Finland Postcard from Tour
These ‘postcards’ are from some of our singers, reporting from their 2015 tour to Sweden, Finland, and Estonia by our three correspondents Evie Hidysmith (age 15), Leah Ofman (age 17), and Juliana Iluminata Wilczynski (age 18). Hello SFGC Family,
Tervetuloa! (Welcome, in Finnish!)
When we arrived at Temppeliaukio church in Helsinki on Monday, we were greeted by Sonja Saarikoski, a reporter from the Helsingin Sanomat news website, and her videographer. After a quick warm-up, we performed William Schuman’s To Thy Love and Robert Schumann’s Du Bist Die Ruh (these composers share a similar surname, but Robert was a 19th-century Romantic composer and William was a 20th Century American composer) for the camera and an accidental audience of tourists visiting the church. The Temppeliaukio church was built in 1969 by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. Its walls are made entirely of stone, a perfect acoustic for choral music. The Sibelius High School Girls Choir, made up of students aged 16 to 19 and conducted by the enthusiastic Reijo Aittakumpu, joined us in this incredible space. The Sibelius High School choir has a strong, clear sound and complex repertoire. Aittakumpu looks for versatility in repertoire—the choir sings a diverse mix of half classical music, half pop and folk music. Reijo told me that about a quarter of the girls hope to pursue music professionally, many of them as instrumentalists.
In the first half of the concert, the Sibelius choir sang a set of Spanish songs by Finnish composer Einojuhini Rautavaara, and a composition called Toivomus by Nomi Enckell, who is actually a Sibelius chorister! Enckell soloed her work while her choir sang waves of oscillating chords underneath. I compose my own music, something that many of us in the chorus experiment with, and it was inspirational to see another young woman perform something she’d created, supported by her musical family. Although I don’t connect with choral pop music in the same way as I do classical, Enckell created something that felt incredibly authentic and represented a style and musicality that was genuinely hers. Her song was unique, made up of vivid, structured sections that flowed together to express something in Finnish that I somehow understood.
Reijo’s choir joined us in Meredith Monk’s Panda Chant, an American piece that pushes the boundaries of vocal production and, ultimately, what choral music is supposed to be.
In the second half of our program we sang a set of three Amy Beach songs arranged by Alexander Blachly. One audience member I spoke to after the concert enjoyed these pieces the most because they sounded “free and easy.” For an encore, we encircled the audience, ending with Du Bist Die Ruh. During our time in Helsinki, we shared contemporary American music that is significant to our culture, and experienced choral music from a community other than our own. As I looked out at the audience, I could see how our music influenced each individual, and was reminded of longtime SFGC Chorus School Director Beth Avakian’s favorite saying: if we make a difference in one person’s life, we have done our job as human beings and musicians.