February 4, 2016

Migrations @ the Minnesota Orchestra

The Minnesota Orchestra tunes up before the Thursday a.m. performance.   The Playbill included the poems from Cloud Birds and Echo and Lightning that the composer used in his music! The symphony performance evoked the sound of water and wind. The sound was strong and layered. The YL Male Choir and Lilli Paasikivi (Mezzo) sang the lyrics.  Great voices!

Scroll down to see the story of the text.

Here's a review: "lush, haunting cantata with painterly images from the poet..." https://www.minnpost.com/artscape/2016/02/six-reasons-hear-minnesota-orchestra-play-kullervo

Here's a review: http://www.twincities.com/2016/02/04/minnesota-orchestra-review-vanska-delights-with-animated-passion-during-masterpiece-by-finlands-sibelius/

Duluth News Tribune article: http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/ae/music/3939461-immigration-celebration-duluth-poets-work-accompany-finnish-composers-premiere

The Story of the Text: 

The poems existed first, and Olli Kortekangas created the music for them. We communicated regularly via email and since then we have met in person. He was very sensitive to the content and rhythms of the poems but it was necessary for some lines to be altered slightly and some lines to be omitted in the music. We consulted about these necessary changes and he sent me early sketches of his composition.

The poems are from my two books, Cloud Birds and Echo and Lightning.

The titles were changed on a few of the poems to enable the audience to understand the arc of this musical story: Two Worlds, Resurrection, The Man Who Lived in a Tree, and Music We Breathe.

"Two Worlds" (Cloud Birds) explores the two worlds of past and present, this world and the next world. An interesting connection was made. A line in the poem refers to a hymn I had sung in Kokkola, while visiting a second cousin, Mikko Himanka, a retired minister. Kortekangas asked me specifically which hymn, and I was able to identify it for him, and it happened to be a hymn he had sung in childhood. The sound of this hymn is echoed in the musical composition. Also the mirror image created in the poem also occurs in the music.

The next poem, "Resurrection," is the poem "Migrations" in Cloud Birds. In the book, the poem has an inscription, a quote by the poet HD, "In resurrection is confusion...." from her long poem, "The Flowering of the Rod," and the word resurrection better reflected the meaning of the poem.

The third poem is from Cloud Birds as well. "The Man Who Lived in a Tree," is a narrative poem about a Finnish immigrant to America who worked in an underground iron mine but contracted a lung disease and returned home to Kalajoki, Finland to die. While ill, he hoisted himself into the limbs of a tree and did not want to descend. This is a story I learned when I visited the graveyard in Kalajoki where some of my ancestors are buried. My relative Mikko Himanka told me the story.

The fourth poem, "The Music We Breathe," is titled "What Is Found" and it is from the third section of Echo and Lightning.

Migrations has long been a metaphor for me as a poet. All of my grandparents are from the western side of Finland, and I grew up immersed in the Finnish language and culture. I believe that immigration affects families deeply, particularly in relation to borders, language and landscape. Immigrants make massive transitions as they enter a new culture and language, and many believe that speaking a new language brings out different parts of the self. Some feel they are a different self in the new language. This is perhaps why my grandmother was reluctant to speak English; she wanted to preserve an important part of her self identity. She lived in Minnesota, but she rarely left Finnish language and culture. This was a border that she kept. Also I think that landscape exists also internally, in the psyche, and this influences us. Although I did not learn to speak Finnish very well, my English has picked up the Finnish rhythms. Because poems are physiological, their breath --the words, meters, rhythms and sounds --are re-created in the reader. To read my work is to experience the north landscape.

I myself am most comfortable on borders, and less so in the midst of things. As a poet/artist, I also perceive the permeability of borders. I can cross back and forth into Finnish and American culture. My work is always narrative, but it does cross the border of genres and perhaps exists in a state of "between."

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