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Three Stories about Finnish Music Education – What is the Basis of its Success?

Leena Hyvönen Airi Hirvonen Eeva-Kaisa Hyry

University of Oulu Oulu Polytechnic University of Oulu

lhyvonen@ktk.oulu.fi airi.hirvonen@oamk.fi ekhyry@ktk.oulu.fi

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Edinburgh, 20-23 September 2000


The New York Times Magazine printed on the 9th of last January a large article written by Geoffrey Wheatcroft. The article concerned the music life of Finland and was headlined Finland’s Forte, How small Scandinavian country conquered the world of classical music. Here some excerpts from that article:

And Finns have become important to music. Anyone who takes the most cursory interest in classical music today knows the names of Aulis Sallinen, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Joonas Kokkonen, Magnus Lindberg, Jouni Kaipainen and Kaija Saariaho. These are but a few stars from the expanding galaxy of contemporary Finnish music. – The work of living Finnish composers has been embraced in concert halls around the world, including the United States. One of the few contemporary works ever to be greeted warmly on the Metropolitan Opera stage was "The Red Line", Sallinen’s powerfull 1983 epic about Finnish farming life.

…the stream of Finnish singers has hit flood tide. Opera houses across the world fight for sopranos like Karita Heikkila and Soile Isokoski, the mezzo Monica Groop, the baritones Jorma Hynninen and Raimo Laukka, and Talvela’s heirs, the basses Heikki Salminen and Jaakko Ryhänen.

There is an equally impressive generation of Finnish instrumentalists – from the pianist Olli Mustonen to the dazzling 23-year-old violinist Pekka Kuusisto. As for Finnish conductors, they are waving their batons across the globe: Osmo Vänskä in Scotland, Jukka-Pekka Saraste in Toronto; the celebrated Esa-Pekka Salonen at the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Wheatcroft asks how all this success – " that would do credit to any of the larger European countries – or even to the United States" - is possible. What are the reasons for that success? First, Wheatcroft sees as one reason the fact that although the history of the state of Finland is not very long, the roots of Finnish musical culture are long going far back to the Iron Age, the Kalevala time. The national epic Kalevala, the collection of ancient runes gathered from the eastern part of Finland and the first great Finnish composer Sibelius have been important symbols of Finnish identity. Perhaps as the most important reason of the musical success Wheatcroft still sees Finnish music education. So, the Finnish musical explosion is not "some inexplicable, God given miracle" but "a product of something far less exalted: taxation." Wheatcroft refers to the fact that in Finland education in general and many areas of cultural life are paid by public money.

What we want to do in this article is to look especially behind the last reason Wheatcroft is talking about, that is music education. We try to clear up what the realities are in the area of music education and how significant its effect is to the success of Finnish musicians. However, for the background of this concentrating on music education, we want to clear a little bit what Wheatcroft says about the significance of the history of the state of Finland and the roots of the Finnish culture to the high level of Finnish music.

After many centuries under Swedish domination Finland became the Grand Duchy of Finland, an autonomous part of Russia in 1809. Klinge (1986, 14) sees that event as important as Finland becoming independent more than one hundred years later in 1917. For Finland the time under Russian domination was really a time of "state-making", because its position was exceptionally good in compared with the other minority groups in eastern Europe (Alapuro 1980, 8-11; Alapuro 1988, 34; see also Siltala 1999, 119). Although under Swedish domination Finland had never been an administrative unit (Klinge 1975, 10, 28), to the end of the 19th century all institutions necessary to the state were established, among them the elementary school system, the first music institute and the first professional symphony orchestra (Salmenhaara 1995, 498-499, 511-515). On the background of this rapid development of the state was the rise of Finnish national identity since the 1840s. And Kalevala was really – as Wheatcroft mentions – very important in that process. Through it Finnish language and culture found their roots and got a weapon against the domination of Swedish language and culture among upper class people. (Alapuro 1988, 94.) However, it is important to notice, that although Finnish had never been the official language it had been the literary language, since the middle of the 16th century. (Kemiläinen 1964, 209-210.)

