Photo: Mirva Niemi

Aino Tenkanen: Working on music every single day is the best part of my studies

1. Who are you and how did you end up studying at the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki?

I’m Aino Tenkanen and it’s my third year studying composition and music theory at the Sibelius Academy.  Before applying to the University of the Arts Helsinki, I had already studied composition for three years at the Turku University of Applied Sciences. I had dreamt about studying at the Sibelius Academy from early on, so I decided to drop out of my studies in Turku and apply to the Sibelius Academy. I discovered composing relatively late, not until I was about 16 or 17. Music hadn’t been the only hobby I had and instead, I was interested in many different art forms, but after graduating from the upper secondary school I decided that music would be the direction I would pursue. The decision was a practical one, since I felt that music was my strongest suit and I had been playing the violin from a young age. Composition is one of those fields where it doesn’t matter if you have started it as a bit older. Although having experience does come in handy.

2. What was your entrance examination like?

The entrance examination was long and tough. It took place on three days: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each day had a variety of different themes: aural skills, reading of articles, theoretical exams, analysing of works, and we had to prepare a small sample composition for the interview on Friday. You could pretty much say that they tested us on all possible levels. But the interview was the main event of the entrance examination process, and there were several jury members judging your composition there. The jury asked me questions on the structure of the composition, how it was made and why I had ended up making certain decisions in the piece. I think it pays off to really put effort in the sample composition, and in preliminary assignments in general. Even if you don’t do so well in other parts of the exam, it’s the overall picture and the composition that matter the most.

3. How did you prepare yourself for the entrance examination?

I studied composition for three years at a university of applied sciences, so I’d say that basically all of that time was preparation for the entrance examination to the Sibelius Academy. During the spring before the exam, I made myself a timetable that scheduled all the things that I needed to learn for the exam. I learned to play piano for the first time and got help from my friend, who is a piano student. Ultimately, piano playing was only a small part of the entrance examination.

4. How would you describe your studies?

It has been demanding, but at the same time, I feel like I have all the support needed for my studies. Even though the standards feel rather high at times, nobody is left alone. The teachers want to get the best possible result out of us and they definitely support us in achieving those goals. What has surprised me is how normal studying here has felt. I kind of thought that once you get accepted into the Sibelius Academy, everything will seem fancy and different. But pretty soon I noticed that studying here is completely normal. I’m used to my studies now and life feels pretty nice.

5. What has been the best part of your studies?

I can’t name one specific thing, but maybe the best part has been some of the small moments in my everyday life as a student. The moments when you remember that you get to work on music full time or when you learn something new that you can do with an orchestra. Studying is mostly a daily grind, but at times it’s good to remember that you get to do what you love, which is working on music every single day.

6. What has been the most challenging part of your studies?

Organising my schedule and my own work. Occasionally you have to think about how you will be able to have time for everything you need. You have to know how to manage your time and decide on which subjects you want to put most effort in. It’s not possible to put as much energy as you would like to absolutely everything.

7. What kind of thoughts do you have about life after graduation?

I think I’ll be involved in all kinds of interesting composition projects. I will probably piece together my income with a variety of sources and projects. Besides composition, I’m also interested in inter-disciplinary collaborations. I’ve already collaborated on a few projects with dancers, for example.

8. What kind of advice do you have for future applicants?

One thing that helped me in the entrance examination was the following exercise: put your arms on your sides and visualize that your stomach is warm and that your head is cool. This will lower you blood pressure and help with your nerves.