The Kantele Playing of Gerry Henkel

(The music on this page is from a self-produced CD I've called "Spiral Nebula Improvisations". All tunes are copyrighted by Gerry Henkel, 2003-2007. But don't let that stop you from downloading them for free.

The tunes that can be downloaded from this webpage were recorded on cold winter mornings and evenings sitting in front of my MacIntosh computer in a small cabin in the woods north of Lake Superior. Nothing fancy here - no high tech studio with a skilled technician at the controls. The kantele was plugged into an old Crate amplifier and then into a Macintosh Emac. The sound was captured with computer software, then exported to QuickTime or to Amadeus and converted to mp3 files. The recordings are first takes, and were not edited, except for “Bluebells In The Breeze” and "Backwoods Bells" which were processed with a slight bit of echo. Six of the tunes were “cleaned up” electronically by Stäni Steinbock in his Aland Island studio, the others are right off the computer. Not much effort was made to otherwise improve the sound – the sound traveled from the kantele to an amplifier to the computer’s hard drive with little interference or manipulation. You can think of it as a backwoods recording by a nerdy enthomusicologist.

Most people who hear these tunes say, "I've never heard a kantele played like that before." Maybe that's because I've never had lessons from a kantele teacher. Maybe it's because the music that I hear in my head doesn't come from a Finnish tradition. Maybe it's because rock 'n roll and country music have influenced me more than any other kind of music. What I like to think is that these music samples prove (to me anyway) that a kantele is not limited to traditional Finnish tunes. It's a universal instrument.

Some people collect stones they find along paths and roads and shores of lakes. They venture out on a walk and their eyes find unusual and compelling pebbles, stones and rocks which they then pick up and bring back to their homes and rock gardens. I do something similar with sounds that I create on my kanteles when I sit down and play their strings. I've collected compelling sounds with a recorder and kept them in my computer's sound garden. I name each tune, and the name usually reflects something that I may have been thinking about or feeling at the time I played it, or possibly after I listened to it later.

My style of playing is not typical. There are traditions that have developed within Finland and throughout the Baltic Sea area that most kantele players favor. I have not followed any of those. Well, there is one "tradition" that possibly describes what it is like to hear what some of my music sounds like. In A.O. Väisänen's article "Song and Instrument-Playing in Folk Culture", he describes an evening of music in Karelia. (Go here and scroll down to Jaakko Kulju.) This is a tradition that I favor.
Even though I follow my own musical path, I have been influenced through friendship with various kantele players and makers, and other Finnish musicians: Matti Kontio, Rauno Nieminen, Hannu Saha, Paroni Paakkunainen, Diane Jarvi, Minna Raskinen, Simo Westerholm, Anna-Liisa Tenhunen, and Merja Soria. A person who inspires me is Hannes Wallen, an emigrant woodworker and kantele-builder who settled in California in the early 1900’s. In the 1930’s he was recorded playing kantele in Chicago by folklorist Alan Lomax. I must also mention Ulla Suokko – a performer (flutist, singer) who not only inspires me, but also encourages me to make music.

This recording is dedicated to Bob Christensen’s memory, my first kantele making partner at “Bobalu” Instruments. (The drawing of Gerry is by Gladys Koski Holmes.)

The following tunes are first takes, full steam ahead, never looking back...

Bluebells In The Breeze.mp3 is a short kantele poem in memory of my brother Roy. Five strings with a touch of echo added via software. 5 strings

Rose.mp3 is about Rose Luoma Henkel - my mother (1911-1999). She told me stories one time about how when she was 16 years old on Wednesday nights in the summer she and her brothers Ike and Oscar would go dancing at the Silver Star dance hall. The hall was by the Snake River near their home in central Minnesota. They'd either drive over in the family car or hitch a ride with a guy from Sandstone who was on his way there. This was back in 1927 and the band playing for the dance would either be local or from Minneapolis. She said that she was so popular that all the guys wanted to dance with her. "Rose" is played on a fifteen string with four bass drone strings. (© by Gerry Henkel.) That's Rose in 1927 over there on the right.

After I Listened.mp3 10 strings

Have Coffee, Then Ride the Horse.mp3 This tune is in a pentatonic scale and played using a combination of strumming and plucking. It is an improvisation using musical patterns that come from some yet to be discovered place. Definitely not a Finnish place, maybe from the inside of an orange, or a spiral nebula. Created by Gerry on a Sunday morning in January 2004, therefore he claims ownership - the copyrights and all that. 10 strings.

Saturday Morning.mp3 5 strings

Going To Town.mp3 15 strings

He Was A Good Man.mp3 A minor key five string piece, invented with my father Martin (1908-2000) in mind. I sat with him by his bed the last week of his life on this planet. I thought of how simple life is. (© by Gerry Henkel.) That's Martin in 1931 over there on the left.

Gazing At Natalie's Paintings.mp3 is a melody and progression that came to me while viewing Natalie Salminen’s paintings. She later wrote to me after listening to the piece, “ is absolutely beautiful. I love its wanderings and transitions (the point in the song where it gains momentum and excitement, reminds me of my emotions while painting...the crescendo: the sense of coming into fufillment of unseen vision.) I am grateful to know that my creativity inspires your creativity.” 15 strings

I Scratch, Therefore I Am.mp3 - don’t take anything too seriously. 10 strings

I've Heard This Before.mp3 a minor key ten string piece that comes from the eastern borders of my mind. It is a compacted variation, a shadow of After I Listened.

Jahday Jahday Jaahdaah!.mp3

Summer's End.mp3 is one of my favorite pieces. It came into my mind as I was walking through the woods to my cabin one early September evening as the sun was going down. There are shades of golden light within the tune. 10 strings

Driving Home.mp3 has a wee bit of harmonica added to the mix. 10 strings

Tell Me What To Do.mp3 10 strings

Here Comes The Rain.mp3 5 strings

Backwoods Bells (with Ari Lahdekorpi).mp3 Fabulous Canadian guitarist Ari Lahdekorpi added lots of color to this piece with guitar and bass.

Spiral Nebula Improvisations
a backwoods recording of original kantele music by Gerry Henkel

“I like to think of them as ‘ramblings’ - I’m usually lost in some other world when I play, perhaps one in a distant spiral nebula.” Gerry

“LOVED the CD. Share it, sell it. It’s great! More people should hear it.” Diane Jarvi

“This is Trickster music that leads me to new and forgotten places.” Kip Peltoniemi

"I like Gerry Henkel's music a lot. He's just plain fun to listen to, and he has an interesting and inventive style. According to Gerry, the tunes on this CD aren't formal compositions, but a type of improvisation. I just know that his music makes me smile. There's humor in some of his tunes, but that's not what I'm talking about. Gerry's music just puts you in a good place! All fourteen pieces on this CD were written by him. I Scratch, Therefore I Am is one of my favorites. Give him a won't regret it!" Lani Thompson

Price: Free! Make as many copies as you want!

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