Although the national unity at some level was aroused in the 19th century, the history of Finland at the end of the time of autonomy and at the beginning of independence is full of fighting between antithetic opinions: Finnish, Swedish and also Russian were struggling for the position of official language, the conflict between the social classes grow to civil war at the beginning of independence and old differences between eastern and western sides of the country were alive. The wars against Russia 1939-45 united the nation at some level and the latter half of the 20th century has been a time of increasing prosperity, which has been divided to the whole people according to the principles of the Scandinavian welfare state. Nowadays there are signs of breaking of these principles, which has already had an effect on education and probably this trend becomes stronger and stronger in the future.

We start our examination of Finnish music education with stories about real life. First, a comprehensive school teacher tells how she was educated in the area of music and how she manages in her work. Second, a professional piano music student tells what was important in the process of becoming a musician. The last is the story of a professor of piano music and also internationally famous performing artist. He tells about his way to this position. These persons have taken part in our researches (Hirvonen 2000, Hyry 2001, Hyry & Hyvönen 2000). After the stories we discuss the Finnish music education besides analysing these three stories.

Three Stories

The stories below have been built through the narrative analysis described by Polkinghorne (1995). He divides narrative inquiries into two types: (1) the paradigmatic-type inquiry which is realized in the analysis of narratives and (2) the narrative-type inquiry which is realized in narrative analysis. The basis for Polkinghorne’s typology is provided by the two modes of thought proposed by Jerome Bruner (1986). Bruner’s paradigmatic (or logico-scientific) mode of thought operates with well-formed arguments, searching for universal truth and organising elements into categories and theories, whereas the narrative mode of thought operates by combining elements into well-wrought stories which aspire to be lifelike and believable (Bruner 1986, 11-13).

Polkinghorne applies Bruner’s dichotomy to the analysis of narrative inquires. The analysis of narratives uses stories as data, and the outcomes of the analysis are paradigmatic categories or typologies, whereas narrative analysis operates with data consisting of actions, events and what is happening, producing explanatory stories through analysis. So what happens is a kind of process of data synthesis which may consist of interviews, journals, personal documents, observation etc.

The analysis we have used is very similar to Polkinhorne’s description of narrative analyses. Maarit’s story is based on her life story, diary and interview. She sent her life story and diary (written during her studies at the Department of Teacher Education) to the teachers’ autobiography project at the University of Oulu entitled Teachers in Change. A Narrative-biographical Approach to Teachers’ Life and Work. Autobiographies of teachers in northern Finland were sought in this project by putting an announcement in a journal. All the references to music, music studies and music teaching were gathered from the data, and Maarit was also interviewed about her experiences as a class teacher for that very article.

Matti’s story is mostly based on the data that has been collected for a definite inquiry into study the professional thinking of a master piano teacher (Matti). The data includes interviews with Matti and his pupils participating in master courses. The lessons were also recorded or videotaped. Besides the data includes some articles conserning Matti or written by himself (e.g. Pietilä 1996; Raekallio 1999).

The data for Kaisa’s story consists of interviews with three piano music students at the Sibelius Academy. Kaisa’s story is a synthesis of these three stories, a type story. The type story represents the alternative method of reporting that has become increasingly common in qualitative research in recent time. It involves an experimental way of writing, with the results of the research performed by means of poetry, drama or stories, for example. In this case Kaisa’s story is a fictive narrative. Lincoln and Denzin (1994) regard fictive narratives as one way of reporting in modern qualitative research. Experiments with different kinds of reporting will become increasingly common in the future, and scientific texts will be produced in a more and more versatile manner. (Lincoln & Denzin 1994, 578, 582-584; see also Richardson 1994, 520-52.)

The stories below were formed on the basis of the material above described through narrative analysis.

Maarit’s Story

I was born as a daughter of a small farmer in the north and grew up there near by the mountains of Lapland and the western border of Finland. When a child I got to play among plenty of children: there were six in our family and more in the neighbourhood, and cows, calves, dogs and cats were also like sisters and brothers to us. In summer children had to work for the house making hay on the hayfield, picking berries in the forest and fishing on the river. In winter we were in school, learned our lessons and went skiing. After school we could sky a track of thirty kilometres in the mountainous landscape. On the top of every mountain we breathed deeply free air and were delighted with the beauty of the world.

