Photo: Wilma Hurskainen

Katharine Hao: Learning professional tools for a life of music

During her studies at the Sibelius Academy Canadian flute student Katharine Hao has had several opportunities to work with professional orchestras and perform at different events. These have provided her with the tools she needs to achieve her personal goals as musician.

The teachers at the Sibelius Academy are very supportive and promote an overall positive attitude at the school. Students are encouraged to develop their own ideas and opinions, and many classes I have taken are discussion based rather than lectures. The teachers are also very flexible when it comes to making up classes or homework because they know many of the Sibelius Academy students have gigs and other work outside of school. The private teachers that I know are invested in their students’ progress and often give more lessons than necessary. The woodwind faculty at the academy is highly professional and offer their expertise on a variety of topics, from auditions to chamber to orchestral playing.

Sibelius Academy offers a wide range of courses, from Baroque Dance to Performance Coaching to Writing Mozart Cadenzas. I would recommend any student coming here to browse the course catalogue thoroughly to get the most out of their experience here. My first year here on exchange I took a course called Interpreting Notation and Performance Practices from 1750-1850, and it became one of my favourite courses that year, but not many people knew about it.

The Sibelius Academy also takes the well-being of their students seriously and there are many great courses like Alexander Technique, Body Mapping, Physical Education, and Pilates for Musicians. They often hold workshops by physical therapists as well to educate students on better practice posture and stretches to help reduce injury.

In terms of performance courses, I receive lessons on chamber (we are free to create our own groups), and a secondary instrument (I chose piccolo). We also have many masterclasses in a year. This year there were four flute masterclasses from visiting professors and performers, and my pianist friends can have masterclasses sometimes every other week.

There is a great community at the Sibelius Academy. After arriving here, new students are taken in by student tutors who assist with practical issues and create social events for the students to get to know each other. I found my way here relatively quick and settled in comfortably within the first month or so.

Students have many benefits living in Finland. Student meals can be purchased from any student cafeterias and are 2.6euros. The meals are well-balanced and have meat or vegetarian options. The cafeterias even accommodate special diets if discussed. Travel cards are also discounted, and student housing is much cheaper.

The Sibelius Academy allows their students a lot of freedom in choosing what kind of courses they want to take and how much of a workload they want. To get the most out of the experience, I would say to carefully consider what you want to get out of the school before coming. It can be easy to fall into an unmotivated state if you do not have goals in mind.

Overall, I love the positive energy and the encouragement I have received here from teachers and fellow students. I feel that it is a great environment to grow in as a musician. I think coming here has been one of the greatest decisions in my music career.

There are many possibilities to perform! There are always cool concerts happening around the city. I often get asked to play in gigs or interesting school projects. One of the more interesting concerts I was asked to play in was a Philip Glass concert at Helsinki’s Flow Festival. I have also played with the Tapiola Sinfonietta as part of the school’s apprenticeship program. The school invites members of orchestras around the city to audition students for a chance to play in a professional orchestra concert. Everyone in Tapiola was incredibly supportive and warm and playing in their concert was the highlight of my year.

The Sibelius Academy has three beautiful buildings where we can practice, rehearse, and perform. There are many concert halls for us to use complete with recording equipment if we wish to make videos for competitions or auditions. Many classrooms have Steinway pianos, and some even have two in one room. The library is filled with all kinds of material and if there is something we need we can also put a request in. We can also borrow instruments from the school. The Sibelius Academy owns bass and alto flutes and Hammig piccolos.

Helsinki feels very safe to live in. I have no problem going home late at night. Once I forgot my bag on the bus and it showed up a few days later to the city’s lost and found with everything still inside it.  It feels very much like Toronto, where I am from, except less crowded. The pace is slower and things are generally calmer, which I really enjoy.

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