First we take Chicago


The Sibelius Academy amazed and captivated at the Midwest Clinic orchestra conference

Text: Noora Mäntyranta
Photos: Kaarlo Hildén, Kaisa Johansson


When the Sibelius Academy’s wind ensemble Academy Winds was invited to perform at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago, the world’s largest band and orchestra conference with 19 000 visitors in December 2013, it set a whirlwind of preparations into motion. Mere months later, in December 2014, the hard work paid off as Academy Winds captured its audience and countless new doors were opened for the Sibelius Academy.

For the first time in history, the Sibelius Academy was to attend an international conference as one university rather than as individual departments. The mission was twofold: to showcase the young passion and talent embodied in the Academy Winds, and to promote the Sibelius Academy as a top university school of music at the conjoined education fair. Executive advisor Kaisa Johansson was in charge of all activities relating to student recruitment.

Reaching out across borders

According to Johansson, new techniques and approaches to education marketing were employed in preparation for the event.

”We started off with a simple question: what are the things that prospective students want to hear from us? In Finland, education marketing is often quite fact-oriented and even a little bit ’dry’ while international students, especially in the US, want to meet the people, the stories and the experiences behind the organization – that is, what makes the Sibelius Academy, the Sibelius Academy.”

”We then decided to introduce four of our international students in the brand-new admissions guide produced especially for this event. The students came from Romania, Australia, Japan and the United States. Moreover, we highlighted aspects of studying in Finland that we ourselves tend to take for granted, such as top-quality student health care and lack of tuition fees.”

”We distributed these admissions guides along with Sibelius Academy badges and stickers at the fair – and were they ever popular! People were genuinely interested in studying in Finland and at the Sibelius Academy; many were even familiar with us. Our booth and merchandise with their crisp white and blue design received a lot of compliments for being ’very stylish, very modern, very Nordic’.”

”All in all, the visitors appeared to find the Sibelius Academy quite exotic and highly relatable at the same time. In this regard our work was a success.”

Sibelius Academy producer Hans Tinell doing his part on the presentation stand...         

Lucy Abrams, Kaisa Johansson and the fresh colours of the Finnish flag well presented


Fresh winds from Finland

Peter Ettrup Larsen, lecturer of conducting and conductor of the Academy Winds for the Chicago concert, echoes Johansson’s satisfaction:

”The Sibelius Academy already has a high standing when it comes to brand recognizability, so what people needed was to be able to put a face on the name. Not only did we boost the status of the Sibelius Academy, we also showed that our level of wind activities belongs to the world elite.”

It was these very wind activities that had earned the Sibelius Academy an invitation to Midwest Clinic in the first place. On December 17th, Academy Winds took to the stage at Scarsdale South High School and performed a program consisting mostly of Finnish music to a curious audience. Larsen describes the event as ”spectacular in every way”:

”The students from the school were so excited to hear us and the atmosphere in the hall was awesome. It became absolutely clear just how appreciated our level of playing is. Our own students also got a lot of inspiration by seeing how things are done in other parts of the world. Coming out, getting new impulses and showing your own ’product’ is paramount to working as a musician in today’s world.”

Networking frenzy

In addition to student recruitment and musical delights, the Chicago Midwest Clinic offered infinite networking possibilities for all involved. Says Larsen:

”I met with a wide range of important people from the newly retired chief conductor of His President’s Own Marine Band in Washington D.C. – the top US military band – to the top person from China’s Communist Party who was in charge of all military wind activities. He even talked about having us come over to China to show them our way of doing things!”

Getting there was not easy, but it was worth it, says Kaisa Johansson.

”An incredible amount of work was involved in pulling off the project from the admissions guide and the merchandise to the general logistics of it all in the little time we had in our hands. However, at the end we were rewarded with knowledge that there is a substantial demand for the Sibelius Academy at international education fairs and concert venues alike. People want to hear more of and from us.”

The future is looking bright for the Sibelius Academy beyond the Finnish border – and this is only the start.




Audience testimonials from the Academy Winds concert on December 17th

"Honestly, the precision, intonation, and group articulation was only matched by the expressiveness and joy in the playing”.  Dr. John Jost, Bradley University, Illinois

"Simply put, it was stunning.  The group plays so well, with such great sound, high energy and terrific nuance.  It was a pleasure to be in that room.  Also, your conducting was just magnificent.  The played so well under you!  You and the musicians certainly made a very strong positive impact on the folks who were there.  Huge congratulations to you!” Robert J. Ambrose, Georgia State University

"It was absolutely fantastic in every way - musically from the players as well as the repertoire, energy between the players and as an ensemble. solos as well as ensemble, etc. etc.  You are stunning!  You and the ensemble are role models for where we should be as musicians, wind bands, and as world leaders that you are.  Thank you for changing the world tonight!” Paula Holcomb, Fredonia State University, New York