The Acclaimed Voice of FinlandAnu Mäkijärvi, Spring Term 2014 (US) ENGA14 Finnish Institutions Research Paper (Hopkins)
English Translation and Interpreting (ETI) Curriculum
School of Language, Translation and Literary Studies, University of Tampere
Choral singing has been a part of Finnish music culture for centuries. What started as a part of religious ceremonies in 16th century Finland has now spread, as either a hobby or a profession, to all social classes and all types of Finnish singers regardless of age or gender. It has been estimated that there are almost 3,000 choirs in Finland, including men’s, women’s, mixed, and youth choirs. It is also noteworthy that many choirs founded in the 19th century are still active today. One of these long-lasting choirs is the YL Male Voice Choir1, or Ylioppilaskunnan Laulajat, which translates as The Student Union’s Singers.
As the oldest Finnish-language choir in Finland, YL has a long history that has been filled with many notable events, which have made a permanent mark in Finnish choral music culture. This paper focuses on those events that have had a clear influence on the development of male choral singing in Finland. However, since YL is a choir with a very long history, the focus will be on major events from the 1950s to the present.
What has the influence of YL been on Finnish male choral singing, and how has this influence changed over the choir’s extensive history?
The Early Stages of Choral Singing in Finland
It has been estimated that there are almost 3,000 choirs in Finland, including men’s, women’s, mixed, and youth choirs2 (Sulasol). In addition to the number of choirs, it is also noteworthy that many choirs founded in the 19th century are still active today (Haapakoski et al. 364).
The roots of Finnish choral singing lie in Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden. Until the 19th century, polyphonic singing had belonged only to the musical cultures of the church and the royal court. However, as a consequence of the French Revolution in the 18th century,
polyphonic singing became a part of middle class cultural life as well. From the very beginning, secular choral singing was closely connected to ideological aims, focusing especially on nationalism (Rantanen 139).
Polyphonic choral singing found its way to Finland in the beginning of the 19th century. It was quartet singing that started Finnish choral singing at the University of Turku, which was the first university in Finland3 (Rantanen 141). At this time, there were only university, or “student” choirs in Finland, and all of them sang in Swedish, which at that time was the official language of Finland. The universities, schools, or other state institutions did not use Finnish at all. Before the 19th century, choral singing belonged only to the church and royal courts. However, at the beginning of the 19th century, it became a part of the increasing music hobbies of the middle class (Rantanen 138). There had already been singing groups which were not church or royal court choirs, but they were not thought of as “proper” choirs, since they were smaller in size and not organized. The smaller singing groups did not have a conductor and they did not rehearse regularly. They just sang for their own amusement. Therefore one of the most significant phenomenona in 19th century choral singing was the organization of such smaller singing groups into choirs led by conductors which rehearsed regularly. This “choral movement” became connected with choral associations. In Finland it became a notable national movement which concerned the whole nation and its choirs (Haapakoski et al. 362).
Previously, there had not been choirs that were founded with a clear purpose in mind. However, now the choirs that were founded set out to promote Finnish-language choral singing. During this time, German-born composer Fredrik Pacius founded many choirs in Finland. These included what is now the oldest Finnish choir, Akademiska Sångsällskapet (The Academic Song Society). Even though Pacius was not Finnish, he was determined to further the status of the Finnish language. Pacius set to music a number of patriotic songs by Finnish poets, and created choral arrangements of many Finnish folk songs (Aho et al. 30).
Pacius also started the tradition of performances of large vocal works, which included a choir performing with a symphony orchestra. This tradition was continued by Finnish composer Robert Kajanus, who founded one of the most significant choirs of that time, a symphony choir (Biografiakeskus). In addition to large scale choral performances, the 19th century also saw the beginning of laulujuhlat, or “song celebrations,” that gathered choirs and orchestras together to perform. The first Finnish song celebrations were held in 1884 in Jyväskylä (Sulasol). The song celebrations were organized by the Finn Aksel August Granfelt, who was secretary of the Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation4. The song celebrations lasted for three days. On the first day, the choirs practiced joint choral performances. The second day was the actual
performance day, and on the third day, choral and orchestral competitions were held (Finnica). The overall goal of the song celebrations was to reinforce Finnish national feeling, language, and identity by gathering hundreds of people to perform Finnish choral and orchestral music together (Sulasol).
