Juttu Kamarikuoro Sonoresta; The Daily News - Longview WA, USA
Finnish choir brings soulful voices to Seattle, Portand — and Rosburg. Members of the Sonore Chamber Choir are paying their own airfare to tour the Pacific Northwest. Their appearances were organized by the Columbia Pacific Chapter of the Finlandia Foundation, which includes Katriina Lehtonen, the sister of Sonore member Heikki Lehtonen.
When Anita Raistakka heard that a chamber choir from Finland would be singing in Portland and Seattle during Lent, she sprang into action.
“I belong to every Finnish organization you can imagine,” said Raistakka, a longtime organizer of Naselle’s Finnish American Folk Festival.
“When I see a tour is coming to West Coast, I contact them immediately and say, ‘We want then in Naselle, too.’
“We’re glad to have another concert.”
This one will be presented a capella, with the 18 voices of an intimate and passionate chamber choir called Sonore. Pronounced So-NOR-ay, the name is Latin for “melodious.”
Working through the Columbia-Pacific Chapter of the Finlandia Foundation, Sonore has booked several concerts in the Portland area, one in Seattle, and thanks to the fervent Finns of the lower Columbia, one on Good Friday evening in Rosburg, which is 10 miles from Naselle.
According to press materials, Sonore’s programs in the Northwest, because it is Lent, will focus on spiritual music, although at least one venue will feature secular songs.
“It is geared more to Eastertime, with more serene and spiritual music,” said Elisa Boynton, a Finlandia Foundation member and music teacher who organized the tour.
Whatever the content, Sonore’s voices are bound to move audiences, say organizers who are bringing them to the United States for the first time.
“I know that this choir has a high level of expertise,” said Kateriina Lehtonen of Portland’s Finlandia Foundation.
The 18 a capella singers, who include her brother Heikki Lehtonen, come from “a very wide area,” Kateriina Lehtonen said. “Some of them live in very small towns. They are teachers, lawyers, farmers who drive two hours to each rehearsal. They are really connoisseurs of music.
“That is why I suggested to them, wouldn’t they like to come here?”
Leftonen, a Finnish immigrant, has lived in the Portland area for 16 years. When her husband had an offer to work here, she said, “It was an adventure. We had three young children, and we thought we would come for one year. And we stayed.”
The Leftonens usually visit Finland in the summers, so although they have visited Astoria, she said, they have yet to attend the Finnish Festival in Naselle. “We certainly will visit there now,” she said.
“I am just amazed what a powerful thing it has been, the people who are welcoming the choir. It is heart-breaking to me. You can feel the presence of the Finns.”
Greg Jacobs, president of the area’s Finlandia chapter, worked with Chris Lazarus in Portland, Eva Mannisto in Seattle, and Raistakka in Naselle to make the tour happen.
Jacobs told the Lake Oswego Review that “this is truly a rare chance to hear beautiful Finnish choral music, sung in its original language. Because Finnish is not spoken anywhere but Finland and is so very different from other languages, this wonderful music doesn’t get the exposure that it deserves.”
On a Portland travel site, Deston Nokes quoted Sonore’s choir director Malla Kärkkäinen, who said, “We work very hard at making our music fly into the hearts of our listeners.”
It will fly with the help of concertgoers’ donations, suggested at a quite reasonable $5.
Sonore singers paid their own airfare and are staying in hotels or with families, Lehtonen said. Grants from the Finnish government helped the choir with lodging costs, and the Portland Finlandia group will pay the rent at concert venues.
Choir members speak English and will interact with their audiences. but all their songs will be in Finnish.
“Of course, it’s a challenge to understand,” Lehtonen said, “but if you just hear the music, and you know Finnish history, you will know why it sounds the way it does.”
The choir, based in Aanekoski in central Finland, will include English translations of lyrics in program handouts.
People may not know that “Finnish is a very special language,” Lehtonen said, “very unique, not related to any other languages.”
Located between Sweden and Russia, Finns did not take their language from either country. “Our little country was between different cultures — the Slavic influence, and the western European. We are in the middle. ... It’s hard to explain. Not many people know about this.”
Their culture became “a bridge between West and East in the northern part of Europe. Finland always played an important role in this area, culturally and politically. It is reflected in the music. It is so powerful. There is a deep feeling to it.”
For centuries, Finns have sung an epic poem to the accompaniment of the kantele, a 2,000-year-old string instrument originally made from fish bone, Lehtonen said. “Music has always been a very important part of being Finnish,” Lehtonen said. “Sibelius came from Finland, and a lot of great musicians.”
The Sonore Chamber Choir is energized by the opportunity to share that legacy, she said.
“Music gives them a feeling of unity and commitment. They have put a lot of effort into this. I can even feel it from the other side of the ocean, I really can.”
Getting ready to meet the group at the airport last week, Leftonen said “I am ready to move. I can feel the fever.”
March 23, 2013 8:05 pm • By Cathy Zimmerman / The Daily News