Folk music degree student: Students and teachers here respect each other

Read an interview with Robbie Sherratt.

Student at the Music Centre of Helsinki looks over his shoulder.

Who are you, what course are you studying and why did you choose Uniarts Helsinki?

I’m Robbie Sherratt, an English fiddle player in my second year of the folk music master’s program. I initially came here on Erasmus during my bachelor’s studies and liked it so much I decided to come back.

I chose to study here after enjoying many great concerts and workshops in the UK led by teachers from the Sibelius Academy. Through these experiences I became fascinated by Finnish folk music (especially Kaustinen fiddle playing) and how musicians here approach traditional music.

What did you think about the admissions process, can you describe it for us?

The admissions process was a challenging time for me as it coincided with the final assignments of my bachelor’s degree. However, SibA offered practise rooms and a break-away in Finland, which was incidentally the hottest place in Europe at the time! I found that being at SibA for the auditions and having time away from my home institution for a few days proved to be good for me.

The admission process was surprisingly long but I found this, along with relaxed nature of the tests, meant I didn’t feel so stressed. I felt I had the time and opportunity to show my abilities rather than trying to squeeze everything into an audition.

Part of the process I particularly enjoyed was when my ensemble playing skills were tested. I was given the choice of four varying folk melodies in advance, of which I had to pick one, learn it by heart, then improvise an arrangement of it with two of the tutors. The test was to give and receive impulses from the other musicians. It was really fun!

What has it been like to study here, and what has your experience of Helsinki been?

I’ve found it to be relatively stress-free – great care is given to wellbeing. Students and teachers here are really friendly, respect each other and value each other’s opinions. I particularly like the pass or fail system used here; at my previous university it felt like students were competing for the highest marks. Here, we help each other to make projects we’re pleased with.

Helsinki’s been a great place to study. One of my chief worries when applying to study was the cost of living. However, with no tuition fees plus subsidised housing and warm meals through HOAS and Unicafé respectively, these worries have abated.

How would you describe Uniarts Helsinki?

Open-minded and welcoming!

What are the most memorable projects you have been involved with?

Last academic year my master’s ensemble focused on playing for Finnish social dancing. The mentor was really enthusiastic and, as well as performing and taking part in the advanced folk dance course, we performed regularly together outside of university at Nordic Folk Dance Club, Helsinki, and at Sabatants traditional dance festival in Tallinn. I learnt a lot through the project and our recital at the end of the year was brilliant. We performed in Black Box at the Music Centre to an audience of our friends, fellow course mates, the general public and our assessors – all dancing to our music.

Perhaps my other favourite project has been making a jouhikko as part of the instrument building classes. I can’t wait to finish it so I can use it in my next master’s ensemble.

What is your typical day like at university?

There is no typical day for me but this year my days at university are quite short. I usually eat at a cafeteria in one of SibA’s buildings; have a one to one lesson, then a group lesson. Afterwards, I’ll get some work or practise done; go to a Unicafé canteen in town and then head home around 6 or 7pm.

What’s been the best about studying at Uniarts Helsinki?

The open mindedness – there’s no strict right and wrong. Also, the teachers are great pedagogically.

And what has been the most challenging?

Deciding what to focus on has been challenging as there are so many opportunities and modules I’m interested in. Of course, my tutor and course mates have helped out with this.

What tip would you give to other students considering applying to Uniarts Helsinki – especially overseas students?

I recommend getting stuck into the Finnish language, it’s difficult and you can get by without it, but even knowing a little bit will help you to understand what’s going on. Uniarts Helsinki staff and students are really supportive and it doesn’t matter if your grammar’s not quite right.