I made it! My flight landed safely in Helsinki at the beginning of December, and now that the New Year has arrived, I am returning to the internet, and to hard work! First order of business, I am documenting my time in Finland with as many photos as I can justify, and they can all be seen here, if you want (just don’t expect any context)! I also have some videos of live performance that can be found at the end of this post.
After arriving in Helsinki, I spent the night in an incredibly cheap but incredibly sketchy hostel on the outskirts of the city (hooray for my male privilege?) before taking the long bus ride from Helsinki to Rauma. I was met by the coordinator/liaison/amazing-do-everything-lady for Raumars, Hannele, who gave me a quick introduction to the town, and then we were off to a concert.
Yep, first night there, jet-lagged and disoriented, I was fortunate enough to attend a concert performed by the wonderful children of Karin Koulu, a local primary/middle school (I’m not sure which I should call it, their ages and educational years different/better than those in the USA). The kids gave some great performances, and I fell asleep partway through the first half (I swear it was the jet lag, these kids were great), then was politely jostled awake for the intermission, which had tea and sugary bread, which perked me up for the second half, where the chorus again was very impressive, and gave me a nice long laundry list of what to prepare for these young musicians.
I returned to the apartment and slept for roughly 14 hours, the beginning of a month of Sleep Madness which may or may not have abated (the lack of daylight keeps throwing things out of whack for me). Upon waking, I met my current roommate, an affable and brilliant French choreographer by the name of Farid Ayelem Rahmouni, and began my first forays into Rauma. I quickly established that while I will definitely be trying to learn some of the Finnish language, there’s no chance in hell I’ll be able to be fluent in 6 months, especially as I’ve been given the impression that the Finnish spoken in Rauma is akin to the French spoken in Québec.
Then I got introduced to a variety of local community leaders and artsy folk, all of whom were quite wonderful and seemed excited to have me there (I’ve felt a little guilty about being an American in the current political climate, but no one seems to give me any guff about it so far). My first visit to Karin Koulu to meet the kids was nice, I got to see what they knew of musical theatre, what kind of music they like (spoiler: EDM is surprisingly popular with the 12-year-olds here), and what kind of interest there was in the upcoming project.
It is an understatement to say people have been supportive of the initiative. I am often getting notices from Hannele of new people she believes may be interested, almost everyone who has been approached has been enthusiastic about the project, whether they are able to participate or not, and I look forward to starting work with the kids in Mid-January.
So what is this big project for the first half of 2018? It will be a short musical (one-act, no longer than 45 minutes) written for the children of Karin Koulu to play and sing and dance and act, predominantly in English, but with some use of the local Rauma dialect and Finnish folk music. The intent is to generate a musical that could easily be understood by an English-speaking audience, with the presence of the Finnish language as either a musical device or narrative recurrence (think “I’m like the bluebird” from Anyone Can Whistle, or the use of French-language jazz in any given film, we don’t need to understand the language to get the context). It is meant to be performed by young people, and will be licensed under Creative Commons. I’m still working out the details, but the idea is that any educational performance the rights will be free, whereas any commercial performance still gotta pay up (but it’s not a show I expect to see any commercial performances of). Some groups in the USA have expressed interest, and once the show is more developed I’ll be reaching out to see if any youth theatre or school groups would want to have a go at a parallel/cousin performance to go with the Finnish premiere.
The narrative of the show is still uncertain (well not really, but it’s still unfinished), and will mostly concern elements of mythology/superstition and local history (and the ocean. Because, you know, the ocean). I’m hoping to pull a Spongebob: The Musical and be politically topical without anything overt or unpleasant that risks alienating young kids or parents (I got to see that show before I left, holy fuck-shit-bugger-wank, it is fantastic). The songs will dominate the storytelling, and there will probably be one spoken-word (kind of rap) segment. It’ll be composed and orchestrated in ways that could be reduced simply to piano, but will likely include accordion for the Finnish premiere.
As an addendum to that, Hannele has also loaned me an accordion of hers (as if the lady wasn’t doing enough already). I’ve never touched one before, and I’m learning fast – damn I love that accordion.
So keep an eye up here, the idea is that there will be a new post on the progress of work in Finland at least once a week, and I will also be video-blogging the creation/development/rehearsal process for the as-yet-untitled Karin Koulu Musikaali.
Then to close things out, this New Year’s I was invited to perform at a local New Year’s Eve celebration in Rauma, and I had no idea what to play (my solo music is by no means celebratory, to say nothing of appropriate or joyful), until I was heard playing some folk/country bits, and was invited to share the American folk music with them. The response was positive (in the videos where you can hear applause, it sounds like a stampede from all the glove-clapping), and I nearly lost my left hand’s fingers to frostbite in the process. Risto Kupari, the town’s culture manager, had also invited me to busk with him and his son for Christmas (we played some fun holiday tunes and some jazz), and for the closer of my small set, his family sang with me on a small quartet arrangement I threw together of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” – they were great! I kept the other songs simple, in anticipation of my fingers almost freezing on the guitar.
Videos of the New Years songs are below, please forgive my out-of-tune yodeling, I couldn’t quite figure out the microphone technique for it, and was starting to get cold.