During long light summer nights and in the rainy days we devoured books. New worlds opened to us, worlds of Tarzan and Robin Hood, Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon. Our parents supported our cultural and artistic curiosity as much as it was possibly in poor circumstances. Perhaps that has also been areason for my interest in music. Since my studying time I have been an enthusiastic visitor to concerts and nowadays I also have plenty of records of classical music.

My preparation for adulthood started when I began upper secondary school away from home at the age of sixteen. After upper secondary school I started my English and Nordic Philology studies in the University of Oulu. Like most students, I wanted to learn languages but not become a teacher. However after my Bachelor degree I started to work as a teacher, although it was not easy to find a place of my own. I taught short times in secondary and upper secondary schools and many years in folk high school. Then I returned back to the north, to my home area. They needed an ambulant English teacher for primary schools. It was my first contact with small children and it was also the impetus to complete my competence as primary school teacher. So I started to study at the Teacher Training Department of the University of Oulu to complete my Bachelor degree to Master’s level in class teacher education.

The training took two years. These two years were the most hard-working time of my life! The ex-philologist was dizzy with all the things the primary school teacher must be able to do and know. During two years one had to pass a countless number of different kinds of courses and prepare simultaneously your graduate treatise, which – by the way - was for me the best experience of the whole education.

In teacher education all practical subjects (craft, physical education, music and visual art) seemed to be very hard and laborious. There was always arrears of work and one never knew enough. Especially learning to play the piano seemed to become from the very beginning a threshold question for enjoying studies at the Teacher Training Department. At the age of forty, the fingers are not flexible like willow twigs, and I had to work really hard to learn accompaniments of school songs. At first there was no co-ordination between the fingers. All was just fumbling, no success at all. But intense practising did its duty: I learned a song after another, my cord store increased and became more complicate and I learned all the time new ways to accompany melodies. All this demanded plenty of work. Many days I practised two tree hours, partly in the "piano cells" of the department and partly in the house of my friend. Many times I really pitied the ears of my friend’s family members.

Piano playing we learned in private lessons, but operations with school instruments, singing and music theory at music lessons, where the whole group was present. After the first term I wrote in my diary: "In fact I have learned music and physical education more than any other subjects during this autumn, so I feel." Those were subjects, which demanded practising continuously or skills went down. Once I were one week away from Oulu because of my teaching experiment and it was very difficult to catch up what others had learned during the week. So there was no possibility to relax for a moment! Although I noticed that music education in my old school given by the cantor of the village was quite competent: music theory was not strange or difficult to me, I was a good singer and have memorised a huge amount of songs – some of them of course old-fashioned at present. But I had never played the piano and I wanted to show to myself that I am able to learn it. And it happened, I learned!

Now I have worked almost ten years as a teacher in a primary school in the home district of my childhood. How useful my skills in piano playing have been in my work? I have dared to teach music only in the lowest classes and I must admit that my playing is not fluent enough for accompanying children’s singing. My strategy is to practise the song by myself with the help of my piano and in the class teach it to pupils by singing.

Kaisa’s Story

I started my piano studies before starting comprehensive school. I grew up in quite a small town and due to the piano studies I have got to travel from quite an early age. My parents have helped me remarkably in travelling to the piano lessons. In my home town I have felt positive attitudes towards my playing. I have often played in different kinds of social occasions, because there has not been a lot of musicians in my home town. I have regarded this to be positive for my musicianship.

Most of my siblings have played, too. My parents have given support to my music studies. I started in a music school before I started in comprehensive school. My parents gave me the impulse to begin the music studies. Also I myself have been very interested in musical activities. The musical backgrounds of my mother and father are very different. My father is a professional musician, but my mother or mother’s family haven’t had any contact with a musical hobby. I think that home’s support is very important. The parents have supported but not forced me. On the other hand my parents have emphasised that lessons and tasks are to be done with care, but there are also other values in life. Working and playing are not the only important things. In the comprehensive school I spent some years in special music classes. Especially in the higher classes of comprehensive school the classmates were not very keen on my playing, sometimes it caused even wondering. So I was not willing to play at school, although the teachers sometimes asked for it. After comprehensive school I have studied in special music upper secondary school, which I liked very much. There the students had one common hobby in a positive atmosphere.

