Estonia's unusual folk instrument 'Hiiu kannel' regaining traction

Hiiu kannel lesson at the Museum of the Coastal Swedes in Haapsalu.
Hiiu kannel lesson at the Museum of the Coastal Swedes in Haapsalu.

The Hiiu kannel is an instrument with a centuries-long history, and its popularity is gradually regaining momentum after a period of decline.
For more than four years, the Museum of the Coastal Swedes in Haapsalu has held Hiiu kannel lessons for adults and children both from the mainland and the island of Vormsi.

This unusual Estonian folk instrument is also known as the Scandinavian "talharpa". It is a four-stringed, bowed lyre from northern Europe that is nowadays practiced mainly in Estonia in the context of coastal Swedish culture. The instrument is also related to Finnish "jouhikko" and the Welsh "crwth."

The name "Hiiu kannel" is rather deceptive, as it is not a conventional type of Estonian zither (kannel), but rather a bow-played instrument.

Liisa Koemets-Bastida, teacher of the Hiiu kannel, explained that traditionally the instrument's strings were made of horsetail hair that gave it its primal and unique sound.

"It's an instrument where you don't have a specific key to press; you don't have a specific place, such as on a guitar where there are scratches to indicate where to place your finger. A Hiiu kannel musician must possess an ear that is capable of doing a great deal of work," Koemets-Bastida said.

While today this instrument is treasured on the island of Vormsi, in the 19th century a religious man literally tried to destroy Hiiu kannels as being sinful instruments.

"While the Hiiu kannel was an important part of coastal Swedish culture on the Estonian island of Vormsi, Österblom, a missionary, single-handedly managed to eradicate this tradition and the Hiiu kannel slipped into oblivion for many years," Ülo Kalm, director of the Museum of the Coastal Swedes in Haapsalu, said. "Today we also have the folk band "Puuluup," which is reviving the instrument's popularity," the director added.

"Puuluup" Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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