very humble and gracious man, full of praise for his
successors who took over the running of the Sata-Häme
Soi Accordion Festival, founder Heikki Eränen and
his wife Tuula kindly take some time to answer some
questions about both his background and that of the
It is impossible to find out all the history in one
brief interview, however this will give you a small
insight into what has become the largest accordion festival
in the world.
We thank Heikki Eränen for his vision in creating
this annual event, and you can feel his overwhelming
sense of pride and passion for how the festival has
developed, and for the Festival's continued success
and outlook for the future.
Now in its 38th year, if Mother Nature holds true to
her forecast for a fine weekend for the outdoor events,
the 2010 festival promises to break all attendance records
as pre-sales hit the highest mark ever!
Kevin Friedrich, Accordions Worldwide pictured below
with Heikki Eränen and his wife Tuula.
Special thanks to Hillevi Chruchill for being the
Finnish-English Interpreter for the Interview.
you tell us a little about where you were born,
and some of your family history?
Several generations of Eränens have been born
in Ikaalinen. I was born and raised in Ikaalinen,
as was my father and my grand father and even my
great grand father, Kustaa Nestori Eränen.
Later my father Olli Eränen had a shop in the
middle of Ikaalinen.
It was my great grand father Kustaa who brought
the first accordion to Ikaalinen from St. Petersburg,
a small accordion with just a right hand keyboard.
In fact, they brought three important things to
Ikaalinen at that time, a gun, the accordion and
a bird decoy whistle used for hunting partridge
Back then, in 1870, my great grandfather used to
play his accordion in the main Park in town with
a clarinetist and violinist. The Finnish people
are not so known for being big talkers, but they
do know how to talk through their music.
your father also have a musical background and what
was your earliest memory of the accordion in your
father Olli Eränen (18 August 1895 - 5 May
1949) used to play accordion also.
I remember the day he brought home an accordion.
He was quite good, and he and his brothers used
to play together.
Back then my friends would ask me to go with them
to hear my father play with his little band, pictured
Pictured right is Olli Eränen
you yourself play the accordion?
oh yes.. I played a few wrong bass notes here and
there!! I played some basic Waltzes and some of
the more famous Finnish Folk Songs for a small time,
but I was more of an excellent 'listener!'
I also tried a few times to play with the band,
but the leader politely informed me that something
wasn't quite right like.. like there was a problem
with the rhythm... hint hint... maybe this isn't
My daughter Johanna also played a little accordion,
but she is quite good at the piano.
was your main work throughout your career?
1963, I was the headmaster of the Adult Education
Center. It was during this time that I worked to
develop a music program and a symphonic orchestra.
At this time, there were more players in the orchestra
than there were people listening!
you recall the first time you met Lasse Pihlajamaa?
1970, I invited Lasse to come and play in Ikaalinen
on a concert. He hadn't been playing for some time,
but his name was still so well known. Lasse originated
from the Jämijärvi area (close by) and
had many old friends and other people that would
like to see him back in the area performing again.
I told him that his childhood friend (that we had
in common) Kalle Vainionpää (right) was
waiting for him to come back and play, and this
finally convinced Lasse to perform.
The word that Lasse would come back to perform in
Ikaalinen spread like a wildfire, and they immediately
sold 900 tickets for the Hall. They could have sold
many more, but we were already worried that we couldn't
fit 900 people in the Hall. I was also so worried
about what I would do if now Lasse canceled his
commitment, but luckily it didn't happen.
On the day, in his big American made car, Lasse
with his wife Maire
and their dog. An amazing success and homecoming,
he absolutely charmed everybody, and thus began
a lifelong friendship between the Eränen and
left: Kansan Lehti Newspaper article from
13 June 1972
Above right top: Lasse Pihlajamaa
right lower: Lasse Pihlajamaa
to the first Sata-Häme Soi Festival, in the
early 1970's you twice organized a local concert
in Ikaalinen, where amateur accordionists from Ikaalinen
were invited to play. Can you tell us a little bit
about this time?
