MARQUETTE - Ralph Tuttila doesn't mind if the audience boogies during the shows his band, Finn Hall, puts on.
In fact, he loves when that happens.
"We encourage people to dance in the aisles," he said. "It makes things more festive. And it makes the event more exciting."
Members of Finn Hall are, from left, Oren Tikkanen, bass; Ralph Tuttila, mandolin; Cheryl Paschke, violin; Dennis Halme, accordion; and Al Reko, accordion and vocals. Tikkanen is from Calumet and joins the others, who all live in Minnesota, when the group tours the Upper Peninsula.
Upper Peninsula residents will have the chance to dance along to the traditional - and sometimes a bit non-traditional - Finnish music the band plays when Finn Hall makes three stops in the next week: in Hancock, on Sugar Island (near Sault Ste. Marie) and in Negaunee.
Based in Minnesota, Finn Hall includes musicians with U.P. roots, some through family connections but some through living in the region.
Tuttila, for instance, grew up in the Ishpeming area and is a graduate of National Mine High School and Northern Michigan University, with an advanced degree from Michigan State University.
"I guess I was always interested in music," Tuttila said. "At first I played by ear. I taught myself how to play the harmonica. I went to high school in National Mine, but didn't do much with music in school then."
After earning his academic degrees, Tuttila moved to Minnesota to pursue a career in social work. In the late 1970s, he became involved with musicals group there, eventually joining a well-known one called Koivun Kaiku.
"Koivun Kaiku is a kantele music ensemble, one of the first in the United States," Tuttila said. "I was with them from 1986 to 2000 or so. We toured a lot. In 1997, we were named Performers of the Year by the Finlandia Foundation."
It was with that group that Tuttila began playing the mandolin.
"It was about the same time I started playing with a musicians from Minneapolis and the U.P., doing old-time dance music," he said. "When we got more organized, we called ourselves Finn Hall. There were many historic Finn halls throughout America. We chose the name to honor that tradition. Some were labor halls, others were co-ops, but many featured a lot of music."
And since Finn Hall took off, musically that is, the band has played a lot of Finn halls.
"We just got back from a trip out East. We played a Finn hall in Massachusetts," Tuttila said.
Finn Hall, the band, includes core members Tuttila, mandolin; Cheryl Paschke, violin; Dennis Halme, accordion; and Al Reko, accordion and vocals. Tuttila also serves as the band's manager.
"We have been to Finland several times," he said. "We have learned a lot from the folk musicians there. Bringing our music to them is a bit like taking coal to Newcastle, but they like what we do and have been very encouraging.
"Much of the music we do is from 100 years ago or more, music our Finnish grandparents brought over when they came to the U.S., so it's nostalgic for people," he said. "But some of it is from the 1940s and 1950s, Finnish tangos and humppas.
"We do some Swedish and Norwegian music, too."
When playing in the U.P., Finn Hall is often joined by Yooper musical legend Oren Tikkanen of Calumet.
"Oren was instrumental in getting us going as a band," Tuttila said. "He played with the other accordionist and is remarkable."
FInn Hall has two CDs so far: "Muistelmia" ("Reflections") issued in 2002 and "Tule Tanssimaan" ("Come Dance") from 2009 which are available at concerts or online. Finn Hall earned honors as Finlandia Foundation National Performer of the Year 2010.
While many of the band's U.P. gigs are in the Hancock area, playing at the Vista in Negaunee is something about which Tuttila is thrilled.
"We are all excited about doing that. We have been trying to get in there for awhile," he said. "We are very happy we did."
Before the U.P. tour stops, Tuttila was heading to teach some dances at a music school in the Copper Country this past week.
"All four of us in Finn Hall have been involved in Kisarit, which is a Finnish folk dancing group."
For further information on Finn Hall, visit the band's website at www.finnhall.com
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.