Photo: Kristine Matilainen

Ayako Higurashi encourages everyone to be active and to seize all opportunities

Could you tell about your background?

I come from Japan, where I studied the euphonium for four years in the bachelor’s programme at Kunitachi College of Music. Later on I took an advanced, two-year course for soloists in the same school. I eventually ended up in the Sibelius Academy in 2013 and I’m now doing my master’s studies here.

What attracted you to music and your instrument?

In general, how I have been exposed to music is due to my mother, who is a music teacher. She used to take me to her band club activities when I was young.

I started to play brass instruments when I was 10 years old. Each school in Japan has its own school band. I first played the French horn and the tuba in the school band. When I entered junior high school, the school’s band had the euphonium. That is how I first learned about the instrument.

I actually wanted to play the saxophone originally. But because it was so popular in my school, I decided to switch to the euphonium. I found it appealing, the fact that it isn’t so popular compared to other brass instruments. It also isn’t a common orchestra instrument. The euphonium has a kind of thick and soft sound, and warmth, much like a baritone singer’s voice. The euphonium is actually gaining popularity now in Japan because of a TV animation show there.

What lead you to study at Sibelius Academy?

The biggest reason I came to Sibelius Academy is my current teacher Jukka Myllys.

In 2006 Jukka Myllys visited our school in Japan for a master class and a concert. In Japan, I was used to taking many master classes from different musicians. But for some reason, Jukka’s performance moved my heart. I can’t really explain it. Many players only have great technical skill, but Jukka’s performance was somehow touching. He is the only performer whose playing has made me cry.

Also, one of Myllys’ students, who had also studied at the same college and had the same teacher as I did, had accompanied Jukka during his visit. From her I first learned about the academy. In 2011, as I came to Finland for lessons from Myllys, that same student (who had also become a lecturer) gave me a tour around Sibelius Academy and it was then that I became convinced of studying here. I felt I had no other choice. I learned English for two years and applied to Sibelius Academy and got in.

What have your studies been like so far?

I like it very much here. In Japan, there is a mentality where people compare themselves to others too much. Here the teachers understand students as individuals. I was also surprised that teachers don’t get mad here [laughs]. I also like the flexibility. At Sibelius Academy it’s great that you can try out other things as well, not just stick with your own instrument. For example, I took an African dance course as part of my minor studies. It helped me experience music in a different way because I had to dance and therefore was able to feel the rhythm of the music. I have also been able to study performing in an orchestra.

What has it been like to live in Helsinki and in Finland?

I like it here. I enjoy the nature.  I live close to keskuspuisto (central park) and after a long day of lessons and practice it’s nice to be able to have such easy access to nature. I feel like the forest gives me power.

I’ve heard people say that the Finnish landscape is boring, but I find it quite the opposite. During winter when it’s all white outside, the snow reflects light in a beautiful blue. And not just that, I love that I can experience all the seasons here, not just winter.

What would you tell someone who was planning to come and live in Finland?

Welcome! The winter can be cold, but on the other hand if you want, you can take a trip up north and see the northern lights. I also like the people here and the fact that it isn’t so crowded. I come from Chiba ( a 1-hour ride from Tokyo) and it’s packed over there. Also, I’ve made such good friends and if you worry about the language barrier, you shouldn’t, because everyone speaks really good English here. Despite this, I personally wanted to learn Finnish. When I told my friends here about it, they were really supportive and have helped me learn the language.

What does your future look like?

I’ve still got one year of my studies left. I would like to stay in Finland as a freelance musician. Compared to Japan, I love the fact that here I have the flexibility to explore and try out different areas of music.

What advice would you give an aspiring artist, or someone who is interested to apply to University of the Arts Helsinki?

You should be active. There is an abundance of opportunities here, don’t be too shy or hesitant about seizing them.