1969, I organized a concert with a group of 12 of
the best accordion players from Ikaalinen, in Oma
Tupa. At that concert more than 500 people showed
The concert were organized in the Autumn, after
the harvest season was over, as people had more
free time. The concerts were held under the 'Ikaalisten
Syyssoitto' name (Autumn Festival). The Autumn concerts
of 1969 and then 1970 and 1971 grew quickly and
became so big that we had to move it to the summer
time to accommodate more people.
Below is pictured a performance from the Autumn
Festival of 1970.
this time the concept of Sata-Häme Soi Festival
was born? How did this come about?
the incredible amount of people, the Autumn Festival
was moved to the midsummer period. The word Sata
pertains to the region to the West of Ikaalinen
and the word Häme pertains to the Eastern and
South-Eastern part of the region, so Sata-Häme
Soi encompasses the entire region surrounding Ikaalinen.
People were tired of watching TV and were more excited
about supporting live concerts, and so the concerts
became a well known tradition. The first festivals
were also held outside and in the Sports Hall.
Interestingly, at this time, the group of 12 accordionists
that were performing at these festivals were invited
to the Sibelius Academy to perform. They were the
last ones to perform on a rather lengthy classical
and contemporary music concert, and were quite nervous
as to what the audience would think of this amateur
folk group from Ikaalinen. They thought what surely
would be a highbrow audience would not appreciate
them. However when they performed the Saakijarven
Pollka, the audience went wild and gave them a standing
ovation. In the audience was a renowned Finnish
musician Georg Malmsten who inquired at the conclusion
of the concert.. how can you all play so well together!?
first festival was in 1972. Do you have any information
about these early Sata-Häme Soi Festivals?
had many concerts and activities from competitions,
to children's concerts with the first festival in
1972 attracting over 10,000 people! The first festivals
were held in the Softball Park, before later moving
to the Center of Town in what is now called Festival
We had many connections with the Sibelius Academy
and some of the famous Finnish accordionists who
had immigrated to the United States, that returned
to perform. Some of the artists included Lasse Pihlajamaa,
Merja Ikkelä and Matti Rantanen from Finland
alone, so already from the very beginning, the standard
was very high!
the years, there were Folk Dancing Calling Competitions
(1975-1977) as well as Fiddle competitions (through
1979). In 1980's the Golden Accordion Competition
was added, which began broadcasting on live TV in
1983, with the Silver Accordion (youngsters competition)
being added in 1986. Maria Kalaniemi won the first
Golden Accordion Competition and in 1983, the TV
audience for the live broadcast was estimated at
In 1977, the initial three day festival was expanded
to a week long celebration. In 1985 Sata-Häme
Soi Festival attracted around 45,000, which was
already about 10, 000 visitors more than in 1984.
By 1985, The Sata-Häme Soi Festival had grown
to the accordion world's largest event. In 1985
more than 60 concerts and events took place over
In 1991, to compliment the annual summer Sata-Häme
Soi Festival, the Silja Europa cruise was added
where the competition to decide the Golden and Silver
Accordion finalists was held. Unlike any other event
in the world, more than 3,000 people bus in from
all over Finland to take part in this annual overnight
cruise to Sweden and back.
Pictured below are attendees at the first Sata-Häme
Soi Festival in 1972.
there have been some outstanding guests over the
years, however do you have any guest artist from
over the years that have left a special impression?
have been so many, but some that are quite special
are of course Lasse Pihlajamaa,
Paul Norbach and Astor Piazzolla, who gave his only
Finland performance ever, while at the Sata-Häme
Other artists have included the Montavani Orchestra,
Paul Norrback, Alfred Hause Tango Orchestra (sold
over 40 million records) which drove from Germany
by Bus, Viatcheslav Semionov from Russia and other
artists which have now come from all around the
long were you directly involved with the management
of the Sata-Häme Soi Festival?
was the Chairman of the Sata-Häme Soi Festival
until 1989 when I also retired as the Head Master
of the School in 1991. However, in spirit, I am
always involved with the Sata-Häme Soi Festival
I must give my biggest thanks and compliments to
Kimmo Mattila who became Musical Director of the
Festival in 1984. He is perfect as he is such an
excellent organizer, a great musician and he speaks
several languages.. he is a person with so many
early collaboration between you and Lasse has obviously
led to a lifelong friendship. Can you tell us about
the successful concert in 1970, laughing... we were
invited down to Helsinki after the concert in the
big American car with Maire at the wheel. He insisted
that she drive, so that he could conserve his fingers!
