Review: ‘Fire in the North Sky: Epic Tales from Finland’

Review of Kalevala performance led by storyteller Nick Hennessey.

The Oxford Culture Review

The stories from the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, are seldom read in England, let alone heard. First published in 1835, the epic is comprised of 22,795 verses of traditional tales from the Karelian region, compiled into one volume by philologist Elias Lönnrot. It became pivotal for Finnish nationalism, rejuvenating interest in the Finnish language at a time when Swedish was the official language of Finland. Most importantly though, it provided a sense of shared cultural history. Lönnrot collected the stories for the Kalevala from singers who performed runic songs, a centuries-old oral tradition of sung poetry. It is these songs that are brought to life in Fire in the North Sky, currently touring the UK. Bringing together storyteller Nick Hennessey, singer Anna-Kaisa Liedes, and instrumentalists Kristiina Ilmonen and Timo Väänänen, the show offers a contemporary take on this tradition, combining the ancient stories with…

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The Long View: How musical stories make political policies

Some thoughts on how musical and political narratives inter-relate. This article is part of a project for the CHASE Public Policy Engagement workshop.

The Oxford Culture Review

‘The universe’, wrote poet Muriel Rukeyser, ‘is made of stories, not of atoms.’ Narratives bind together the fabric of society — they help us to make sense of ourselves, of the world around us, and of where we fit within it. Anybody who has been engrossed by a novel, watched a child’s wonderment at the new worlds contained in the pages of books, or seen a storyteller performing live will bear testament to the rhetorical power of these fantasies and fables. Stories have withstood postmodern attempts to fragment the way in which we present the world: indeed, the claims of postmodernism are narratives in and of themselves.

It’s tempting to think of narratives as fictional — confined to the realms of Hogwarts, Middle Earth, and Narnia. But perhaps the most compelling stories are found in the pages of histories. These are tales that structure our world and perspectives just…

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