In Finland, in addition to the nationalism features, the choral movement even became associated with aggressive, language-political features (Haapakoski et al. 362). Although Sweden’s rule5 over Finland had ended in 1809, Swedish was still the only language used in the student choirs’ performances. However, this was not acceptable to a group of Finnish patriotic academics, who believed that Finnish should be the country’s official language, and that it should replace Swedish. Especially now that Finland had been ceded to Russia, which made the country the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland with rights to its own language, the group’s opinion was that there could be no Finnish national spirit if Finnish was not used on all occasions. This idea is known as fennomania (Project).
Naturally, the Swedish-speaking academics in Finland opposed this idea. Consequently, this led to a language feud between the Finnish and Swedish student choirs. Both the Finnish and Swedish singers wanted to hold on to their own language. During the 1870s, the language issue between Swedish and Finnish strained the student choral singing even more. There were even reports of fist fights among the student choirs during choir practices. Since the number of rehearsal spaces was limited at that time, Finnish and Swedish language choirs rehearsed in the same premises, despite the language feud (Haapakoski et al. 363).
Male Choral Singing Makes Its Way to Finland
It has been said that Swedish-language student singing started in 1808, when Johann Christian Friedrich Haeffner6 started as the music professor at the Uppsala University in Sweden. This is probably where the first influences on Finnish male choral singing came from, especially when considering Finland’s more frequent connections to Sweden than to Germany or Switzerland (M. Hyökki 13). During his time in Uppsala, Haeffner founded a student choir at the university. One of the singers of that choir was Johan Josef Pippingsköld7, who would play a major part in the development of Finnish male choral singing.
After returning to his hometown of Turku in 1819, Pippingsköld began organizing his own student choir. This was the beginning of Sångsällskapet (The Singing Society), which in its original assembly was a double quartet, consisting of eight singers. From the very beginning,
Sångsällskapet was a very class-conscious ensemble. As a countermeasure to Pippingsköld’s class-consciousness, K.A. Gottlund8 wanted to bring singing closer to the general public and further away from the parlors. He wanted to make student singing more demographically
diverse, so that it would not be just for the Finnish upper class; he wanted to found a more middle class choir (M. Hyökki 16).
So very quickly after its arrival in Finland, there already was a social gap in Finnish male choral singing. This gap between social classes would become wider in the following decades, and would divide male choral singers into Finnish and Swedish sides. Even though at first this division was a sign of a waking social consciousness, it later continued as a language issue in Finland (M. Hyökki 28).
In the beginning male choral singing in Finland was only found at the universities. However, it eventually spread to the outside world, when former university students settled all over the country after graduation. In addition to this, one of the major factors in the spreading of choral singing was the beginning of the Finnish grammar school system. The first training institute for grammar school teachers was founded in 1863 in Jyväskylä in Central Finland. It was in this institute that Erik August Hagfors9 started male, female, and mixed choral singing. Being a singing enthusiast as well as a spokesperson for fennomania10, Hagfors is often referred to as the “father of Finnish choral singing” (M. Hyökki 29).
The Beginnings of YL: from 1883 to 1959
YL was founded in 1883, making it the oldest Finnish language choir. The choir was founded by MA Pekka Juhani Hannikainen11, who also became the first conductor of the choir. YL was originally founded to project the opinions of Finnish-language university academics
(Ylioppilaskunnan). Up to that time, only Swedish had been an acceptable language in the universities, as well as in high society. For the Finnish-speaking academics, this meant that they could not use their mother tongue when discussing matters concerning their own country and society. Finnish high society needed its own language.
Around the same time as YL was founded, the Finnish language came to be recognized as the official language of the country. This meant quick development for the Finnish language school system as well as the Finnish press. To show its support to the strengthening Finnish national movement, YL promoted from very early on the ideology of Finnishness in its songs
(Ylioppilaskunnan). Even though its repertoire in the beginning consisted of works in other languages than Finnish as well, from the very beginning it strived to have its repertoire completely in Finnish. YL also wanted its focus to be on matters that were considered fundamentally Finnish, such as nationalism, patriotism and the Finnish nature.
The choir’s ambition to promote the Finnish language could be seen and heard very clearly at the 10th anniversary concert of YL in 1893. The concert was conducted by Jalmari Hahl12, and YL performed for the very first time a program which was completely in Finnish. This concert was the first performance of Venematka (The Boat Journey) by Jean Sibelius13, which
continued the collaboration with Sibelius that had started a year earlier when YL had performed his Kullervo Symphony. These first performances of Sibelius’ works were just the first of many that would follow in the decades to come (Ylioppilaskunnan).
