The unique cultural voice: solo kannel, otsemaid (11)
Archived Articles 12 Jan 2007 Olev RoodEWR
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Ilmar Tiideberg. ARMCD017, 2005 59:29

Most folk culture is based on the tradition of handing down skills from elders and then having the younger generations further the lessons on their own. When it comes to our folk music most musicians are self-taught, after initial exposure at an elder's knee.

The kannel is Estonia's national instrument. It evidently had a great early impact on kanneldaja, or kannel-player Ilmar Tiideberg, who was born in 1941 in southern Estonia. Tiideberg mastered his first melodies on the kannel at the age of 13, and by 15 had made his first kannel. He has since created more than 20 kannels of various sizes and designs. As a performer, Tiideberg has played not only in all the Baltic nations but in Scandinavia as well.

Jaak Johanson, a folk musician of note himself, recorded Tiideberg at the Mäe farm in Pringi village, which is located in the Sangaste township of Valgamaa county. The recording is described as "otsemaid" — a word that resists translation in conventional terms. Live or direct does not do the immediacy concept justice.

This recording is evocative of perhaps those winter evenings in a southern Estonian farm-house decades or even centuries ago, with an elder playing melody after melody while recounting his past and the memories brought by one tune or another.

Johanson captured 26 of these melodies which were played on an instrument that Tiideberg made himself. It is unique in the sense that the melody strings are doubled and of unconventional lengths, tuned at octave diapasons. This tuning creates a rich timbre, and the resulting sound is as if two kanneldajad were playing in perfect unison.

The nature of the direct recording means that like most such live performances the playing is natural and not free of the occasional slip. This human quality is endearing to the listener. Tiideberg provides some spoken explanations of how he plays or where he has played a particular melody. A comparison with the Ceilidh comes to mind, as this is much like Gaelic musicians providing spoken interpretative breaks during their musical get togethers. Tiideberg takes advantage of these moments very well.

The material is mostly Estonian folk tunes although "Jambalaya" and "Little Boxes" (here as "Tiki tak") also make an appearance, showing how the diffusion of cultures knows few boundaries.

Johanson's recording is reminiscent of the ground-breaking work of Alan Lomax, one of the most important collectors of folk music of the 20th century. Lomax collected and recorded original folk music from around the world, but especially from the American Deep South as played by regular people. With a notable difference: the advantages of clarity provided by the technology of the 21st century.

Folk music of any culture reflects an universal impulse of humanity, and as Tiideberg's playing confirms, does not need vocal accompaniment to truly sing in the listener's ear.

This recording is available in North America through the offices of The Nordic Press, publishers of Vaba Eesti Sõna. Write to 243 East 34th Street, New York, NY, 10016. Price (in US dollars) $15, with an additional shipping cost of $2.
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