevala was compiled from ancient runos and uses this poetic Finnish language of runos. This style has certain rules, like 8 syllables per line, and instead of rhymes at the end of the line, this style has rhyming syllables in the beginning of each word on a line, etc.

On OI DAI we used both runos and a more modern traditional style, called "reki songs", which especially Sari was much fond of and she is still doing that style on her solo album. Later on our style has moved closer and closer to runo style, and on the last albums we have had no reki songs at all.

The age of old runos is not known. Anyway, they are hundreds of years old, some of them more than a thousand years. The age can be determined by their topics, for example some runos have detailed descriptions of Viking era war costumes. Some of the runos, the epical ones, tell about old gods and
heroes, some of them, the lyrical ones, talk about human feelings. Many Värttinä lyrics use expressions of the lyrical runos. We also have one song close to epical style: Merten kosijat. A third form of runos is "loitsu" or "loihto", a spell. The spells were used to heal diseases, snake bites, wounds and even love problems. Lemmennosto on Seleniko and Kivutar and Äijö on Ilmatar are based on spells. Spells were not originally sang at all, but recited with a gloomy voice.  Ismo Alanko does an example of this in

Q2) It seems that the next critical step in Varttina evolution was the exploration and incorporation of music from other Finno-Ugric regions into your music. For example: Setu, Mari, Ingria and many others seemingly too numerous to remember. Can you please identify all these different related cultures and describe how they are connected to Karelian tradition and how you used them in Varttina music?

KR: "Pihi neito" is a traditional Setu song, "Marilaulu" and "Matalii ja mustii" from the Mari Republic. "Yks on huoli" is from Mordovia. Many of our traditional songs are from Ingria. Finno-Ugric peoples have many similarities in their cultures, especially in language. Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian are the best known Finno-Ugric languages. In addition to the similarities in language, their handicraft, folk arts and folk music have many common features.

Q3) How much is the music of these other Finno-Ugric cultures a part of Varttina music today? Do they continue to play an integral role or are they merely influential?

KR: On OI DAI and SELENIKO we had some traditional songs from other Finno-Ugric cultures, but on the last albums we only have original songs, which, of course, are influenced a lot by these Finno-Ugric styles. For example, the c-part of "Laulutyttö" is very much like a melody from Mari
Republic. One well known Finno-Ugric people is the Sámi people in Lapland.
Their vocal music is called joik or yoik. The riff on the background of "Laulutyttö"'s a-part is actually an old joik melody as well as the riff on the background of "Outona omilla mailla"'s a-part. Many of the composed melody parts on Kokko, Vihma and Ilmatar sound very much like traditional Ingrian or Karelian melodies. Karelian runo singing was almost never done with harmonies. However, many other Finno-Ugric peoples use harmonies, which are very specific to each of these peoples. Mordovians, Setus and Ingrian Finns have styles of their own. Värttinä's harmony style is a combination of many styles added with our own ideas. When two or more folk singers try to improvise harmonies, it often happens that the notes on the back beat are the ones that each singer is changing, so that the actual melody line is still recognizable in each harmony line. This style easily causes very strange chords (to western ears) with small intervals, mostly on the back beats, and it is not heard as harmony, its more like a sound or commotion only. And because it happens on the back beat, it gives the song a certain rhythm. This is one of the distinctive elements in our harmonies. Then we have added different Finno-Ugric styles to that: drones, close harmonies etc. I think the result is a style that cannot be found anywhere else.

Q4) How are Varttina's lyrics written? What are the key elements in the lyrics that remain true to Karelian tradition?

KR: We have maintained most of the rules of runo style, except the rule of eight syllables.

Q5) What is the exact dialect in which the Varttina singers are singing? Is this something Finns can understand? Why do you sing in this dialect if no one can understand the words?

KR: The words in our lyrics are quite understandable, usually to Finns, that is. But the style of poetry is not easy to understand if you're not familiar with it. Some Finns have a very hard time reading them. For example, all Irish tunes might sound the same to somebody who doesn't know the style or
know which are the things to listen to in this style. In the same way, people who don't know runo style cling to the most obvious and superficial elements of the style and they can't hear what's inside the words. If you are able to go beyond that barrier, runo language is easy to understand and you can really appreciate all the beautiful expressions in it. To be honest, I hated Kalevala style at school times, but now I love it. Once you get into it, you'll find out that it is the most beautiful way of handling Finnish language. It is a great style of poetry which has developed for hundreds of years. When any form of art is so old, it becomes more and more complex and so full of small nuances that it's not easy to understand. The dialect is
not the thing that makes runos difficult to understand. Most of the words in our lyrics are in the eastern dialect, but it is very close to general Finnish. Another thing that makes the lyrics hard to understand when sung, is that in runo singing the words are often stressed on the the "wrong" syllables. In spoken Finnish the stress is always on the first syllable, but runo style has much more freedom in this. When you here the lyrics as sung, it is difficult to tell, where one word begins and the other word starts. That makes the sound of runos even more musical, in my opinion. It is a style created for music and singing.