Besides Sibelius, YL collaborated with many famous Finnish composers, especially during the golden years of Finnish male choral singing in the beginning of the 20th century. Heikki Klemetti, who became the choir’s conductor in 1898, commissioned several male choral works for the choir, especially from such composers as Toivo Kuula14, Leevi Madetoja15, and Selim
Palmgren16. These works raised the choir to a new artistic level (Ylioppilaskunnan).
From very early on, YL has toured actively both in Finland and abroad. During the 1930s, the choir toured Europe and the United States with Martti Turunen as its conductor. In the 1950s, the choir toured the United States again with Turunen. This tour comprised concerts in 32 different locations; 61 singers were part of the tour. This tour can be said to be one the greatest accomplishments of the choir in the 1950s (Ylioppilaskunnan).
Significant Moments from the Past Sixty Years
During the choir’s first seventy years, YL established its status as the leading Finnish male choir. The choir toured extensively, it premiered numerous choral works of Finnish composers, and at the same time it managed to promote the Finnish language through its performances. The next sixty years would be just as noteworthy, if not even more so.
The choir’s repertoire and its whole singing style were modernized notably with the expertise of Ensti Pohjola, who became the choir’s conductor in 1959. Pohjola took the male choral works of Erik Bergman17 and Einojuhani Rautavaara18 as part of the choir’s repertoire. In 1967, under Pohjola’s lead, the choir relaunched YL’s summer choirs19. In the beginning of the 20th century, these summer choirs had strengthened YL’s status as a male choir for the whole country (Ylioppilaskunnan). The choir had toured in numerous provinces where Finnish male choral singing had not been heard before. Up to this time, Finnish choral music had not been
recorded, so there were no opportunities to hear it, except in bigger cities which had university choirs (Häyrynen 46). YL’s summer choirs offered this opportunity.
The choir experienced another great change in 1971, when YL chose one of its own singers, Heikki Peltola, as its conductor. Peltola took the choir into the media age (Ylioppilaskunnan). With Peltola as its conductor, the choir performed on Finnish national TV and recorded its wide-ranging repertoire, from Finnish folk songs to spiritual music, and from Christmas songs to modern music (Häyrynen 225).
In any choir, the conductor is the person who will make or break it. YL has been fortunate throughout its whole career to have had conductors who have pushed it forward significantly. But out of all of the conductors in YL’s history, one of the most influential has undoubtedly been its most long-standing conductor, Matti Hyökki. He was chosen as YL’s conductor in 1980, and led the choir for thirty years. Under his lead, YL recorded “a national library” of Finnish male choral works, which include the works of Sibelius, Kuula, Madetoja, and Palmgren, and which comprises 238 national romantic works of Finnish male choral art. In practice, this “national library” was compiled so that the choir recorded all the male choral works of these notable Finnish composers on albums. Each album includes the works of one composer. The first recorded album was Toivo Kuula: Complete Songs for Male Voice Choir. In addition to this extensive project, by 2004, the choir had premiered over 100 new Finnish compositions (Ylioppilaskunnan).
Another noteworthy fact concerning YL’s time under the rule of Matti Hyökki is that the choir became significantly younger. When Hyökki started as the conductor in the 1980s, the average age was close to the mid-forties. Very early on, Hyökki decided to modernize the choir’s
repertoire. This was not taken well by all the current singers of YL, and led to many leaving the choir. The consequence of this was that the choir became not only smaller, but also
significantly younger. The average age was now between 20-30 years, and the choir now looked and sounded more like a student choir. Unlike their predecessors, these new young singers had had musical training in grammar school, which meant that they picked the songs up very quickly, and new material could be learned more efficiently (P. Hyökki).
Between the years 1993-2008 YL’s artistic endeavors focused especially on the first performances of commissioned works from Finnish composers, as well as recording that material. These first performances were usually given every five years in YL’s anniversary celebrations, but the first performances of works done for YL by foreign composers have often been made a part of YL’s international tours (Häyrynen 299). YL has never toured Finland as extensively as it did during these fifteen years. All the tours and concerts in Finland were conducted by Matti Hyökki. The repertoire during these tours was very challenging; the tours in Finland were always used to practice for upcoming tours abroad, for celebratory performances, for premieres, or for recording projects (Häyrynen 312).
In its concerts in Finland, YL focuses nowadays on newer music as well, especially on the lighter music genres. Its aim is to showcase this lighter material to the male choirs in Finnish provinces, who could also use the lighter style in their repertoire in order to attract more young singers into their choirs, as provincial choirs are currently dominated by older singers. Naturally, YL still performs the classical Finnish male choral works as well, but there is a wider range in its repertoire nowadays (P. Hyökki).
