Kaustinen fiddle playing

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Kaustinen fiddle playing
In the national inventory
Location Kaustinen, Central Ostrobothnia
Tags music, folk music, folk dance, fiddle, folk musicians, events, festivals, wedding

Practitioners and people who know the tradition well

The fiddle tradition from Kaustinen has lived from one generation to another for centuries in the communities in Kaustinen, passed on by memory, earlier mainly within families and among kin. Sons (in earlier times, but in recent decades, equally often daughters), learn the skill from their father, and the area has several famous families with musicians from several generations up to the children of today. With education and formal teaching, passing the tradition on has become more widespread, and the circle of skilled musicians has grown. Nowadays, most of the amateur fiddlers have learnt to play in Näppäri activities for children. In fact, the age distribution of the musicians covers all age groups in an unusually even manner. All in all, there are a good few hundred people who play folk music actively or at least occasionally in an area with 4,300 inhabitants, and several hundreds of people from Kaustinen perform every year at the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival when you count the musicians, dancers, choirs and participants in other performances. Around the world, there are at least dozens of folk music and other kinds of music professionals and active amateurs raised in the Kaustinen tradition. The tradition is the shared property of the area, and the audiences of the performances may include most of the population in the parish and the neighbouring areas, as well as visitors to the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival from all over Finland and abroad.

To a degree, the Kaustinen tradition has also become part of the tunes played all over Finland by professional and amateur folk musicians, and the tradition has also become familiar with Scandinavian folk musicians through cooperation projects spanning several decades.

Practising of the tradition

The Kaustinen fiddle tradition is naturally practised first and foremost by playing music. In the past decades and centuries, this has mainly involved wedding music, but currently it is played by bands in practices and performances, as well as at home, either alone or together with others. Almost every village in Kaustinen has its own folk music ensemble. Adult musicians are gathered together in the large folk music ensemble Aapintuvan pelimannit, and child musicians participate in the Näppäri activities. The famous folk music ensemble Purppuripelimannit celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2016; it is still active. The ensembles perform both at local events and further afield; in addition, informal performances with changing configurations are arranged - or given spontaneously - both at homes and in public places such as local restaurants.

In addition to the tradition's vibrancy and multifaceted variation, the Kaustinen fiddle tradition has its own unique stylistic musical features related to things such as bowing, legato and ornaments, as well as the chords used in the accompaniment. The playing has changed, but the foundations of the old style remain unaltered. The sound of a fiddle played in the Kaustinen style is still a more ancient sound than the traditional music from other parts of Finland. The nature of the old tradition included continuous musical variation, expressed through the different styles and techniques of different villages and musicians. Similarly, modern folk musicians base their style of playing on traditional expression, but may borrow from a great variety of influences in their personal style.

The most important reason for the vividness of the playing is that the playing and its style is still learnt by ear, as it has been for more than 300 years. In addition to playing music, folk dance as a hobby is very strong in Kaustinen, and its special asset is the groups of young players from Kaustinen that provide the live accompaniment. Not only the fiddle but also the dance has a unique local tradition, the multi-part purppuri played and danced at the traditional grand weddings. It is derived from court dances, but the local variation developed from them is unique and it has stayed alive.

Strong folklore that sometimes grows to almost legendary proportions is also a part of living and meaningful traditions; it consists of stories, anecdotes and memories related to musicians, their personalities, actions, accomplishments and sayings, and the events that have occurred to them during performances and trips. Well-known musicians from years gone by are heroic figures in Kaustinen; instead of disappearing between the covers of a local history book, their memory is alive in everyday discussions. Today's older folk musicians in particular enjoy the quiet respect of the community. The musical tradition and the pride people feel for it is visible in the community's everyday life in many ways, from different names of roads, locations, buildings and companies to various culinary dishes, for example.

The background and history of the tradition

The western Finnish style and tradition of fiddle playing from Kaustinen, which has remained unusually dynamic, originated at least 300 years ago. Fiddle playing spread amongst peasants in Sweden and, little by little, to Finland's Bothnian coast in the 1600s, thanks to the mobility of people and customs due to the tar trade, among other things.

