Peer-reviewed audio paper

Creating grief and lamenting on stage

This audio paper analyses the emotions of contemporary laments in the context of music and performing arts in Finland, and presents the course of events behind the current practices with audio examples.
23. august 2023
Fokus: GRIEF

Laments are a genre of oral poetry that expresses personal and communal grief. The tradition is global, but the specific practices culturally vary. In contemporary Finland the originally Karelian and Ingrian ritual traditions have sprouted into various practices, from performing arts to therapeutic and new spiritual interpretations that are sometimes called neo-laments. We analyse the emotions of contemporary laments in the context of music and performing arts, and present the course of events behind the current practices with audio examples. As earlier research shows, in traditional laments, emotions are experienced, expressed, performed, and conveyed. We argue that emotions arise in the interface of the subject of the lament, the lamenter’s images and impressions of the tradition, performance, and body. The lamenter’s understanding about the emotions of laments stems from earlier lament research and written descriptions, from lament recordings in archives and from her own experiences in everyday life and as a lamenter.

In this case study, bodily elements are important tools when creating the emotion for the performance on stage. Furthermore, the example lament – a lament about Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine – shows that besides grief compassion is a strong emotion in contemporary laments. The result of a collaboration between a cultural researcher and a professional musician specialized in laments, this paper is based partially on our article in Finnish (Silvonen and Kuittinen 2022). The main methods are interviews and other discussions, observation, and lament analysis.

Lament about Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine

By Emmi Kuittinen

Kuulehan kun kertoelen kurja vartuoni näistä kummallisista ajoista
ja ihmettelen itekseni näitä ihmeellisiä aikoja
huoleni huokaelen näistä hurjista ajoista
ikävistä ilmiöistä meijän ihalien ilmasien alla
voi eikö jo poistu paha näiltä parahilta ilmasilta
emmekö voi sovussa suoritella näillä soreilla sijasillamme?

Vierittelen nämä virdyöset vielä vihmerämmin meijän vesselille veljysille, siityisille sisärkanasille, heliöille heimokuntasille
suren noita sukukuntasia surkeilla sotateillä
ajattelen armahia aikomaisia ankeilla arpateillä
tuuvittamaisia turhilla tuhoteillä

Voi siellä teillä tietämättömillä ammutaan armahia aikomaisia
luodit lävistävät lempiliekuteltuisia
ja rautarakehuiset raatelevat rakkahia omakuntasia

Muut suloiset sukukuntaset joutuivat muille maille muuttolintuisina
kurkiauran lailla he kulkivatkin
niin ne meijän vesselät veljyet, siityisät sisärkanaset, heliät heimokuntaset
leviteltiin tänne leväselleen, kauas korpimaille, tuntemattomille turuille
kaunehet kasvantasijaset ja armahimmat assuntasijaset jättivät he vaikkeivät halunneetkaan

Oi armahat syntyset, auttakaa meitä armottomia
kannatelkaa kaunehet syntyset meitä kurjia kulkijaisia
antakaa armahat syntyset lempeyttä ja maireutta
antakaa rauhaa ja terveyttä

A thematic translation

Listen as I, my miserable body, talk about these weird times and wonder at these unusual times by myself, I sigh my worries about these terrible times, these miserable events under our lovely spheres, isn’t the evil already vanishing from these dearest spheres, can’t we make it in peace in our graceful places?

So, I roll my words even more swiftly for our jolly brothers, pure hen-sisters, for the vivid family, I mourn these kins on the miserable roads of war, I think of the dear ones on the dismal contingent roads, the lulled ones on the wasted ways of destruction

The dear ones are shot, the bullets pierce the most precious cradle-rocked ones, a hail of iron savages the dearest kin

The other sweet kin are forced to fly like birds to the strange lands they travelled like a wedge of cranes, so our jolly brothers, pure hen-sisters, and the vivid family were spread here around, far away to the backwoods, to the unknown lands, they were forced to leave the beautiful milieu of growing and the dearest walking ways

Oh, dear syntyset [the otherworld and otherworldly ones] help us wretched ones, please beautiful syntyset, support us miserable ones, dear syntyset, give tenderness and love, please give peace and health


We are grateful to the editors Meri Kytö and Sanne Krogh Groth for their helpful comments. We also thank the Archives of Finnish Literature Society, Akipekka Alanko, Liisa Matveinen, Emilia Kallonen, and Pirkko Fihlman, as well as the anonymous referees.


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References to the laments in the paper in the order of appearance. (Emmi Kuittinen’s lament about the Russian's war of aggression in Ukraine is recorded for this audio paper.)

Hääitku [Wedding lament]. Performed by Paraske Mitrunen (b. appr. 1852, Suojärvi, Karelia). Recorded in 1917 in Suojärvi by Armas Otto Väisänen. SKS Archives (Finnish Literature Society). SKS KRA A 494:2.

Kuolinitku [Death dirge]. Performed by Paraskovja Kursojeva (b. 1887, Aunus, Sammatus, Karelia). Recorded in 1943 in Helsinki Finland by Lauri Laiho and Jouko Hautala. SKS Archives (Finnish Literature Society). SKS KRA L 129.

Itku karjalaisten kohtalosta [Lament about Karelians' fate]. Performed by Oksenja Mäkiselkä (b. 1878, Suistamo, Karelia). Recorded in Helsinki 1940 by Armas Otto Väisänen. SKS Archives (Finnish Literature Society). SKS KRA L 280.

Hääitku [Wedding lament]. Performed by Anni Homanen (b. 1903, Repola, Karelia). Recorded in 1967 in Ilomantsi by Senni Timonen. SKS Archives (Finnihs Literature Society). SKS KRA SKSÄ 1967.55.

Malinan terveiset [Malina’s greetings, lament]. Performed by Liisa Matveinen, MMus. Recorded in a concert in 2021 in Helsinki by Riikka Patrikainen.

Itku muinaiseille emosille [A lament for ancient mothers]. Performed by Pirkko Fihlman, one of the founders of the Lamenter association in Finland. Äänellä itketty [Lamented] album. Published 2013. Äänellä Itkijä ry. [Lamenter Association] and Tuomas Rounakari.

Itku metsäkirkolle [A lament to the forest church]. Performed by Emilia Kallonen, music pedagogue. Recorded in a concert in 2021 in Helsinki by Riikka Patrikainen.

Itkulle ryhtyessä [By beginning a lament]. Performed by Liisa Matveinen, Emilia Kallonen and Emmi Kuittinen. Recorded in an event in 2022 in Helsinki by Emmi Kuittinen.


affective power