THUNDER BAY, ON -------- May 20, 2012 ---- The Pelimanni Orchestra of Thunder Bay, Ontario, has been playing the folk music of Finland for many years but it was only since I was made an honourary Fin that I have been aware of their musical presence. Based in the Finnish Labour hall on Bay street this group draws its membership from all of Thunder Bay. I occasionally play cello with the orchestra and have grown to love the quiet laid back mannerisms of its members. They have a true passion for the music of their homeland and will go to great lengths to perform their music. I suppose that includes accepting a cellist such as myself!
While Thunder Bay is isolated from Finland in a physical sense, Kauko Ylinen manages to keep in close contact with Finnish composers and arrangers looking for music the Pelimanni can perform. In Finland a Pelimanni of folk group usually consists of about 5-7 members. The Thunder Bay version is sort of like the big band version which makes it unique but hard to find music for them to play. Much of the music is custom arranged for this size and the instruments this orchestra. Kauko then is not only a sax player, singer, conductor but he is also a good arranger.
Band members play from a number of black folders, there are folk songs, church songs, and dances. The distinct areas of Finland also have their own distinct styles of folk music and this orchestra plays them all. While the music have titles they are also numbered, a feature which makes it much easier form members of the band like myself. I do not think there are any common words between the Finnish language and English other than the word sauna (and we mess up the pronunciation!). The Mother’s Day concert is an important fundraiser for this group and the Fin hall was near capacity for the event.
While the music has special significance for members of the orchestra there are emotional connections with the people who come out to hear this folk orchestra. I saw many people singing along with the orchestra. Going to listen or partake in a Pelimanni performance is to celebrate life in Thunder Bay. Where else on earth can you hear sounds like this. The music is not about being perfect, but like the people it celebrates it is about being genuine, and that is something to celebrate.
Door prizes are a big part of the Mother’s Day concert, many of them are gift baskets made up by members of the orchestra. Here Nina Niemistö draws a ticket stub for one of the many prizes.
The Pelimanni Orchestra is active about 11 months of the year. They practice routinely on Saturday mornings most often at the Fin Hall. They perform for church functions usually at Hilldale Lutheran, and community dances and folk fests at the Fin Hall. They usually manage to travel to other cities that have folk festivals (usually the Fin type) and this often keeps them practicing until July. Good people, good music and good times.
Arts Editor: LakeSuperiorNews.com