The YL Male Voice Choir with its 1980-2010 conductor Matti Hyökki. Note also the choir’s signature formal dress.
Image source: http://www.yl.fi/index.php/fin/Ylioppilaskunnan-Laulajat/Pressi
YL in the 21st Century
In the early years of YL, almost anyone with some ability to sing was accepted (Häyrynen 120). The singers were either current students of the University of Helsinki or former students who had already completed their studies (Häyrynen 112). Since the beginning of the 21st century, the singers have not had to be students at the University of Helsinki, but they do have to be current or former students of some Finnish university. To be accepted to YL, the applicant must take part and pass the choir’s try-outs, which test the applicant’s general musicality, singing ability, and vocal range. The try-outs are held in Helsinki twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. Information about the try-outs can be found on the choir’s webpage and Facebook-page (Ylioppilaskunnan).
Today, YL includes approximately 60 singers. The youngest singers are a little under 20 years, and there are even a few singers that are almost 60. However, the average age of the choir is around 35 years. Many of the singers remain in the choir for the duration of their university studies, which usually take between 5-7 years, although some students stay in the university even longer. Many of the singers have also stayed on after graduation, some even for decades. All the current singers of YL can read sheet music, and 70% of them also play an instrument (Häyrynen 287).
Collaboration with Famous Finnish Conductors and Composers
Throughout its history, YL has collaborated with numerous famous Finnish conductors and composers. Naturally, these composers have played a major part in developing the unique sound that is known as YL. Of these composers, the most famous one YL has collaborated with is undoubtedly Jean Sibelius. Their collaboration produced a series of the finest choral pieces in Finnish male choral singing history. Through these choral pieces, Finnish national music and its written material became recognized as an art form.
For his own part, Sibelius created a new type of genre with his male choral works, which had a mission to free Finnish male choral singing from the German choral singing tradition of the time called Liedertafel20, and to create a new Finnish choral singing style, which would consist of Finnish-language works by Finnish composers. On a larger scale, Sibelius’ works played a major role in expressing Finnishness (Häyrynen 98). The lyrics were in Finnish and the song
themes came mostly from the Finnish national epic Kalevala or were inspired by Finnish nationalism.
One of Sibelius’ famous works is the Kullervo Symphony21, which was composed in 1892 and was the final breakthrough for Finnish male choral singing to be recognized as true art, which it had not been before due to the general lack of recognition of other than church or royal court choral singing (Häyrynen 95). The acceptance of Finnish male choral singing as an art form was also affected by the previously weak status of the Finnish language in choral singing.
Kullervo has been a part of YL’s repertoire since its composition, and it has been performed on numerous occasions after that. Some of the most memorable performances have been in the 20th and 21st centuries. To celebrate the 120th anniversary of Sibelius in 1985, YL released its second recording of Kullervo (Ylioppilaskunnan).
The importance Kullervo has played to YL and its success cannot be emphasized enough. In addition to performing22 and recording it many times, YL has also had the opportunity to perform it with some of the biggest names in Finnish orchestral music, including highly acclaimed Finnish conductors Esa-Pekka Salonen23, Osmo Vänskä24, and Leif Segerstam25. There have been memorable performances both in Finland and abroad. One of these
performances was the Kullervo-performance in Los Angeles in 1992 with Esa-Pekka Salonen. New recordings of Kullervo were made in 2001 and in 2008. In 2001, YL collaborated with Lahti Symphony Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä, and in 2008, the choir collaborated with Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and Leif Segerstam. YL has also recorded all of Sibelius’s work for male choirs three times (Ylioppilaskunnan).
Throughout the centuries the unique sound and style of YL has been created through its collaboration with many talented Finnish musicians. Some of those musicians have visibly left their mark on the choir. Two in particular are the composers Erik Bergman and Einojuhani Rautavaara (Häyrynen 241). Both the works of Bergman and Rautavaara showed the way for the artistic transformation of YL. The works by Bergman dominated the 1960s’ repertoire of YL, whereas the 1970s was the era of Rautavaara. Both composers have gained a special status with the choir through their works. This can be seen clearly from the fact that YL has released all of the male choral works of both composers (Häyrynen 255).
YL’s Influence in Finland in the 20th and 21st centuries
YL’s choral art, which from the very beginning started as a language protest against the ruling Swedish-language male choral music, can now be described as a Finnish national treasure. The choir has worked with a very goal-oriented attitude to enhance Finnish-language choral singing. Before Finland became independent in 1917, YL had a great importance in building the country’s male choral repertoire. During these golden years of choral singing in the beginning of the 20th century, the foundations for classical Finnish male choral literature were born through the works of Sibelius, Kuula, Madetoja, and Palmgren (Häyrynen 146). The “national library” of Finnish male choral music was compiled by YL from the works of these composers.
