U.P. Folklife Award winners announced

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The Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center at Northern Michigan University has announced the 2016 recipients of the Upper Peninsula Folklife Award. One individual and one organization will be honored for helping to preserve and promote the folk traditions of the region. Awardees are folk dancer, instructor and musician Kay Seppala of Chassell and the Hiawatha Music Co-op.

The awards will be presented at the Beaumier Center’s benefit, “A Scandinavian Dinner,” on May 10.  For more information and to register for the event, go to connect.nmu.edu/2016uphd. 

Seppala, an Ontonagon native, has offered instruction in Finnish, Scandinavian and American folk dance and in kantele performance (Finnish traditional harp) since returning to the Copper Country in the late 1990s. She previously performed as a kantele player and folk dancer with the Koivun Kaiku kantele ensemble and the Kisarit Finnish American Folk Dancers in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

As a member of these groups, Seppala toured Finland in the early 1980s, performing at Kaustinen Folk Music Festival and other locations. She also performed extensively in Finnish-American communities, also serving as director of the children’s folk dance ensemble, Pikku Kisarit. Upon her husband’s retirement, she returned to the Copper Country and began offering workshops in children’s folk dance and kantele through the Finnish American Heritage Center.

Seppala and a group of Copper Country children founded the Kivajat Finnish American Dancers ensemble, which performed at FinnGrandFest as part of its debut season. Following performances at FinnFest USA 2008, Kivajat developed a sister ensemble relationship with the Vinksin Vonksin Folk Dance Ensemble of Turku, Finland.

The group invited Kivajat to participate in the Tanssiva Turku International Folk Dance Festival on two occasions. In 2011, Seppala founded the Ilon Kaiku Kantele Ensemble, which has performed at numerous events in the Copper Country. She played a key role in several components of FinnFest USA 2013 held in the Copper Country, including development of the Kantele Splash, a mass kantele performance featuring artists from across the US and Canada, and the Folk Dance Expo featuring Finnish folk dancers from the United States and Canada, as well as the Vinksin Vonksin ensemble.

The mission of Hiawatha Music Co-op is to provide and promote traditional music and dance, educate and inform society on traditional American music and encourage the appreciation of such music through an annual three-day traditional music festival. All operations are exclusively for charitable and educational purposes and for the promotion of social welfare.

The music festival in Marquette County began in 1979 in Champion before settling at Marquette Tourist Park. About 3,500 people attend now attend the only event of its size and scope in the Upper Peninsula. The festival boasts an array of family activities with a children’s area for crafts and performers, a teen scene area with activities and a special dance, workshops for all ages and a main stage lineup of recognized performers.

The Hiawatha Music Co-op strives to offer traditional music concerts and workshops in the Marquette area throughout the year. This year, the co-op partnered with Marquette area elementary schools and other UP-wide music venues to provide a week-long ukulele workshop where students were given a full concert, history and individual instruction.

The Warm Up Wednesday Series also has been promoting fun in folk music for all ages. In May 2006, Hiawatha received the Community Arts Impact Award from the Marquette Arts and Culture Center.
The U.P. Folklife Award has been presented annually since 2009. A selection committee of seven reviewed the nominations and made the final decision on this year’s recipients.

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