Photo: Karoliina Pirkkanen

Hugh Sheehan values the various opportunities offered by the Sibelius Academy

Music technology Master's student Hugh Sheehan came to the Sibelius Academy from Birmingham, England. He enjoys the global atmosphere, the venues, the equipment and the artistic opportunities offered by the university. He begun his Master's studies after having spent an Erasmus exchange period at the Sibelius Academy.

Why did you choose Finland and the Sibelius Academy as a place of study and what made you apply?
The Sibelius Academy has a very good reputation in England and is pretty renowned across Europe. There are a wealth of opportunities within the college that I felt were really beneficial to me, and two and a half years to study at the Academy, to develop projects and to expand my skill set at this stage of my career was exactly what I wanted. The fact that I got to give the academy a four month trial run was all the more reason to apply; I knew the working methods were suited to me and that I had so much more to learn from doing a Masters here. When I decided to apply for an Erasmus exchange I’d hoped to take part in unique learning and collaborative experiences, develop musically and creatively and work towards pre-determined personal and musical goals. SibA did an outstanding job in fulfilling these hopes, so I couldn’t think of anywhere more suitable to study for my Master’s degree. 

The faculty at the department of music technology is made up of specialists in quite varying fields - from electro-acoustic improvisation and live performance system design through to analogue signal processing and modular synthesis, audio recording and production and beyond. That there was such a breadth of expertise in fields that I was very eager to gain experience in was very appealing. In acoustic music I have a background playing Irish Traditional music and Jazz/Improvisatory music and my activity as a composer and performer generally incorporates various elements from these idioms. Celtic and Nordic Folk Musics have a lot of similarities, and the Folk music department at the Academy I also knew to be very strong. I found that the Academy also had a dynamic, top-quality Jazz Department. A place that so well combines the three areas that my praxis encompasses I knew would be ideal and the opportunity to spend two and a half years in such an artistically prosperous place with such an accepting, open-minded and forward-thinking community was a fantastic opportunity.

How would you describe the teaching/teachers, your student community and the study environment here?
At the SIbelius Academy I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, playing and creating with musicians and artists from all over the world. My time at the academy has really opened my eyes to the working methods and artistic variation that comes with the nationality and habitat of a musician, something that I had really underestimated. I have learned so much of other’s ways of working and also their ways of life. Developing creative/working relationships over such an extended period of time has been so refreshing and eye-opening as a person active in a creative field. I think what strikes me most about SibA is the people. Everybody I encounter is so friendly, open-minded and helpful. As an artist whose work almost all of the time involves some degree of collaboration, there is no shortage of people who are willing to contribute their time, effort, musical prowess or advice to artistic projects; that everyone is so ludicrously talented makes this even more wonderful. With regards to teachers, all of them are so willing to go out of their way to help on the journey of learning and discovery and are all experts in their respective fields; a dream combination. Another obvious positive is the facilities. As a student whose study area (generally) requires costly equipment and readily available, dedicated space, what the academy offers really is extraordinary. I consider myself very lucky to have such resources made readily available to me and that I’m being fully prepared to be working in professional audio environments when I leave is invaluable. Finally, the creative opportunities that I’ve found myself being offered are fantastic, plentiful and varied. I’ve performed at or worked on professional projects as part of festivals, concerts, competitions, seminars and various other events in Helsinki and around Finland during my studies at SibA. To be offered such big opportunities on such a regular basis is lovely. From getting to know many students in other departments - both native and international, I get the impression that my thoughts seem to be the general consensus. 

How does studying here differ from your previous study experiences and what has maybe surprised you the most?
The degree at SibA is very modular, in that (in my Master’s program, at least) I pick all of the classes that I want to take. These can be from the wealth of options my department offers, one of the many classes that other departments offer or even cross-university study, if it is suitable to my studies and logistically possible. This is a huge difference from my university experience back home where almost all of my classes were prescribed and pre-determined, with certain ‘study paths’ made by choice. The modularity is fantastic, but of course requires some degree of responsibility and vision. The facilities offered here are like nothing I’ve ever seen before, in Britain at least, and the freedom for students to use such resources is phenomenal. Helsinki Music Centre has given students access to a huge range of very high quality equipment and facilities that are state-of-the-art and of the highest standard the industry has to offer. As well as the educational and musical benefits, studying in Finland at the academy has been a culturally enlightening experience. I think living in another country for an extended period of time, amongst the community has greatly enriched my understanding and appreciation for customs and traditions that I'm unfamiliar with. I’ve been abroad for extended periods of time before, but living in one place, becoming part of and contributing to the community is an experience I have thoroughly enjoyed. I’m not quite convinced by rye bread just yet though I’m afraid. 

What are your experiences of Finland and Helsinki as a place of living and studying?
Funding for the arts and education in Finland is much higher than back home in England. I’ve found it leads to a very open-minded and artistically-aware public, which in turn leads to a very healthy culture of art/music appreciation and creation. Music and art in general seems to be ingrained in the culture here, which makes it a very democratic and accessible activity, not just something for the elite. Generally speaking, concerts, gigs or arts events are very well attended by people from a broad spectrum of ages and backgrounds, which is inspiring to see as a young artist. Scenically, Finland really is a stunning place. Beautiful, open, green spaces and vast, blue lakes, stunning rolling coastline and ornate, scattered islands. There’s a lot of stuff to be getting on with and places to see in your spare time. The people in Finland I’ve found to be very friendly, accommodating and diplomatic in their response to my dreadful attempts at the Finnish language (I’m getting better!). They also have great spectacles and impeccable taste in interior design.