LISBON – The Maine Kanteles will bring the hauntingly beautiful sound of the Finnish lap harp to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church on the Hill at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 12.

“St. Matt’s is offering mid-coast Maine a rare opportunity to experience this unique sound from Finland in an American coffeehouse setting” said the Rev. W. Beau Wagner, rector.

The concert is free and includes complimentary coffee and desserts. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church on the Hill is off Route 196.

The kantele is a traditional Finnish lap harp with a 2,000-year history rooted in the folklore of the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland. Finns consider it an important symbol of their culture, and it is played in their schools, universities and concert halls.

Sarah Cummings-Ridge, a teacher from Cumberland, is director of the 11 member all-volunteer group that has performed in Maine, Massachusetts, Finland, Canada, New Hampshire and Vermont.

“After my father gave me a kantele for a wedding gift, I was drawn to its historic importance to Finns and its mesmerizing sound,” said Cummings-Ridge, who had four Finnish grandparents.

Her longing to master the techniques and sounds of kantele playing was just the beginning of a journey that took her thousands of miles from home. “It felt like I had to go to the ends of the earth to learn how to play,” she said. “It all started with a very brief intro-workshop when FinnFest USA was in Gorham. More advanced lessons took me to Seattle. Further instruction meant signing up for a 10-day kantele immersion camp in Finland.”

Her lessons abroad were supported by grants from Finlandia Foundation National, a cultural organization based in the United States. In return for more advanced lessons, FFN expected Cummings-Ridge to teach the kantele in Maine. She never expected that teaching would lead to the concert stage.

In November 2000, Cummings-Ridge brought together 30 women who met in the basement of the Lutheran Church in South Paris to learn how to play “Ode to Joy” on the kantele. “For many, that Sunday afternoon lesson ignited a passion for the instrument,” said Cummings-Ridge.

It did not take much longer for the group to take a name, and the Maine Kanteles was born. Originally, the group met only for instruction; but in June 2001, the Finnish American Heritage Society of Maine invited the kantele players to perform.

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