Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Music in Finland

One of the reasons I was really excited to come to Finland was because of the strong musical traditions here.  Even with those expectations I have been surprised by what I did already know, and REALLY surprised by some of the music that I didn't (check out the bottom of this post...).

Folk Music

I enjoy playing and listening to traditional fiddle music.  Growing up, I loved listening to the band Värttinä, but it was not until I started applying to come to Finland that I realized the crazy language they were singing in was Finnish!  I really think Finnish is a beautiful language for singing, especially folk songs, and here is one of my favorite Värttinä tunes.

When I realized that I really like Finnish folk music, I did a quick Google search to find more, the first hit was this awesome song, which apparently has been making its way around the internet as a meme:

Ievan's Polka by Loituma.  There is a verse of nonsense words in the middle -
can you tell the difference between Finnish and nonsense?

Orchestral Music

Finnish orchestral music is even more common in the US than Finnish folk music.  Works by Jean Sibelius (Swan of Tuonela, Valse Triste, Finlandia, etc.) are often performed and there is even a popular music composition software named for him.  Finnish conductors like Esa-Pekka Salonen and Jukka-Peka Saraste conduct our orchestras and in our famous concert halls.  Some other composers are famous for one or two compositions, such as Armas Järnefelt for his Berceuse.

Every orchestra I have played in has played Sibelius, including one of my orchestras from undergrad, the Michigan Pops.  Here is a video they made to project above the stage while performing Sibelius' Finlandia.  This music is technically about Finnish independence from Russia (and also evokes memories of the several wars between those two countries), so maybe they got the theme of the video slightly wrong.  However,  Finland was also once part of Sweden and today they have a friendly rivalry, so maybe two friends trying to beat each other at board games is indeed a good analogy.

Popular Music

The most surprising thing for me has been Finnish Pop Music - it sounds pretty much like American, just in a totally different language (if you want a feel for it, check out Radio Suomipop and their Nettiradio streaming radio).  I am pretty surprised that this genre is doing so well because the market is so small (pretty much only Finns will want to hear Pop Music in Finnish and there are fewer than 6 million of them so I can't imagine the artists making lots of money like they do in the US).

Finland even has its own version of Justin Bieber - Robin.  Here he is performing Boom Kah, which I have heard at just about every party here.  Listen carefully and you can hear that the audience's appreciation is pretty much exactly like that for Bieber...

However, there is one major difference in the music that is popular in Finland, and that is Heavy Metal, which for some reason is pretty popular in all the Nordic countries.  It is so popular that there are many subgenres, including versions based on the above genres like Folk Metal, which uses folk tunes and instruments (e.g. Finntroll), and Symphonic Metal, which uses symphonic themes and instruments and operatic singing, (e.g. Nightwish, which I have been told is the most famous Finnish Metal band).

Probably the best-known Finnish band is Lordi, who won the Eurovision Song Contest (for my American friends who don't know what this is, apparently it is like American Idol [edit for clarification: this similarity is apparently just in format, see comments for details], except that each country gets to enter one band, everyone in Europe votes over several rounds, then the winning country gets bragging rights for a year).  See Lordi's winning performance below:

Lordi performing in their monster masks for a 2006 Eurovision victory that is still celebrated in Finland today.


  1. You did not just compare the Eurovision song contest to American Idol?!
    Eurovision is about the song, not the singer. Eurovision has very long traditions and after WW2 the contest served a important purpose to the people by trying to forget about wars and disagreements by bringing together the EBU countries around "light entertainment".

  2. Thanks for the clarification! I have not experienced the contest yet, and know nothing of the historical and sociological perspectives, so the American Idol analogy was mostly based on the (apparent) similarity in format.

  3. Hope you are watching the Eurovision song contest tonight :)

  4. Haha, yes I was indeed! It was quite interesting and definitely different from American Idol (though to be honest I have never actually watched that). For starters they said that something like 180 million people (!) were watching. Then it seemed pretty political - the bar I was in booed every time Russia came up. It was interesting and is going to be one of the more memorable times from my time here. Thanks for setting me straight earlier.