Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ikaalinen, Finland

Signpost The idea to go to Ikaalinen came from finding out about the Sata-Häme Soi Accordion Festival that happens there every year. Miriam actually plays accordion, and I would if I had one, plus we just thought it sounded like a fun way to go somewhere beyond Helsinki. From Helsinki it was a 2 hour train to Tampere, then a 1+ hour bus ride out to Ikaalinen, then a walk out to a small island on the lake, where we found our lodgings in a campground that rents little cabin rooms. The festival is a week long, but we just went for a day of it.

Dancing in the Park For a supposedly international accordion festival, most of the music we heard seemed to be Finnish, or stuff for ballroom dancing. Nothing wrong with that, but not quite what I was expecting. Probably if we had gotten there for the actual championship accordion competition a day or two before we would have had a different impression. The main festival park area had two stages with seating areas and dance floors, so we got to do a bit more dancing. It was similar to the dancing we had in Helsinki, except people were mostly just dancing in fixed couples (i.e. not asking random people), and it was trickier dancing around in damp, muddy shoes. It was getting to my ankle a bit, actually, so I didn't do too much.

Excelsior On the one evening we were there, we went to the church to hear a concert by The Baltic International Quintet Excelsior. Four piano accordions and one 5-row button (which is what we saw the most of around the festival). With that many accordions, and with a wide range of reed sets on each one, they have a remarkable sound, almost like a giant organ. The fact that none of them seemed to use the left-hand chord buttons probably contributed to this effect. They played a variety of things like arrangements of classical pieces (e.g. by Mozart) as well as stuff I assume was written specifically for accordions (e.g. by Astor Piazzolla). Miriam was rather put off by their stage presence, but I didn't pay much attention to that and just really enjoyed the music. We had great, front-row seats, too, which is good because I love watching musicians' hands. The baritone player was my favorite in that respect.

Disguised The Accordion Museum in Ikaalinen is a single room lined with accordions in glass cases. There was one person in it who I don't think even usually works there, but he was so excited to get visitors that he immediately took us under his wing and gave us an enthusiastic, informative, knowledgeable tour of nearly all the instruments. My favorite was this accordion that was designed to let a Finnish 5-row player fool an American audience that expected to see a piano accordion. It has three rows of buttons below a somewhat stubby row of what appear to be piano keys. But those piano keys are actually the last two rows of the buttons. If you look closely, you can see that there are actually white "black" keys to make the black row complete while still blending in to the piano look. I think that's hilarious.

There was also a building where lots of accordion makers were selling their instruments. I was sorely tempted to get one of the smaller 5-row accordions, but resisted for lack of a few thousand euros and an extra arm. Not to mention the fact that it probably wouldn't be wise to buy a "real" instrument before knowing anything about playing it. Anybody know someone who can lend me one?

Ikaalinen Sunset Ikaalinen was as far north as we got in this trip, though everything on this trip from Stockholm on up was farther north than I'd ever been in my life. This sunset picture was taken at 11:30 PM. The night probably got a bit darker after that, but it wasn't long before the sun was coming up again. In a way, it's fun to have almost continual daytime when you're traveling. But it didn't always make sleeping easy, and I was really happy to be able to find proper darkness when I finally got back home.

Ikaalinen was also where we heard the most Finnish spoken. It's an absolutely fantastic language and I wish I could speak it. It just burbles along and makes me laugh sometimes even though I don't get the jokes. An interesting thing about being in Finland was having so many signs, labels, etc. be bilingual Finnish-Swedish. After a few days in Sweden, not to mention a Pimsleur CD and a bunch of cognates, we were actually turning to Swedish to help us translate or at least get the gist of any Finnish we had to read. Didn't help with what we heard spoken, though.

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