Where is Home?

Here is an article that was published last weekend in two papers in Finland, about my new documentary on Finnish Canadians and Americans and the impossibility of ever going home. Thanks for Mari Tiensuu, reporter, for taking an interest in the film! (click on the link below to see the full article in Finnish)

Mari Tiensuu Finland Aug 2014

filming last daysand btw, you can see the 90 second trailer for this film by clicking on the link at the top of this page: Trailer: Under the North Star



Under the North Star


Taala Pohjan tahden alla, on nyt kotomaame.

Under the North Star is your homeland.
Not mine, but yours. Your homeland. Kotomaamme.
A rich word, a rich world you share:
granite and birch, heavy rye porridge and Jukka’s freshly-smoked whitefish,
oil on our fingers.
This homeland a rich dish,
bedrock rolling to the sea.
Marja-Leena and Tuula doing yoga, the long day stretching with them into gold-red evening,
Matti’s quiet sauna wisdom and Liisa’s raiki helping
set tables settled stomachs, well-fed for bed
heavy snacks, bone-tired to the bone,
16 CDs, say Anneli and Mirja.
But there must have been a hundred hugs:
old friends, neighbors, family coming from miles.
This land, a reunion, like the smiles,
dense as the egg on our Karjalan Piirakka.

Mo mo mi mo mi mo ma.
You Finns. You sing, you sauna, you laugh (more than Swedes!) you dance,
Summer’s chance, a precious balance,
Each bringing something: smile like Tuulikki, sing like Tanya,
Niilo listening with tears, Paul’s quiet humour, Helen tracing our journey,
Eila hugs, Kristiina quietly joining in, Dianne so happy to speak French,
Hans’s shoes. We lose inhibitions, learn our tunes.
Dominic, Suomi-fanni, plays spoons
while Erkki jumps from magnificent aria,
to tux-free, bare-bellied accordion prance.
And down the bus aisle Marja and I dance as Markku answers his phone,
finding our next home, the women tapping their sternums.

Times taught tight as the chords of Siipeni Murtuneet.
From the piano our director’s outstretched arm directing, resurrecting, confecting harmony,
the one “we” Terhi brings from so many individuals,
the details, schedules, worries forgotten.
Heal our broken wings, we sing.
And don’t forget, she adds, bending at the waist to show us,
fingers plucking her hair as she straightens: Sing from your heart.
And up from the top of your head.

In two months this bay will be ice all the way to Sweden.
But for now it’s the sea, and the rock, the lingon-berries Ismo and Eeva-Liisa, Seija and Marjatta
bend to pick.
Three miles to the Russian border, says Pirkko. This is my home.
And we, these late summer sunshine days, happy pilgrims under Leo’s care across the land of the north star.
Taala Pohjan tahden alla, on nyt kotomaame.
The same North Star, Vaasudbury, Alskat Hemmontreal, Turkkubellingham.
Our home both here and there. Split citizens. Homeward bound, but which direction?
Meren tuolla puolen toisen kodon saamme. This is also true.

Taala on kuin kukkasella
aika lyhyt meilla.
Then comes the day. The final chords, the binders closed, the last programs handed out.
No more dressing in washrooms. We make our way. Away.
But wasn’t it just yesterday
we shook hands in Vaasa?
Now hugs, hands held, a tear, a sigh.
Sometimes if you can’t say what you feel,
You can still sing it.
Sama taivas sama maa. The same north star, wherever you roam.
This is your land. Not mine.
But I almost felt at home.

with Liisa


Lost in the Movement


Java Jive Kathryn 2013 (click to listen)

How do you describe the colour blue to someone who’s colourblind? You can’t, of course; or at least not very easily. But once you’ve actually seen the colour blue with your own eyes, well then….
Then (and only then) the “cobalt blue” of the sea, the “blue-green” of her eyes, the “navy blue” of the flag snapping in the breeze, the pale-washed blue of arctic ice, all make sense.

That’s the way harmony singing is for me. When I was young I was harmony-blind. I listened to Neil Young and Queen and April Wine and America on the radio growing up. I enjoyed the music, and even had a fairly easy sense of rhythm. But the notes? To me they were just one big wall of sound. Then on a bus when I was fifteen, a very patient musician taught me a simple, one-line harmony to “You are My Sunshine”, and despite my adolescent laziness forced me to repeat and repeat that harmony until I could sing it on my own against the melody.

And all of a sudden I started to see. I mean hear. It was like opening up that wall and realising for the first time in your life that there are studs and beams and gyproc and insulation and wiring and a whole world you’ve never suspected, behind the smooth paint.

Probably because I came fairly late to hearing and singing harmony, I’ve never been more than an amateur at it. But even so, what a gift it’s been. And what a simple and yet profound pleasure it is to DO it, to sing in harmony with someone else. For me, singing harmony is something like dancing. Really, it IS dancing: a kind of vocal dancing where sometimes you come in close for a swing or two, then you move further away, then you mimic each other until someone laughs, or maybe – in a choir or group – you together build such a complex, shifting pattern of sound that it’s a thing of aching beauty, all the more so for its ephemeral temporary existence.

So here’s my thanks to those who taught me to sing in harmony, and to hear it in others. To that first mentor, thank-you with all my voice. To Gerry Langner and the choirs he led, thank-you. To Mark Christensen and his lovely deep bass, Alan Solheim’s baritone, to the singers of the ’76 tour, to Wanda for the duets and the Clarence Ave girls for their quartets, to the Unconventionals and to Marginal Notes for years of madrigals and magic, and to all the rest since…. to my daughter for seeming to perfect the art of harmony, and to Kathryn for singing with me recently and reminding me of all this, thank-you.

You opened my ears to a tapestry of such complexity and beauty I cannot imagine having never heard it before. And you encouraged my earth-heavy voice in its own faltering attempts to lift off. I’m a late-flyer, but I’m still in the air, and celebrating the weaving and dancing of these harmonies as they flit around each other for the sheer pleasure of being lost in the movement.