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This past Saturday I had the good fortune and great pleasure of having a Kannel lesson. The kannel is a type of psaltry instrument from the Baltic area known by different names – kantele in Finland, kannel in Estonia, kokle in Latvia and kankles in Lithuania. I have an itty-bitty one, from the Aukstaitija region of Lithuania – a 5 string.

Saturday’s lesson was on hand positioning, moving from first position and fourth position while playing a very moving song from the Estonian Regilaulik, about the mythic origins of the kannel. As the song has 6 notes and my poor wee kankle has only 5 notes there were some areas in which I couldn’t strum/pluck. But we did get to sing the song, so that we could get a feel for it before attempting our pluckings.

The group I was with was primarily Estonian, all of us taking lessons via the Estonian Ethnographic Society here in Toronto Canada. The teachers were a friend of mine, Dace, who is Latvian. The other teacher is a master kannel maker, Tiit Kao. We played with Maja, Karin, Kristina and Anu (who’s livingroom we had invaded). At the end Tiit offered all of us a copy of “A Guid for Five & Ten String Kanteles” by Gerry Luoma Henkel from The Kantele Shop.

My only regret is that there isn’t anything like this amongst the Lithuanian community here in Toronto. I have searched, maybe not hard enough but I did search, for teachers but couldn’t find any. Dace graciously invited me to these lessons and I am enjoying them – not only because I get to learn a musical instrument but also because I am getting to know other Baltic people.

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