With the new instrument came new kinds of tunes, dances and wedding fashions. The new fiddle music was young people's music, and the earliest folk musicians from Kaustinen known by name are found in the church council records from the late 1700s, when they broke the parish's prohibition against playing dance music on Sundays. The first new dance was the polska, followed later by the minuet, quadrille, franseesi and different kinds of waltzes (hoppavalssi ('jump waltz') and siliavalssi ('smooth waltz')), among others. The multi-stage, ceremonial kruusupurppuri dance developed into the culmination of the wedding ceremony.

Even though the peasant tunes had similarities with those of the gentry, the playing styles were almost completely opposite. The differences were aesthetic, and they closely reflected the independent and greatly divergent basic natures of the culture of the gentry and that of the peasants. Originally, the instruments, dances and in part even the melodies came from foreign lands and the upper classes, but the talented players in the peasant community developed a distinctive playing style, their own ways of using the bow and chords, and treating the melody and rhythm; their mastery required both talent and practice. In the peasant culture, the fiddle also became a wedding instrument, and as such it was the symbol of the whole great cultural change from a time of the runo song tradition and the kantele to an era of sleigh songs, broadside ballads and new kinds of dances. The tradition flourished in Western Finland in the 1700s and the 1800s.

The best folk musicians played at great weddings that could last for three days, with several musicians playing at the same wedding through the multi-stage purppuri dance and ceremonies with hours of continuous music. Because great weddings were only celebrated rarely, people started to arrange other dances, too. The best folk musicians also played at the larger dances that lasted for several days, while only one player with more modest skills than wedding musicians was sufficient for the smaller 'corner dances'.

In the late 1800s, the fiddles were joined first by pipe organs and later by harmoniums as accompaniment. This multiplied the number of keys used, but on the other hand, double stops and the use of a free string as a continuously playing ground note with the fiddle ended at the same time. The playing changed, but the foundations of the old style remained the same. The current basic composition of a folk music ensemble from Kaustinen consisting of two fiddles, a harmonium and a double bass was created by Purppuripelimannit in the 1950s.

In the early 1900s, the traditional great weddings lasting for several days were overrun by modernisation, and a new kind of musical culture gained ground from the old style of fiddle. By the 1950s, the old-fashioned personal playing styles were only known to a few individual artists, except in Kaustinen, where village ensembles were consciously kept alive and each of them had their own style and repertoire. There were dozens of players. The weddings were replaced by events such as youth association soirées, folk music competitions, and the live music constantly played at the café of the activist Santeri Isokangas who promoted traditions, but the wedding tradition and the purppuri dance were not completely lost, either. The radio recordings of Kaustisen Purppuripelimannit brought Kaustinen into the awareness of the general public, until the popularity of Konsta Jylhä's original compositions and the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival in the late 1960s gave an explosive start to the folk music renaissance that continues even today. Kaustinen became the centre of Finnish folk music.

The transmission of the tradition

The old-style Kaustinen style of playing has stayed alive, thanks primarily to the traditional method of learning by ear. Passing on the skill by memory based on a master-apprentice model has ensured the preservation of both the old style as well as a repertoire with hundreds of melodies. There are musicians in all generations, and the music from Kaustinen is alive in many different kinds of ensembles and events.

A key factor in preserving the tradition is the determined work to record, maintain and develop it and to support and strengthen playing music as a hobby. As a result of the work and in support of it, strong and versatile organisations have been created around folk music.

Based on the amount and high quality of fiddle playing in Kaustinen, it was practically a foregone conclusion that the international folk music festival in 1968 should be held in Kaustinen. The festivals rapidly became an example for dozens or even hundreds of local festivals held over the following years and decades on one hand, and an international success story on the other hand. The Kaustinen Folk Music Festival is the largest folk music event in Finland, and one of the most important in Europe. The festival is the primary forum of bringing the tradition forward, and the Kaustinen tradition is at the core of the festival's identity in the eyes of the performers, the community and the audience. Groups from Kaustinen give hundreds of performances at the festival every year.