I have different kinds of experiences with my piano teachers. Contacts with these teachers have had of different durations. Sometimes the piano teacher has changed yearly, but most of times I have worked with the same teacher for many years. The atmosphere of the lessons has been different with different teachers. At its worst I have feared my piano teacher and at its best it has been very pleasant to work. The atmosphere has been enthusiastic and teaching has had high professional quality. Sometimes I have felt that her programme isn’t challenging enough. Then my practising has temporarily diminished. I think that the programme must be challenging, only then it is motivating to practise. Besides playing I have had also other hobbies during my school years. Music was only one but perhaps a little bit more important hobby among others. Little by little playing has taken more time and become the most important hobby. During the upper classes of comprehensive school, before entering upper secondary school, I took I-exam in piano playing. I think that some piano teachers are key persons when I choosing my profession. A successful change from a teacher to another has given new spirit and enthusiasm to my music studies. Playing has reached a new level. Exceptionally remarkable the change of the teacher was in the time when I entered upper secondary school. Then I began to think that music could become my professional career.

During the years in the upper secondary school I took part in music competitions. My experiences from competitions are mainly positive and inspiring. It has been pleasant and challenging to prepare oneself to competitions. I am pleased with the working and progress which has taken place when preparing the large programme. When I have had success in competitions, it has been motivating and inspiring. On the other hand, it has been hard to get over the disappointments that some competitions have caused. I have made the process of getting over mainly by myself. I haven’t discussed with my piano teacher about the feelings of disappointment. My fellow students have given pertinent and good feed-back.

As a professional student it has bothered me and I have also wondered about the important role that music competitions have got. The spirit of the studies at the Sibelius Academy seems rather competitive. Many teachers seem to regard it as important that their students take part in competitions over and over again. Students discuss this matter sometimes but not with the teachers. We can wonder if the teachers are at all aware about the students’ feelings. Now when playing is the main work in my life I wonder if this is the work I want to do the rest of my life. During the school years it was a nice hobby. Now my whole energy should be put in playing. On the other hand I am pleased with the fact that nowadays I have enough time to practise carefully. Especially during the years in the upper secondary school I had every now and then a feeling that I haven’t enough time to practise so much that would have been necessary.

I remember some exceptionally remarkable learning experiences, for example an inspiring piano lesson or a summer music course. Then I have felt that my skills have improved very quickly. In my small home town I haven’t had contacts with other playing young people. During the music courses I have got friends who have the same hobby and interests that I have. Some of the teachers of these summer music courses have been important in my process of choosing the profession. The spirit of the courses has been important in entering the world of music. During my life there has been several occasions that I have regarded as enthusiastic and motivating and I have felt the feeling of success. I am quite positive by my nature and I have got over the failures quite well. Sometimes I have been able to turn them into a positive side. This has given me a new impulse to continue forwards with greater and greater energy.

Matti’s Story

I was certainly not a child prodigy. I was already 11 years old when I began to take piano lessons with a friendly, sock-knitting lady. Getting admitted to the College of Music two years later was absolutely decisive for me, and an enormous cultural shock, too, since I had no relationship whatsoever with classical music from home. My first teacher has just graduated and was very enthusiastic. Under her direction I started to make so much progress that she decided to hand me over to the head teacher, who was then the local piano guru

With the head teacher my studies began to get on dramatically. I got challenging pieces to play, practised them fanatically and started going to concerts and reading everything there was to read about the piano. After three years at the College of Music I was so convinced of my desire to play professionally that I quitted upper secondary school and started practising eight hours a day. I played my piano diploma at the Sibelius Academy when I was 23 years old. Before my diploma I, however, complemented my studies abroad, in London, Vienna and Leningrad. I appreciated especially my teacher at the Academy in Vienna, who was a very important teacher for me in the purely musical sense, he really guided me in the way of artistic direction.