The patriotic role of YL has traditionally been seen at the Independence Day event26, which is organized by the Student Union of the University of Helsinki, and is held at Senate Square in Helsinki. In addition to the Independence Day festivities, the choir also performs continuously in other state organized events, which have included numerous performances for Finnish
presidents (Häyrynen 358). These traditions date back to former Finnish President J.K.
Paasikivi, who after the Continuation War27 in 1944 invited the choir yearly to the Independence Day festivities (Ylioppilaskunnan). In addition to taking part in the Independence Day
celebrations, and singing birthday and other salutations to Finnish presidents at the Presidential Palace, YL has been given the honor and duty to perform at the funerals of the nation’s
influential government officials (Häyrynen 362).
Apart from being recognized by the Finnish state, YL has always been a media favorite. In the 1990s the growing interest for the choir of Finnish radio, TV, and movies could be easily seen
from the growing number of YL performances in these media. Besides the fact that YL has historic symbolism in Finland, YL’s status as a young men’s choir has helped its way into the media (Häyrynen 353). Their distinguished appearance in formal dress has certainly helped it appeal to audiences, especially female cultural enthusiasts. During the past decades YL has not shied away from a somewhat lighter repertoire, but has made sure that it is still not branded as a pop choir. The choir considers YL to be a valuable Finnish institution, and has therefore always picked its performances in the media carefully, so that its status will not be degraded, but that the choir will still receive the publicity and finance it needs to continue to function (Häyrynen 355).
YL has also received international recognition. Among its recent accomplishments that have gained the choir a spot in the headlines have been two of its recordings. In 2008, YL recorded Rautavaara’s complete male choral works with the Finnish vocal ensemble Talla. This record was critically acclaimed abroad and was chosen as Record of the Month by British
Gramophone magazine in January 2009 (Ylioppilaskunnan).
In 2012, YL’s album Lux Aurumque was chosen as the Choral Album of the Year by The Finnish Choral
Directors’ Association (FCDA) and Sulasol, The Finnish Amateur Musicians' Association. This award is given to a choral album which has a high artistic level and an ambitious repertoire. This was YL’s first album with its current conductor, Pasi Hyökki, who received a personal honor in 2010 when The Finnish Choral Directors’ Association (FCDA) chose him as the Choral Conductor of the Year (Sulasol).
Even though YL is one of the most notable Finnish choirs, there are many other choirs in Finland that have also made their mark on Finnish music culture throughout the years. One of them is Philomela, a women’s choir, which was founded in 1984. Philomela has twice won the Grand Prix Prize in Tampere Vocal Music Festival, the Finnish Women’s Choral Association has selected Philomela as the Best Choir of the Year in 1990, 1999, and 2009, and it has performed with many Finnish symphony orchestras over the years. In addition, the choir has toured extensively. The numerous tour destinations have included for instance China, the Philippines, and Africa (Philomela).
Another noteworthy choir is the Tapiola children’s and youth choir, which was founded in 1963. In the beginning, Tapiola Choir was just a school choir, but has now become one of the world’s best-known children’s and youth choirs. The choir has received praise especially for its unique sound, which has been named theTapiola Sound. One of the biggest acknowledgments the choir has received was in 1996, when it received the UNESCO Prize for the Promotion of the Performing Arts. In 2005, the Finnish national public service broadcasting company YLE chose the choir as Youth Choir of the Year (Tapiolan).
Besides YL, another academic male choir, the Polytechnic Choir has also influenced Finnish male choral singing. The choir was founded in 1900, which makes it one of Finland’s oldest choirs. The choir’s focus is to promote modern Finnish male choral music. During the past 20 years, the choir has commissioned and premiered almost 40 new works. The choir regularly performs with leading symphony orchestras both in Finland and on tour abroad. For example, the choir has performed Sibelius’ Kullervo with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra (Polyteknikkojen). YL’s Influence Abroad
YL has gained a reputation of being one of the best-known male choirs in the world. This can be seen for instance in the various first performances YL has given of male choral pieces from
Rautavaara: Complete Works for Male Choir Lux Aurumque
numerous foreign composers (Häyrynen 292). Even though YL mainly performs in Finnish, its style of choral singing has overcome any language-barrier, and its music has been well-received abroad. Its national romantic style has also brought the choir great international acknowledgment (Häyrynen 146). In 1993, the choir was nominated for the Gramophone magazine’s Recording of the Year award for its recording of Sibelius’ Kullervo Symphony with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In 2002, the choir won the Cannes Classical Award with its recording of the Kullervo Symphony with Osmo Vänskä and Lahti Symphony Orchestra. YL’s album Rautavaara: Complete Works for Male Choir was chosen as Gramophone magazine’s Album of the Month in January of 2009 (Ylioppilaskunnan).
