A Minnesota Original

(Submitted Photo)

INTERVIEW WITH DIANE JARVI

Mark:

First, let’s talk about your name. On your musical CDs,  your name is “Diane Jarvi.” But in your poetry, including … swift, bright, drift … you’re known as Diane Jarvenpa. Could you tell our readers about that decision?

Diane:

My name Jarvi is a shortened version of Jarvenpa which is really Järvenpää. Järvenpää is the name my grandfather took when he came to Ellis Island. Then his sons dropped all those umlauts and that last A. I discovered starting as a young child, nobody could ever pronounce Jarvenpa, so I used Jarvi to ease the way. I kept Jarvenpa as my writer’s name. I’ve really kept these art forms separate and only recently have come together at events.

Mark:

We met through Gerry Henkel for lunch in Two Harbors, Minnesota. Out of that lunch came a collaboration to launch my novel Sukulaiset at Fitger’s in Duluth. Explain your upbringing, where you were raised, your parents, and your connection to Finnish and Finnish American culture.

Diane:

I loved that event! I was raised in the Minneapolis area until age 15, when we moved near the University of Minnesota. My parents were children of Finnish immigrants. Finnish was spoken at home when they didn’t want the children to know what was being said. We visited relatives in northern Minnesota and quite often, only Finnish was spoken. It felt like we’d crossed a border. I was raised in a very American home, but as my parents grew older, they became involved in Finnish groups and re-embraced their heritage.

Mark:

One of the tunes you played at the launch was “Rebel Girl”. And “Rebel Girl” appears on your CD, Bittersweet, the credits of which read like a Who’s Who of Finnish American music. Why those musicians for that album?

Diane:

I thought that was so great you included that iconic song in your book.

It’s one of my favorites. I received a grant to chronicle, in poetry, the experiences of Finnish immigrant women and their female descendants, which became The Way She Told Her Story. Doing research, I stumbled upon my mother’s Little Red Songbook. It included IWW songs in Finnish and there it was—“Kumousnainen”.

At the time, I was also gathering tunes for a recording of Finnish music and decided to include “Rebel Girl” on that CD.

As to the other musicians who appear Bittersweet: members of the Finn Hall Band, Arto Järvelä and Sara Pajunen all contributed their many great skills and talents.

Mark:

What’s your fluency in Finnish?

Diane:

Limited, though I can recognize quite a bit. I heard it growing up and studied written Finnish at the U of M. I also studied at the Sibelius Academy and my comprehension grew there. I’ve been to Finland six times. Each trip, I pick up more.

Mark:

On a podcast promoting your work with the Café Accordion Orchestra (https://beta.prx.org/stories/407222) , Dan Newton discusses your ability to sing in any language. Explain your love of language. Also, why you seem drawn to songs of sadness?

Diane:

My ability to sing in virtually any language is hyperbole, though I am drawn to world music.

Yes, I have many sad songs in my repertoire. I’m drawn to contemplative songs and to those songs that respond to sorrow, like the blues. Finnish music has many tunes in major keys, but I’ve always landed on the minor chord tunes. Maybe it’s in my DNA to sing sad songs as a way to navigate challenges, adversity, or grief. Or maybe the tradition of lament is just part of my heritage.

Mark:

Growing up, was there music in the Jarvenpa household?

Diane:

My mother played the violin and we listened to Beethoven and Sibelius. She also sang in church choirs. My brother was a gifted pianist. Classical, folk, blues, country, rock, jazz played on the stereo. All of this made me the eclectic musician I am.

Mark:

This Ordinary Day is a solo effort that includes songs written in collaboration with John Reinhard.

Diane:

Of the seven recordings I’ve made, this is the first one that’s all in English: just me and my guitar. It was made during the pandemic in my basement. I felt exposed, no other musicians to support me. But I felt this is a good time to strip it all down: a time to respond to all that’s happening. It’s also my homage to my musical beginnings, some folk, blues, and Americana.

John and I’ve collaborated in the past. He sends me ideas for lyrics. It’s been fun creating songs over email; never in the same room or the same town. I think my favorite from the new recording is the cut my daughter LiLi sings on, “Brief Wings of Summer”. It’s a touching send-off to a daughter leaving for college.

Mark:

Let’s shift gears a bit. In …swift, bright, drift… you provide some great poetry. I’m guessing that your poetry has a connection to Tuohela and other poems written by your mother, Aili Jarvenpa.

Diane:

That was a book I dedicated to my father. Nature was a gift from my father and poetry was a gift from my mother who was a poet, editor, and translator. My parents had a tremendous influence on me as a writer.

Mark:

What are your plans? Any new CDs or poetry in the works? Where can readers access your work?

Diane:

I don’t know. Maybe an album of duets of jazz classics with guitarist friends. Regarding writing, I’m currently working on a novel. It’s a project I’ve enjoyed more than I could have ever imagined. And yes, it involves Finland!

My books and CDs are available on my website   www.dianejarvi.com.

Mark:

I know you’re an accomplished kantele player. How did that begin?

Diane:

I heard the group Koivun Kaiku perform and wanted a 5-string kantele. I ordered one and joined the group. I also studied kantele at the Sibelius Academy. I’ve used it on six CDs. I bring one with me when I’m at Memory Care units teaching through the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project. It’s a mysterious and beautiful instrument that calms.

Mark:

Last question. Any plans to be at FinnFest in Duluth as a performer?

Diane:

I don’t know. But it will be a wonderful gathering of artists, music, and lecturers that showcase the gifts of the culture.

About Mark

I'm a reformed lawyer and author.
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