Markku Lepisto is an eclectic accordionist, with a background rooted in the language linked to popular tradition but with a deep sight to the innovation. In this rich interview, he tells the most representative stages of his artistic career.
You are an accordionist particularly attached to the musical tradition of your country: Finland. What are the main features of Finnish folk music?
«From the historical point of view Finland is between the eastern and western tradition. In the eastern side of the country called Carelia (Karjala) we have had a very specific tradition both in singing and playing. In the instrumental music there was a lot of influences also from the Russian traditions. The accordion tradition was also connected to that. The repertoire of the accordion players consisted of popular dance music of that area: Quadrilles, contradances and even free improvisations connected to playing what musicians were playing with the instrument called “Kantele”.
The western part of Finland was musically also part of the western tradition. The music came from the middle Europe consisting all the popular dances like waltzes, schottisches, polkas, minuets, polkas, mazurkas etc. My roots are totally in this tradition and I was growing in this culture.
From the 1970´s a new folk music movement started also in Finland and also younger people were interested in traditional folk music. Later in the 80´s happened to big chance when the Sibelius Academy, the only music university in Finland, started the folk music (and also a jazz music) education. From the beginning there were two main missions how to proceed with the education. First of all the students must know the history of their own country and not only by reading but also by playing. But as important from the beginning was also that people compose new folk music. The idea was that creating new folk music makes the folk music alive again and the players and singers are not only regenerating the music from archives.
This idea of making folk music created totally a new genre called contemporary folk music and it spread over everything including folk singing, folk dancing and folk playing. Moreover, the contemporary folk music for accordion was among this new genre. I have had a big privilege to be one the first educated folk accordion players in our country but my roots are in the traditional accordion music and when I was a child I grew up with the old players of my village and municipality. Later, I have been involved intensively with both the traditional and contemporary folk music».
Speaking of folk music, together some students of Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department, you assembled the Pirnales ensemble, a very important band in the field of the new folk music movement. Could you please tell us the most significant experiences that you lived with this team?
«With the ensemble “Pirnales” we were one of the first students who started to compose the Finnish contemporary folk music and also started to perform it in Finland and abroad. With this band it was also possible to play not only your main instruments but also using your skills with different side instruments. For example with this group I played not only accordions but also kantele, mandolin, upright bass, fiddle and I sang, too».
Together with the Pirnales you have been on all the stages in the world with the first ensemble of Finnish folk dance “Katrilli”. How did this interesting commingling of music and dance is born?
«The Folk Dance band Katrilli was the first professional folk dance ensemble in Finland. It was established already in 1975. Pirnales joined in this group in 1985 and we did several tours in Europe and America performing traditional Finnish folk dances but also contemporary choreographies based on traditional themes and steps. The basic outlines for the both groups were similar so it was quite natural to start to work together. We did intensive work together from 1985 till 1990».
In 1997 a prolific artistic fellowship with the mandolin player Petri Hakala was born. From this meeting this duet has explored and fused the accordion and mandolin’s tonal world. What is the repertoire you propose with this line-up?
«The duo with mandolin player Petri Hakala has been very enthusiastic combination. I have always been very much interested in the sound of mandolin and especially I´m fascinated of the sound combination with accordion and mandolin. With Petri Hakala we have played a lot both traditional Finnish Folk music but also we have composed contemporary music for us».
«Doina Klezmer was the first Finnish “klezmer” band ever to perform both traditional European klezmer music but also creating the new music genre called Finn-Klezmer (Suomi-Klezmer). During the years we have been performing in all the main Finnish folk and classical music festivals but also abroad for example in Russia, Sweden and Netherlands. For us it´s been very natural to work with different artists and also with different art fields. We have had co-operation with contemporary dancers and dance groups, pop-singers, classical players, etc. We have also made drama performances with professional actors where we were not only playing but also acting. And we have made music for radio theatre, etc.»
You are a renowned teacher on the international scene. Do you have a personal teaching method?
«I have had a privilege to teach and give workshops also in different part of Europe and in USA and Canada. My primary method is that all the students should learn playing by ear. There are so many advantages with it although I admit that the beginning can be frustrated and desperate especially if you are used to play only with sheet music or tablatures. First of all you can focus and hear also the very small details like ornaments of the tunes. Second important thing is that you will remember the tune much better when you learn it by ear. The third and the most important thing is that you can focus on the playing style when you open your ears and all the information goes thought your ears instead of your eyes.
In generally I have a lot of patient for the students and I always give time for everybody to assimilate to things we are learning also when learning in a group. I also try to give some useful technical exercises to the students so they can improve their technical skills at home».
You play Beltuna accordions, a renowned Italian company in this industry. What model do you use?
«I think the Beltuna accordions are in a very high level concerning the technical output and the quality of the sound. Also, the level of the wood work is something very special. My current model what I use the most is Samuel 3/18. So, three rows, three voices and 18 basses. The keyboard diagram both in bass and treble side is my own. I also have the Beltuna two row Sara with three voices for the traditional music and then the single row model “Cajun”. For the single row accordion I have a special mission. Normally people think that the single row accordion is very simple instrument and only for a traditional music but my target has been creating new folk chamber music and show also the lyrical side of that instrument and raise the instrument to the next level».
Your new project title is “Samurai Accordion”. What is the leitmotiv of this album?
«The idea of the Samurai Accordion is to gather together the best diatonic accordion players from different part of the Europe and make music what has never done before. The new album “Te” is the second album of the band and there is 10 new compositions made for Samurai. All the tunes are arranged together and everybody has composed for it. Behind all the compositions you can hear the musical culture of every player and that makes the music very extraordinary. Both traditional and contemporary music at the same time».
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