I began teaching at the Sibelius Academy just after finishing my studies and since then I have been working there. I have studied pedagogy mostly by doing it, so methodically speaking, as a teacher I’m in a way self-taught.. Of course, even when I started to teach, I had read volume after volume of piano-related literature and besides I had studied piano in different places, so I think it was pedagogically quite a good starting point. There was not any single, overwhelming, fixed school of pianistic thought to provide automatic answers as the basis of my work.. I have worked mostly in such pedagogical situations where the work aims at public performances, on a high professional level, of musical compositions. of. So the demands of the pieces in question, as seen by myself and by the student, in close collaboration, define the essential frame of reference in my teaching. At the beginning I try to get a picture about how the student wants to play the piece, comparing it with my own picture of it. . So I try to make a synthesis of the two. . I do not wish to say that the piece is ´ coming from Mt. Sinai´ [sacred] but all of us pianists are in the same boat however. Neither of us can have an exhaustive picture of the piece, the master-work is always greater than the sum total of its possible performances; there are always some aspects there that everybody seems to have overlooked..

The process of teaching really gives insight to both teacher and student. Of course it is time-consuming and continually during and after lessons you notice that you aren't in such a condition with your own pieces as you could be if you had more time to practise. However, the thoughts and ideas that I get during lessons compensate for the lost practising .

My strongest motive for playing the piano is quite simply a desire to do it. Already at the age of three I’d been the sort of kid who just sits there and reads; I have enjoyed stooping over the piano in much the same way. It’s on the one hand a problem-solving exercise of studying practical ways around problems of technique, on the other hand it can be a trip into experiences out on the far side of language. Thinking about the deeper significance of music in my life besides the professional aspects, I see music as a representation of life in its entirety, but on a symbolic sphere. When I consider the extent to which I as a pianist can channel into this black-and-white keyboard such things that are connected with my own character, my own make-up, , then I think also that without piano I might be a pretty unbearably black and white individual. What I’m often trying to get at is the handling of life’s tensions, conflicts and aggressions on the symbolic level that music allows one to do - especially in works that are somehow ‘shoreless’, the ones you nearly drown in... Nowhere else in music, only at the piano or on the conductor’s rostrum, can just one person be responsible for so much - and be involved in so much in terms of depth, too. It’s quite unique.

Music Education in Finland

All-Round Music Education at the Comprehensive School and Upper Secondary School

The education of the people had been organised by the church in Finland since the 17th century (Heikkinen 1989, 61-62). However, the modern general education sponsored by official money was set up at the end of the 19th century as one of the most important goals of the national project of Finland. It was seen important firstly for removing the socially dangerous cultural gap between educated and common people and secondly to support the economical development of the state (Halila 1983, 165-166; Heikkinen1989, 113). So, the first teacher training college started in 1863 and the Elementary School Statue was given in 1866 on the ground of the ideas brought from Germany and Switzerland by Uno Cygnaeus, "The Father of the Finnish elementary school". (see Heikkinen 1989, 108-109). Teacher training was strongly marked by these ideas over a century (Sunnari 1997, 67-68). So was also the elementary school, although it didn’t become a compulsory first school of all strata until at the beginning of independence.

Since the beginning, arts subjects played a significant part in the curricula of both the elementary school and the teacher training colleges. For instance musical competence was tested in the entrance examinations of colleges and every student had to study various music skills like singing, music theory and accompaniment of hymns and school songs to become competent to teach the subject called "singing" in the elementary school (Cygnaeus 1910, 245-248; Nurmi 1995; Hyvönen 2000). Maarit’s story shows, that content elements of music education she got in the elementary teacher education were very similar, albeit the studying time was shorter. As a proof of the emphasized position of music in teacher training colleges are many famous singers like Martti Talvela or Jorma Hynninen, who have found their talent during studies in a college.

The music teachers of the secondary and upper secondary schools, to which pupils could apply for admission after elementary school, studied till the beginning of the 20th century high-level musical skills in the Conservatory of Helsinki (present Sibelius Academy) or in corresponding music schools; their pedagogical competence was obtained in some lycée of the state (Jokinen 1975, 6-7). Since 1921 the Conservatory of Helsinki organised special courses for coming music teachers of secondary and upper secondary schools. In 1957 the education of music teachers was reorganised and the Department of School Music started in the Sibelius-Academy. (Otavan… 1979, 234.) Factually in the rural areas the officially competent music teacher was in the 50s and 60s a rarity. For instance Maarit, born and grown up apart from big cities, tells in her story that her music teacher in the secondary school was the cantor of the village. According to very new statistics nowadays c. 35-45 pre cents of the music teaching is still given by officially incompetent teacher (Rönnberg 2000, 80, 122-123).