Usually, if a non-Finnish audience is familiar with male choral singing, they will be familiar with YL. However, if they are not choral music enthusiasts, they will not have heard of YL. If this is the case in the country it is performing in, YL will very often perform with a local orchestra that will bring in the orchestra’s usual audience. However, the choir will also perform several pieces during the concert without the orchestra with an a cappella28 ensemble to showcase its vocal talent. In addition to this, when the choir gives concerts abroad, it very often includes local music in its repertoire in addition to its usual Finnish material. This will help the audience relate to the concerts more easily (P. Hyökki).
The overall tone of the choir is very often noted and receives attention in the choir’s
performances abroad. Finnish male choral singing has a bass-centered tone, which is not very common among other European male voice choirs. However, the main reason for YL’s bass-centered tone is more a matter of availability than a conscious choice. Compared to the number of tenors in Finland, the number of bass singers has always been remarkably larger. Besides its predominantly bass tone, the choir also stands out in size. On an international scale, YL is a very big choir, with its 60 singers. The usual size for choirs in other countries is from 16 to 30, sometimes closer to 45. YL has intentionally chosen to be a notably large choir. This enables performances of vocally complex choral works which could not be performed by smaller choirs. The large size of YL has proved to be an asset: the enhanced visual and tonal effect has made the choir’s powerful performances stand out from the smaller choirs (P. Hyökki).
Touring abroad has always been an important part of the choir’s life. Although YL no longer tours for months on end as it did in earlier decades, it still tours actively (Häyrynen 355). The United States has been one of the main destinations of YL’s tours abroad. These tours have brought the choir recognition and featured some memorable events, including the choir’s visit to the UN in 2005. During its tour of the U.S. east coast (New York and Washington), the choir had the opportunity to visit UN headquarters and meet Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the UN at that time. The tour coincided with the 60th anniversary of the UN; President Tarja
Halonen acted as a patron for the tour and also took part in the festivities (Häyrynen 343). Another event that brought YL international recognition was its 2010 tour of the United States together with the Minnesota Orchestra and its Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä. The tour received high praise from the critics (Sulasol). New York Times critic Vivien Schweitzer wrote that YL “produced a marvelous resonant sound,” and thanked the choir for “singing those lovely rounded Finnish vowels and unison melodies with buoyant clarity.” Also the Minnesota
Orchestra with its conductor Osmo Vänskä was said to be “fantastic” (Schweitzer). Besides critics, the demanding audience at Carnegie Hall liked what they heard, and the performance received a standing ovation from the audience. YL’s tour of the United States started in Iowa and made its way through Minneapolis all the way to New York. YL received high praise in all cities both from the critics and the audience (Sulasol).
In addition to the United States, since 1976 the Far East has been one the most important destinations of YL’s tours. YL received a very warm response to its male choral art in the Far East, especially in Japan. Its concert in Tokyo in 2003 was actually chosen as the best concert in Japan that year (Häyrynen 340). The year 2011 brought the choir back to East Asia, when it started an extensive tour of China in the beginning of May. This a cappella-tour began with two notable music festivals. First YL performed in Beijing (Meet in Beijing-festival), then in Shanghai
(Shanghai Spring International Music-festival). After these festivals, the tour continued to
several cities in China. Two of the performances on this tour were televised. During the tour, YL also performed at the opening of the new opera house in Wuxi (Sulasol).
Upcoming Projects and Future Plans
The “national library” of Finnish male choral works that YL recorded with Matti Hyökki was one of the most influential accomplishments in the choir’s history. It set the tone for Finnish male choral singing, and naturally for YL as well. Now the choir has set out to compile a more
“global” library by starting to compile a library of male choral music from different countries, and thus introduce this music to a wider audience. Male choral music is still a somewhat exotic phenomenon in many countries, and YL wants to change this situation. The recordings are collected on albums, each album presenting two countries and their music (P. Hyökki).
