"Sisu Polka" performed by Richard Koski, Michael Ludgate and Katrina Mackey
Richard Koski, Michael Ludgate and Katrina Mackey perform "Sisu Polka" as part of a 2018 NYSCA Folk Arts Apprenticeship grant.
In 2018, Richard Koski received a Folk Arts Apprenticeship grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to teach mandolinist Michael Ludgate and fiddler Katrina Mackey how to play Finnish-American dance tunes. Koski is a master artist and diatonic button accordionist from Trumansburg, NY. Many of these tunes were performed at Finnish social gatherings in the Finger Lakes from the 1910s to the present. Although a Finnish cultural group called the Finger Lakes Finns exists today, there is hardly anyone left who knows the old music. These tunes are some of the approximately 100 Finnish tunes that Richard grew up hearing his father, William Koski play. Around 1970, Richard started actively playing with his dad and learning the tunes. Inspired by their Finnish heritage to learn more about traditional music and dance of Finland, Katrina and Michael formed the band Metku. As part of the apprenticeship, they transcribed all the tunes Richard taught them, creating a written record for future generations.
Richard named this tune, "Sisu Polka," which refers to the Finnish concept describing the strength of character one acquires through great struggle. When Finns began arriving in Spencer, Van Etten, Newfield and Trumansburg areas in 1910, they bought farms that had been neglected or abandoned in part due to the rugged nature of the land. They learned to work the land and built cooperative agricultural businesses to support one another. This notion if sisu feels appropriate for both the Finns that settled in the Finger Lakes, and for the way the musical tradition continues today. "I've never heard anybody else play this tune -- not on old Finnish records or anywhere," says Richard about it. "I don't know where Dad got it, but it sure sounds Finnish, and the only music he ever played was the old Finnish music that his parents' generation brought over from Finland."
Richard discusses "Sisu Polka", by artscouncilofthesouthernfingerlakes
Katrina Mackey discusses studying with Richard Koski, by artscouncilofthesouthernfingerlakes