In the 1970s school and teacher training moved from a static time to a time of accelerated development. The most significant reform was the change from the old parallel school system to the comprehensive school at the beginning of the 1970s. Since then comprehensive school has been both free and compulsory to all children for nine years including six years of primary school and three years of lower secondary school. Our older tellers, Maarit and Matti, have gone to school during the old system, but Kaisa has been a pupil of the comprehensive school. After comprehensive school, pupils can apply for admission to upper secondary school or vocational education. In the field of music education, the curriculum of the comprehensive school signified the beginning of modern music education. In fact the development of more than ten years was codified in the curriculum. The change was seen in the mere name of the subject. It was no more singing but music education rich in matters and methods, including playing, listening to music, moving to music, and creative musical activity as new elements of it. This curriculum sets great demands on teacher’s competence.

The problem was that while contents of music education at the comprehensive school have become considerably wider, the number of lessons has decreased (see Hyvönen 2000). Music education is compulsory during the seven first school years and during one year in the upper secondary school. Most commonly pupils get one music lesson in the week. Besides this, pupils can choose extra music education courses depending on the school. The decrease in music education has been compensated by so called special music classes since the 1960s. They are working inside the comprehensive school system mostly in the towns. Usually they select their pupils and have the curriculum strongly emphasised on music. Nowadays many professional musician have taken special music classes in the comprehensive school and also the music upper secondary school in their background. Also Kaisa tells to have been a few years in a special music class. As we can see from Kaisa’s story, the experiences from these years are not always very supporting. The attitudes of the class mates towards a pupil that plays seriously are not always very nice. It can be claimed that the special music classes at school don’t always give much support to an instrumentalist who is rather advanced in her music studies. Is it a question of envious feelings or is the philosophy of the music classes not to support something that is higher than average? On the other hand the atmosphere in a music upper secondary school can be seen more positive. (Hirvonen 2000, 77-79.)

Plenty of changes have taken place in teacher training since the 1970s. First, the teacher training colleges were closed down and the class teacher education moved to universities. From the beginning of the 1980s it has been master level education. These changes weakened the position of music: there was no longer any music test in the entrance examination and the compulsory amount of music decreased in education, but it became possible to choose extra courses (15 credit/22,5 ECTS) of music as a minor subject. Still, attempts were made to give every student similar competence in music as earlier. When Maarit completed her old Bachelor degree to Master’s degree in the class teacher programme, she had to learn to play the piano during two years. She tells colourfully about the huge amount of practice she had to do in order to play the piano. After all she sounds proud: "I learned!" However her skills are not good enough for accompanying in the class. There good singing skills are her rescue. We can only ask, do class teachers without both singing and fluent playing skills manage music teaching. Perhaps we should also ask what were the reasonable goals of music in the all-round schools and class teacher education.

Contrary to music education of the class teachers the education of subject music teachers is nowadays in very high level. Its status has since the beginning of 1980s been the master degree and it contains widely musical skills and knowledge necessary to modern music teaching. Music education programme are situated at the Sibelius-Academy (180 credits / 270 ECTS) and the universities of Jyväskylä and Oulu (160 credits / 240 ECTS). The qualified music teachers are working mostly in the secondary and upper secondary schools and also in the big elementary schools especially in the south Finland.

Target-Oriented and Professional Music Education

Music Institutes

In Finland there is a publicly financed network of music institutes, which is seen as one basis for our successful music life today. However, the history of this system is short. When the law of government subsidy for music institutes came in to force in 1969, there were only ten (10) institutes getting that aid. Today, about forty years later the corresponding number is 89; furthermore there are private institutes, so the whole number is 140. (Heino & Ojala 1998, 11.) As Kaisa´s story shows, it has been very important in Finland that the possibility for music studies has been available also in small towns and places. Not only the children in big cities have had an opportunity to study: the children of small towns have had the same possibility as well. There are professional music teachers all over the country, because the network of music institutes is so wide. However, it is rather usual, just like in the case of Kaisa, that children have had to travel long distances to their music lessons. The support of the parents has been necessary: for example the travelling wouldn't have been possible without the help of the parents.

