August 7-9, 2009

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Music & Dance

Northern Michigan
Finnish American Harmonica

Les Ross, holding harmonica.  He plays in the style of Finnish Lumberjacks in Michigan

Leslie Victor Ross, Sr. (a few generations ago in Finland, the family name was Rosendahl "roses in the valley") was born in 1924 in a farmhouse in Eben Junction, a small Alger County community in the north central part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The area was mostly settled by Finns who, along with their language and "sisu" (strength and perseverance to overcome all odds), brought their music. Especially during the Depression years, small inexpensive instruments like the harmonica were popular. When Les was about seven, his grandfather gave him a used "mouth organ." He learned tunes from family elders, from old 78 rpm records and from Finnish-speaking lumberjacks taking leave of their paychecks at the Blue Moon tavern at the hamlet’s only intersection. Les says his distinctive Finnish-Scandinavian "lumberjack style," in which the melody and pronounced rhythmic chording are played simultaneously, was once common in his community. But today Les is one of the few remaining masters of this charming style. While he insists that playing the harmonica is just a hobby, his 1998 recording Hulivili Huuliharppu ("Rollicking Harmonica") of Finnish American folk and dance music created quite a sensation and led to numerous radio, television and festival appearances. Since then, Les and his group, Les Ross, Sr., and the Finnish American All-Stars, frequently play at local, regional, and statewide events.

In 2006 Les and his apprentice Mark Hamari of Marquette received a Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship and Mark learned Les's distinctive harmonica style.


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