YL has become known as “the voice of Sibelius,” so it is therefore only natural that it will take part in the 150th anniversary celebrations of Sibelius’ birth in 2015. An anniversary concert will be held in spring 2015 at Helsinki Music Centre, where YL will perform commissioned works from modern Finnish musicians Jouni Kaipainen, Mikko Sidoroff, Einojuhani Rautavaara, and Olli Kortekangas. Inspiration for these works is derived from Sibelius, be it his musical works or his lyrics (P. Hyökki).
Especially in the earlier stages of the choir history, the focus of YL was on patriotism and promoting Finnish-language art. Even though the feel of patriotism can still be heard in YL’s performances, it has diminished somewhat. The 21st century YL is more focused on the male choir itself. What kind of an instrument is it? What types of qualities does it have, and what can be done with a male voice choir? Besides this, YL is also taking some steps with its repertoire towards a lighter direction. In addition to the classical male choral pieces, in future the choir will focus on more rhythmical music as well. This will add popular music to the repertoire with the goal of keeping the choir in tune with the present trends of music (P. Hyökki).
The Acclaimed Voice of YL: One of Finland’s Best-Known Music Institutions
The importance of YL to Finnish choral music culture is unquestionable. It has earned its status and admiration as one of the best male voice choirs in the world through over 130 years of hard work and undeniable talent. From the very early stages, YL has set out to promote Finnish culture, language, and male choral singing, both in Finland and abroad. The choir has collaborated with the elite of Finnish composers and conductors, it has toured the world
successfully, and it has raised Finnish male choral singing to a level to which it would not have risen without YL. For over a century, the choir has been an inseparable part of Finnish culture, and is presently as successful as ever.
1. From now on, referred to as YL.
2. All material in Finnish has been translated by the writer.
3. The Royal Academy of Turku (Turun Akatemia) was founded in 1640.
4. The Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation (Kansanvalistusseura) was founded in 1874. The idea behind the foundation was to educate people, especially in the lower classes of society.
5. Finland was a part of Sweden from the 13th century to 1809, when the vast majority of the Finnish-speaking areas of Sweden were ceded to the Russian Empire.
6. Johann Christian Friedrich Hæffner (1759-1833) was a German-born Swedish composer. 7. Johan Josef Joakim Pippingsköld (1732–1832) was one the first collectors of Finnish folk
8. K.A.Gottlund (1796-1875) was a writer and a Finnish language professor at the University of Helsinki.
9. Erik August Hagfors (1827-1913) was a Finnish composer whose work included several choral pieces.
10. Fennomania, the awakening of the Finnish national identity, started in the beginning of the 19th century.
11. Pekka Juhani Hannikainen (1854–1924) was a Finnish composer and a music lecturer at the Jyväskylä seminar, which was the first grammar school teacher seminar in Finland. 12. Jalmari Hahl (1869– 1929) was a Finnish writer, teacher, and a translator.
13. Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) was a Finnish composer. He is internationally the most known and performed Finnish composer.
14. Toivo Kuula (1883–1918) was a Finnish composer.
15. Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947) was a Finnish composer, condutor, writer, and teacher. 16. Selim Palmgren (1878– 1951) was a Finnish composer and pianist.
17. Erik Bergman (1911–2006) was a Finnish academic and composer.
18. Einojuhani Rautavaara (born in 1928) is one of the most universally acclaimed Finnish composers.
19. During the years 1884-1956, YL had altogether 31 summer choirs, which toured all over Finland. The tours were held approximately every three years. The singers who took part on the tours were volunteer choir members.
20. Liedertafel refers to a small group of elite gentlemen who sing around a table. This tradition dates back to the 18th century Central Europe.
21. Sibelius’ Kullervo Symphony is based on the Finnish national epic Kalevala.
22. YL’s performance of Kullervo with Esa-Pekka Salonen and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hj8PyLAeIA0
(YL is referred to as TheHelsinki University Men's Chorus)
23. Esa-Pekka Salonen (born in 1958) is a well-known Finnish conductor and composer. 24. Osmo Vänskä (born in 1953) is a Grammy-awarded Finnish conductor and clarinettist. 25. Leif Segerstam (born in 1944) is a Finnish conductor, composer, and musician.
26. Finland celebrates its independence on December 6th.
27. Finnish was at war against Russia in The Continuation War from 1941 to 1944. 28. A cappella singing means to sing without any musical instruments.
Aho, Kalevi, et al. Finnish Music. Keuruu: Otava Printing Works, 1996.
Biografiakeskus. http://www.kansallisbiografia.fi/kb/artikkeli/1433/. Viewed 29 March 2014.