The music institutes are intended mainly for school age children (7-18 years). It is also possible to start even earlier, just like Kaisa did. However there are often departments also for adults (especially singers) and music kindergartens for pre-school children. In 1995, there were 36 000 instrumentalists studying in music institutes altogether, which is 2.6 % of the whole age group (6- 25 years) (Musiikkioppilaitostyöryhmän muistio 1997, 2, 16, liite 1.) The most popular instrument is the piano, more than third of the students were pianists in 1997 (Heino & Ojala 1998, 21-22).

Education in music institutes is based on the Law of Basic Education in Arts, which defines it target-oriented giving competence to gravitate to professional education. Besides that, music education should offer completions to self-expression. (Laki 633/1998.) Every institute has usually its own curriculum, which has been planned on the basis of guidelines given by the National Bord of Education. For example pedagogical methods can be planned quite freely in every institute. (Musiikkioppilaitostyöryhmän muistio 1997, 2.) In the questionnaire in1997, music institutes were asked their "action ideas". Besides official plans they mentioned for instance positive attitude to music, loving music, arousing life-long music interest, pupil-centred action, psychic welfare, special regional needs. (Heino & Ojala 1998, 14-15.)

There are two levels in the music institutes. Pupils at the basic level have been chosen mainly through examination. The basic level takes 8-10 years and by the age 16 this grade should have been taken at the latest. After the basic level, pupils can continue at the upper level for about four years. (Heino & Ojala 1998, 40-42.). At both levels students take examinations, which become progressively more and more difficult. Students usually go to their lessons once a week. The teacher has a basic role in guiding her/his students through the plan. From Kaisa´s and Matti´s stories we can see that the role of instrument teachers cannot be overestimated. S/he must choose challenging programmes, not too easy, not too difficult. S/he has to create a confiding contact with the student and keep a pleasant and enthusiastic atmosphere in lessons. These features are important especially at the beginning of studies. In most cases there is an important instrument teacher as the key person behind the process of choosing music as profession (e.g. Bloom 1985, Hirvonen 2000, Hyry 2001).


There are eleven conservatories in Finland. In conservatories it is possible to take second degree music examinations. The studies can be taken after comprehensive school. The studies total 120 credits (180 ECTS) and they take three years’ time. It is possible to study in degree programmes of classical music, church music, pop and jazz music and also piano tuning. The names of the vocational examinations are dance musician, church musician and piano tuner. (Musiikkioppilaitostyöryhmän muistio 1997, 13.)


The history of the polytechnic education in Finland a rather short. It was built during the 1990s to give vocational directed high level education. Music education in polytechnics has taken place only for a couple of years. In Finland there are 10 polytechnics which have a degree programme in music. This degree programme totals 180 credits (270 ECTS) and takes 4,5 years’ time to take the examination. The examination is of Bachelor level and it also includes pedagogical studies. Music pedagogues and musicians who have studied in polytechnics work in music institutes and orchestras.

In the cities where there are music institutes, conservatories or polytechnics in the same complex, it is possible for students to change teachers easily, especially when they have progressed and need "a new master" to direct them. For example for Matti’s career it was very decisive to get to the class of the master teacher of the conservatory, quite soon after beginning his piano studies with an excellent primary piano teacher in the music institute.

