Anja Snellman


Vesa Linna


Songs from the Soul

Emmi Kuittinen is one of Anja Snellman’s favorite musicians. She continues the ancient tradition of lamenting as it is manifested in Karelia and Ingria in European Russia.

“Lamenting is a global phenomenon, and is believed to be one of the oldest traditional genres,” Kuittinen says.

“This tradition originates from cries of pain, grief, and agony. Researchers have described it as poetry of eternal separation and final departure. Lamenting has been an outlet for raw emotions that have otherwise been considered inappropriate to express.”

KUITTINEN STUDIED music pedagogy at North Karelia University of Applied Sciences and continued her studies in the Global Music master’s degree program at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.

She wrote her master’s thesis on lamenting and also gave a musical performance as part of her master’s project.

“After graduation, I have worked as a festival producer, art teacher, and care musician at hospitals and nursing homes, for example. In the field of arts, your livelihood is typically made up of many little streams of income,” Kuittinen explains.

“In my artistic work, lamenting plays a major role, and I have also given courses on lamenting for the past four years.”

LAMENTING GIVES poetic expression to overwhelming and devastating emotions. Wailing in grief over death is a global genre of lamenting.

“In Karelia, death was seen as a continuation of life, rather than being regarded as the end. Lamenting was an important part of the death ritual: a way of seeing off the deceased to the other side,” Kuittinen explains.

“At weddings, lamenting was related to the bride leaving her childhood home and friends. Weddings used to last for three days and were celebrated in the homes of both families.”

Conscription and war were also common themes of lamenting.

“In Imperial Russia, military service lasted for anything between five and twenty years and meant complete separation from the family for the young man.”

THE THEMES of modern lamenting are often related to easing the sorrows and challenges of daily life. For example, Emmi Kuittinen has written and composed a lament about being separated from friends during the pandemic.

“I started by rehearsing old laments, but I soon began to feel that I should also try creating new ones,” Kuittinen says.

She has also combined lamenting with other forms of art, such as dance, theatre, circus, and stand-up comedy.

“My understanding of this tradition and its various genres has increased gradually through experience over the past ten years, and I also keep learning new things all the time.”

IN ADDITION TO writing, composing, and performing laments, Kuittinen is continuing her academic and artistic work in Laments in Contemporary Finland, a three-year project funded by the Kone Foundation.

“What initially drew me to lamenting was the gentle and beautiful way to address sad and heavy topics,” Kuittinen says.

“We live in a completely different society than keeners of the past in Karelia and Ingria, but there is something relatable about their laments. Everything else is changing, but have our emotions actually changed that much?”

Emmi Kuittinen was interviewed for this article by Hellevi Karppinen

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