Finnica. http://www.finnica.fi/keski-suomi/kuorolaulu/3.html. Viewed 3 April 2014.
Haapakoski, Martti, et al. Suomen musiikin historia. Esittävä säveltaide. Jyväskylä: Gummerus Kirjapaino Oy, 2002.
Häyrynen, Antti. Sinivalkoiset äänet. Ylioppilaskunnan Laulajat 1883-2008. Keuruu: Otava, 2008.
Hyökki, Matti. Hiilestä timantiksi. Jean Sibeliuksen Kalevala- ja Kanteletar-lähtöisten mieskuorolaulujen erityispiirteistä. Helsinki: Yliopistopaino, 2003.
Hyökki, Pasi. Conductor of YL Male Voice Choir. Telephone interview. 19 March 2014. Philomela. http://www.philomela.fi/. Viewed 5 April 2014.
Polyteknikkojen kuoro. http://www.polyteknikkojenkuoro.fi/. Viewed 5 April 2014.
Project Runeberg. http://runeberg.org/pieni/4/0232.html. Viewed 28 March 2014.
Rantanen, Saijaleena. Laulun mahti ja sivistynyt kansalainen. Musiikki ja kansanvalistus Etelä-Pohjanmaalla 1860-luvulta suurlakkoon. Tampere: Juvenesprint – Tampereen yliopistopaino Oy, 2003.
Schweitzer, Vivien. Symphonic Drama: Rage-Filled Reunion for Slave and His Sister. 2 March 2010. The New York Times. URL:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/03/arts/music/03vanska.html?_r=0 Sulasol. http://www.sulasol.fi/. Viewed 28 March 2014.
Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seura.
http://www.finlit.fi/oppimateriaali/kielijaidentiteetti/main.php?item=8&page=9. Viewed 28 March
Tapiolan kuoro. http://www.tapiolankuoro.fi/en/. Viewed 5 April 2014.
Ylioppilaskunnan Laulajat. http://www.yl.fi/index.php/fin. Viewed 28 March 2014.
My Topic and New Perspectives
Having sung in different choirs for years, the topic for my research paper was easy to find. I knew that I wanted to research choir singing and its development in Finland. However, as I found out very early on, if I had done my research on Finnish choral music in general, the research paper would have become too extensive, so I had to narrow the topic down to a single choir. I chose The YL Male Choir, since it is one of the most long-lasting choirs in Finland, and it has had a very clear impact especially on Finnish male choral singing. My research focused on the influence YL has had on
Finnish male choral singing, and how that influence has changed over the years. I also discussed the influence YL has had abroad. The paper also briefly covers the early stages of choral singing in Finland, as well as how male choral singing started in
Finland so that the reader will have a clearer idea of the general background of Finnish choral music.
What I Might Do Differently?
I realized very quickly that all the material I had was in Finnish. Naturally, this meant that I had to translate it all in order to be able to use it for this paper. The translation process took up a lot more time than I had imagined, so I would definitely reserve more time for it, if I had the opportunity to do it again. Another thing I had not considered beforehand was the style in which most of my source material texts were written. Many of them were clearly written for music enthusiasts, or even professionals, so I had to do quite a lot of editing to make the texts more clear for audiences unfamiliar with Finnish music culture. Parts of the source materials were also filled with references to Finnish historical events, which also needed more detailed explaining.
Ideas for Future Study
I think one other aspect that might be quite interesting for further study would be other Finnish music or art genres, and their impact on the Finnish culture. Some studies have most certainly been done already on these topics, but I am convinced there are still a number of possibilities that have not been researched. Another interesting topic could be the music education given in Finnish schools, and how it has influenced the Finnish music culture. This study could be done for example in connection with choral singing in Finland. Has the mandatory music teaching in grammar schools improved or worsened the students’ willingness to take up music as a hobby, or even a profession?
Comparison to Other Cultures
Since the roots of Finnish choral singing lie in Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden, it would be interesting to find out the influence choral singing has had on the music culture of these particular countries, and to compare these results with Finland. Has it become a national institution in other countries as well?
In Finland, the language issue between Finnish and Swedish has had a major impact on the choral music culture and its development. Possibly, there have been similar issues for example in Canadian music culture over the years between English and French. Has music been used to overcome these language issues, and has music made an impact on the Canadian culture and identity in some way?
For translators, any knowledge of music and other art forms gives them a better understanding of the country in question as well as its people. Art has always been a way of expressing the values of one’s country, so it is important for the translator to be aware of these artistic influences when working with texts from other cultures, which might be filled with references to local art.