Sibelius Academy

The Sibelius Academy is the only music university in Finland. There are nine different degree programmes at the Sibelius Academy: Performance, Jazz, Folk music, Church music, Music education, Opera singing, Orchestral and choral conducting, Composition and music theory and Arts management. Our pianist-teller Kaisa hasstudied at the department of Performance, which is the oldest and biggest of the Sibelius Academy departments and trains students to become soloists, orchestral and chamber musicians, and teachers. Matti never actually studied at the Sibelius Academy Department of Performance, he just did his diploma at the Academy as an outsider! He only studied at Sibelius Academy for his doctorate, and that was much later. It is quite hard to pass the entrance exam to the Performance nowadays. For example in 1999 there were 609 applicants and only 60 were taken in (Sibelius-Akatemian tietokanta 2000). As we have mentioned earlier, the degree programme in music education qualifies graduates to teach in various types of schools and adult education. Research is a part of the work of each department. Besides programmes mentioned above there is the Junior Academy, established in 1884; it is open to musically talented young people of school age.

The Sibelius Academy has a two-tiered degree system. The basic degree is Master of Music, which consists of 180 credits (270 ECTS). The Academy also offers higher degrees, the Licentiate and Doctorate with an artistic or academic orientation. The first doctorates in both lines were awarded in 1990. Matti was one of the first making a doctorate with an artistic orientation. His examination consisted of a series of eight concerts with the complete 32 piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven, and a dissertation on the fingering styles of famous pianists and composers.


Our starting point was Wheatcroft’s statement presented in his article of The New York Times Magazine that the most important reason for the high level of Finnish music life is music education organised by official money. In this article we have examined the reality of the Finnish music education through stories of a comprehensive school teacher, a professional music student and a famous pianist, and tried to combine these stories with a discussion of the system of Finnish music education and its development. Because the music life needs both audience and professional musicians, we divided our discussion into two part: (1) all-around music education in the comprehensive and upper secondary schools and (2) target-oriented and professional music education in the music institutes, conservatories, polytechnics and the Sibelius Academy.

Equality has been a great principle of Finnish official decision making. One of the most important manifestations of this principle was the radical parliamentary reform of 1905 when the old estate-based system was replaced by the unicameral assembly based on universal and equal suffrage for both men and women (see Jutikkala & Pirinen 1962, 242). On the educational side the principle of equality can be seen in the development from the elementary school of the 1860s to the comprehensive school of the 1970s, which is both free and compulsory to all children for nine years. It is also possible to get target-oriented music education almost everywhere in Finland. However, since the period of strong economic depression at the beginning of the 1990s there has been signs of a change. A polarisation is going on in Finnish society like in the whole western world. In the future it will have more and more effect on the school, too.

The function of music education in comprehensive and upper secondary schools is to offer a general knowledge of music. On the basis of our discussion we have noticed that since the 1970s the possibilities of all-round music education have decreased. The number of music lessons has fallen during the comprehensive school and the position of music in primary teacher education has been weakened since it was moved to universities. Although subject teacher education for secondary and upper secondary schools takes place in very high level, the effect of their teaching is not very covering, because there is not very much compulsory music those levels.

All-round education cannot explain the high level of Finnish professional musicians during the last few decades referred by Wheatcroft. It is mainly due to two phenomena that date back to the 1960s: music classes and a network of music institutes. In Finland special music education is given in music institutes, conservatories, polytechnics and at the Sibelius Academy. Vocational professional examinations can be taken in the three latter ones.

The idea of regional and educational equality is an important reason why in Finland it has been possible, at least during the last twenty years, to get high professional level teaching in instrument playing in very many places all over the country. At the same time that the number of music institutes has become higher, the number of music playing children and young people has rapidly increased, too. So, some kind of polarisation can also be seen in the music area: Ordinary young people get only slight musical training in the comprehensive school and on the other hand quite a large number of children have an opportunity to study in music institutes and get valid training.

These youngsters who study in music institutes are a huge reserve from where polytechnics and the Sibelius Academy get their students. For example in the last twenty years the number of applicants to the Sibelius Academy has increased remarkably. Also the level of applicants becomes higher and higher (Institutional evaluation.. 1995). While the possibilities for music studies during the school age have improved, at the same time the competition to be admitted to professional studies has become harder. This also means a harder competition in performing and concert possibilities, and possibilities to get work. Professional music students live in an atmosphere of almost continued competition and pressure.

It can be asked if the high level of performing music is wanted to continue on in Finland, would it not be important to take better care of music education in all-round schools. Doesn’t high level music life need sophisticated audience to survive?


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This document was added to the Education-line database on 16 February 2001