As they drove into Helsinki, Lasse would caution
Maire about her city driving.. taking care to not
run the red traffic lights! We were always made
so welcome in their lovely home in Helsinki.
The Pihlajamaa's were the most warm and friendly
people and had big hearts and Lasse was always the
perfect gentleman. Whenever they stopped the car,
he would jump out and run around to the other side
to open the door for Maire. Lasse often joked that
he wanted to invent something so that he could automatically
open Maire's door without running around the car
to do so!! Lasse thought the world of his wife Maire,
and appreciated her more than 100%. Lasse was purely
the artist and musician, and didn't know much about
finances etc.. so Maire took care of all those details
behind the scene.
Tuula: Lasse and Maire took a sailing course and
proceeded to enjoy their new boat named "Dance
of the Wind" .
They invited us out for an overnight sailing in
the Baltic Sea. It was quite windy and rough, and
I was so sea sick that I was glad to get back on
land!! Ironically, the next day the sea was very
For Lasse's 70th Birthday Concert at the Sata-Häme
Soi Festival in 1986,
he composed a new piece called Muistojen Harmonikka
- Accordion Reminiscence. He asked me to come and
listen to this new piece. After listening to it,
I told Lasse, it was so beautiful, that if at least
half of the audience doesn't cry.. I will be disappointed!
At the concert in the Ikaalinen Hall, it was a very
moving experience. Everyone in the audience
had tears in their eyes.. and Lasse had tears in
along the way, you met your beautiful wife Tuula.
Where did you meet and how long have you been married?
wife Tuula answers: Heikki is 9 years older than
I am. He was an excellent sportsman in his day with
his specialty being the 10 event Decathlon. He had
enough points amongst the various disciplines, that
he was crowned the Finnish National Champion. Heikki
was selected for the Finnish Olympic Team, but unfortunately
in the end, he couldn't attend due to an injury.
He did some of the training for his sports in Kilvakkala
where I (Tuula) lived, so that is how I came to
meet him. We dated for quite a while while he trained
as a teacher and then we got married in the summer
you live in the center of Ikaalinen just a few meters
from the festival itself. How long have you lived
this house in the Center of Ikaalinen, we have lived
forward, what do you think is the most important
aspect of having something like the Sata-Häme
most important thing is the showcasing of the diverse
styles and many faces of the accordion and the many
people from all countries around the world that
The accordion itself continues to develop, such
as the advent of Free Bass etc... so the Sata-Häme
Soi Festival continues to profile what is happening
in the accordion world.
Having seen all the people come both as artists
and audience over the years to hear the greats such
as Piazzolla, people have learned and developed
themselves based on what they hear.
The competitions have continued to develop, and
now people have come from the opposite side of the
world such as Grayson Masefield from New Zealand,
(winner of Primus Ikaalinen V) and its helped the
festival to develop so fast.
The accordion hasn't always been appreciated like
the piano for example, and sometimes people are
even a bit shy about saying they play the instrument,
but this festival has showcased the instrument in
a great way on the world stage.
you describe how it feels today to see the festival
that you created turning out to be a major International
event, attracting people from all corners of the
a smile from ear to ear.......Fantasitc!!!
When we began the festival, we worked at our jobs
by day, and our house turned into the Sata-Häme
Soi Festival office by night. Watching the festival
grow, now there is an office and staff. To watching
the festival grow, see the incredible dedication
of the very large team of workers and volunteers,
including youngsters who give their time and energy...
the artists that come from all corners of the world,
seeing that the greats such as Astor Piazzolla as
a 'real' person, it is amazing.
We can't thank Sirpa Sippola (Director) and Kimmo
Mattila (Music Director) and the Festival team enough
for their incredible work for the continuation of
the Sata-Häme Soi Festival!