The Folk Music Institute was established in 1974 and it operates at the national level, but one of its important focus areas is recording and archiving the tradition from Kaustinen and producing related publications. The repertoire of the folk music band Tallari, the only one in Finland with a state subsidy, is based on thorough research and knowledge of the local styles and repertoires.

The Näppäri activities for children that started in the 1980s involve folk music-based music teaching pedagogy. The repertoire is based on the local tradition, and two generations of musicians continuing the fiddle tradition of Kaustinen have already been raised with the Näppäri Method. Key principles also include giving priority to playing together and ensuring that players of different ages and skill levels play together. All in all, different generations play together in Kaustinen perfectly naturally in a master-apprentice spirit. There are approximately 40-50 children and young people participating continuously in the Näppäri activities, and small children are starting out at a steady rate. The activities have also been expanded to cover the whole of Finland, reaching the international level.

The Youth Association of Kaustinen (Kaustisen nuorisoseura) organises folk dance activities, and the folk music association Kaustisen pelimanniyhdistys is also active. A significant part of the activities are implemented as study groups at the adult education centre.

One important factor in the rise of folk music since the 1960s was that Konsta Jylhä, Wiljami Niittykoski and later others began to compose original pieces that were inspired by the tradition, but broke its limits while being sensitive to its style. Today, bands and composers from Kaustinen or inspired by it, such as JPP, Frigg, Ville Kangas, Ville Ojanen and Häävi, create modern folk music based on the tradition. New music is also composed for the Näppäri activities based on old tunes. In this way, the players from Kaustinen have both mastered the tradition and create new music inspired by it.

The future of the tradition

The future of the Kaustinen tradition seems strong. Folk music as a hobby in Kaustinen is active and organised, and there are enough players in all age groups to ensure continuity as well as the development and renewal of the tradition. The strong and diverse organisation structure that has developed around the tradition supports its preservation and development; the structure covers both the organisation and documentation of the hobby activities as well as recording them, along with education, training and the organisation of events. The organisations operate well and they are financially stable. New individuals and ensembles making new music based on the tradition spring up constantly from among the new musicians from Kaustinen.

The Kaustinen fiddle tradition and the work done to keep it alive received a special mention at the 2015 Europa Nostra Awards for cultural heritage of the European Union. This was the first time cultural heritage awards were given out for intangible cultural heritage.

The communities behind the submission

Pro Kaustinen ry / Kaustisen kansanmusiikkijuhlat


Kaustisen Näppärit ry

Kaustisen pelimanniyhdistys

Kaustisen nuorisoseura

Bibliography and links to external sources of information


JPP & Antti Savilampi 2013. Yökatrilli in Kaustinen 2013. YouTube-video.

Lindfors, Jukka 2006. Kaustinen oli takuuvarma pelimannipitäjä. Yle Elävä Arkisto. Niilo Ihamäen selostus Kaustiselta vuodelta 1957.

Lindfors, Jukka 2006. Konsta Jylhän parhaat. Yle Elävä Arkisto. Konsta Jylhän esityksiä vuosilta 1964-1971.

Lindfors, Jukka 2006. Heikki Laitinen ja Kankaan pelimannit. Yle Elävä Arkisto. Heikki Laitisen esityksiä ja haastattelu vuodelta 1979.

Näppärit 2015. Raaliaali. YouTube-video.


Eri artisteja 1977. Kaustinen, pelimannien pitäjä -levyn kansitekstit. RCA PL40049/Kansanmusiikki-instituutti 4–5.



Finland´s inventory of the intangible: music, circus, cuisine and everything in between - thisisFINLAND


Asplund, Anneli & al. 2006. Kansanmusiikki. Suomen musiikin historia. Helsinki: WSOY.

Helistö, Paavo 1997. Konsta Jylhän, pelimannin ja kansansäveltäjän tarina. Kaustinen: Kansanmusiikki-instituutti.

Huntus, Antti & Järvelä, Mauno 2014. Näppäripedagogiikka. Kaustinen: Kansanmusiikki-instituutti.

Määttälä, Viljo S. 2005. Kaustisella kivetkin soi. Kaustinen: Kansanmusiikki-instituutti.