Diane Jarvi Bittersweet

Bittersweet is a fusion sound and a melding of both Finnish and American folk traditions; the album embodies both musical landscapes. Jarvi has taken the Nordic sound and also brought it into American folk, sometimes evoking mountain music and café accordion sound. Her voice is resonant, rich, and she uses it like an instrument.” -Sheila Packa and Kathy McTavish –New World Finn

“On her new album “Bittersweet,” singer, guitarist and kantele player Diane Jarvi once again dives deeply into her Finnish heritage with beautiful, sometimes haunting results. The kantele is a Finnish harp, a national instrument, and Jarvi plays seven different ones on “Bittersweet,” ranging from a tiny “pikku” to a 36-string model. The sound entrances, as does Jarvi’s lovely and character-filled voice, on songs about Finland, family members, strong women, hard winters, and the mysteries of genealogy.  Jarvi [is] joined by old pal Dan Newton (accordion), jazz bass great Gordy Johnson, The DitchLilies, the Finn Hall Band, and violionist Sara Pajunen, whose solo on “Meri Lintu”  is a little wonder. And let’s not forget Jarvi’s daughter, LiLi Jarvenpa, now a fine kantele player herself.” Tom Surowicz–Minneapolis Star Tribune

When I began working on bittersweet I thought it would be a recording that would center on my love of the kantele. While nine of the fourteen tracks do have kanteles on them, I saw a different theme emerge when I started choosing songs and going into the studio. Eight of the tunes are specifically songs about women. And the others could definitely be songs sung by women, one  lullaby-Nukku Matti, Meri Lintu, a song about a lost love, and a waltz from the past, Valssi Menneiltä Ajoilta.

I kept tripping across my family history as I worked on this recording. I wrote Aili’s Dance for my mother who loved to dance. She and my father belonged to a dance club and she was very fond of waltzes. But this tune is more about how her soft, clear voice could lighten a very dark day. I wrote Multia for my mother’s mother Hilja. Multia is a small, rural Finnish town. I visited the scattering of poor abandoned buildings across from a small field where my grandmother and her family had to move after her father lost most of their substantial savings due to gambling and alcohol. Three of the children of that family left Finland when they became adults and did not seem to want to look back. I recorded Rebel Girl after finding the Finnish version in my mother’s “Little Red Songbook”. Both of my parents grew up in Minnesota’s Finn Halls. This would have been one of the songs they all sang, maybe on a Saturday night, before the dance. Ilmatar Sweeps the Dance Floor is an instrumental response to a poem my mother wrote called Ilmatar-Air Spirit Mother. Ilmatar is the female air spirit that appears in the Kalevala—Finland’s epic poem. [Read More…]

Books by Diane Jarvenpa

The Tender, Wild Things by Diane Jarvi

The Tender, Wild Things

The Tender, Wild Things, winner of The Many Voices Project at New Rivers Press. “This is a wonderful book and a gorgeous journey not to be missed.” -Lee Ann Roripaugh, author of Year of the Snake

Ancient Wonders - The Modern World by Diane Jarvenpa

Ancient Wonders: The Modern World

A sequence of six poems by Diane Jarvenpa that brings us to the crossroads where the mysteries of the past and the simple awe of the day-to-day meet. Sheralyn Barnes provided six images to accompany each section. The images were printed from magnesium engravings made from the scratch-board originals.

Divining the Landscape by Diane Jarvenpa

Divining the Landscape

“Diane Jarvenpa tells us there are things we cannot see: how flowers grow, what the prairie dreams, how summers come, where muskrats go. She honors too the complexities of the people closest to her, like her immigrant grandparents and her parents. She knows there are some things that can only be explained with poetry. That is why these poems begin with words but always end in music.” -Jim Johnson, author of Wolves