Of course, an artist should think about the audience to a degree, but I think it is more important that we make the music and lyrics to please ourselves. Even though the audience who can actually relate to both the
lyrics and music the same way as we do is very small, the only way to get real satisfaction out of making music is to do what we think is good and what makes us feel good. Fortunately there are many people who understand our lyrics and even more who understand our music, or at least they seem to.

Q7) How do you manage to convey contemporary feelings with such ancient lyrical style and content?

KR: The topics we use for lyrics are not tied with time. Love, hate and other human feelings will always be the same.

Q8) How do the English translations differ from the actual lyrics? Is there a lot of meaning missing?

KR: Of course you lose the form of the text as soon as you translate it. You also lose the rhymes in the first syllable and the particular sound of the language. In Finnish culture a spruce tree or a duck might have quite different symbolic meanings than in English. So, if you accept that the form, sound and some symbolism is lost, what's left is the general outlines of the story and message. Translating poems is always difficult but translating runos is much more difficult, because sometimes the outward aesthetics of a runo sentence is more important than the information in it. Mats Hulden does a great job translating our lyrics, keeping the meaning and much of the poetry.

Q9) What are the key elements in the melodic structure of Varttina songs? How much of this is traditional?

KR: Most of the runo songs use very few notes. Sometimes five, sometimes just two. And they have only one part, which is often very short. One example of that kind of very simple and short melody is "Tupa täynnä tuppasuita" on OI DAI where the melody (in 7/4) has a length of only one bar. It was quite hard to make that one bar melody a three-minute song! Already on OI DAI we started to combine traditional short melodies to make a more complicated new song, or use different melodies as instrumental parts.
Like "Viikon vaivane" has two other traditional melodies as instrumental parts. Finding suitable melodies for each song was a big job. So finally we started to compose those parts, like "Leppiäinen" has a traditional a-part and a composed b-part. When working with that melodic world so long it was often easier to compose a suitable b-part in the same style, than try to find a traditional part to suit the a-part. Later on, I found it easiest to just write the whole song in traditional style.  So, the overall structure of Värttinä songs is not so traditional because most of our songs are built on a western styled AB or ABC format, comprising
many individual parts inside. These can be either straight traditional or traditionally fashioned. That's where you'll find most of our traditional musical elements. Traditional runos only have one part, which is improvised throughout the song, sometimes so much that the melody is quite different in the end of the song. Sometimes in the future it would be nice to try to do a Värttinä song this way. One of the nice characteristics of runos is the uneven rhythm. Most of the traditional runos are in 5/4 or 4/4 but in many
songs, when the singer is fitting words to a melody, the rhythms become very complicated and uneven. The first line might have 11 beats, but the next line 9,10 or 13. We like those uneven rhythms and ever since OI DAI's "Viikon vaivane" (in 28/8) there's always been something in that style on our albums, for example on the ILMATAR album, the song Kivutar is in 14/4+37/8.

The instrumental music in the runo era had similar melodic ideas as the songs. The instruments used were: jouhikko (bowed lyre), kantele (5-string instrument in the family of zithers) and different kinds of pipes and
whistles. Jouhikko was used for dance music while the wind instruments were used for personal pleasure by a shepherd might be watching over his sheep or cows. These shepherd tunes were often improvised and usually had no specific structure. To me, their melodies often sound very much like music from Bretagne. Other people think so, too: often people say that something in our music sounds 'celtic'. Värttinä's instrumentals use both songs and shepherd melodies as inspiration. For example Kamaritski is a mixture of two runo melodies and one shepherd melody played with a truba, a trumpet-like instrument made of alder and birch bark.

The melodies in runo singing are not tied to a certain text. When singing a runo, the singer can pick any of those traditional melodies, for example the melody of Oi Dai or Travuska etc. But there is one melody which is far more used than any other.  It is still a living tradition. If someone is asked to sing "Tuu tuu tupakkirulla" or "nuku nuku nurmilintu", most people can do it.  That melody is even nowadays used for lullabye texts by EVERY mother. That melody was so common during the days of the collection that it is called the "Kalevala melody".  It might be fair to say that approximately one third of runo melodies in any given collection are some kind of variation of this melody. Even "Niin Mie Mieltynen" on Aitara has a variation of this melody in its a-part.