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Written in fRoots issue 381, March 2015

Compiled by Cätlin Jaago
Estonian Literary Museum / Estonian Folklore Archives
ISSN 1736-0528, EKMCD 008 (2011)

A box, fastened rather charmingly with a length of turquoise wool as if tying the jew’s-harp in the photo to its wooden holder, contains two books and a CD.
     One, of 200 pages with lots of sepia photos, is about the history, forms and traditions of jew’s harps made and played in Estonia, with instructions for playing and, taking up more than half the pages, biographies and photos of sixteen players of the past. The text is parallel Estonian and English. The other, ring-bound to lie flat, contains transcriptions of their playing, with, on the CD inside its back cover, the audio of those same tunes - 49 short tracks from the Estonian Folklore Archives recorded between 1922 and 1994.
     The very earliest recordings are inevitably scratchy, and none of the tracks show the sort of high technical virtuosity of players in traditions in some other parts of the world, but their principal interest lies in giving us audio contact with the players, whose bios are interesting windows into Estonian musical life of the past. 
     The package is compiled by Cätlin Jaago (now Cätlin Mägi), bagpiper, jews-harp player and member of the Torupilli Jussi Trio, Ro:toro and Vägilased.
     Not destined to sweep the best-seller lists, but a piece of good research, attractively and welcomingly presented, and such things can boost esteem for a tradition and its exponents, and even spur people to play, participate in and so revive it.
     (For a beautifully put together book and CD package, to which Cätlin also contributed, on the whole range of Estonian folk instruments (only in Estonian but full of photos), see Eesti Rahvapille, reviewed in fR 314/315)


© 2015 Andrew Cronshaw

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