Lisa Fornhammar is a musician with many strings to her bow

Working on her dissertation research on singer-composer co-operation at the University of the Arts’ Sibelius Academy, Lisa Fornhammar combines creatively the roles of researcher, singer and teacher.

Lisa Fornhammar is excited.

She has been at Sibelius Academy running a workshop on composer-singer co-operation with her researcher colleague, composer Miika Hyytiäinen. Four singer-composers pairs interested in co-operation have been discovered among the workshop participants, whom Fornhammar and Hyytiäinen are starting to coach.

”Miika and I have the same goal, to bring singers and composers together. Working together should be a natural thing, both learn such a lot from it”, Fornhammar says.

Lisa Fornhammar is a classically trained soprano specialising in contemporary music and working on a dissertation on Sibelius Academy’s MuTri music doctoral programme, while performing as a singer, lecturing and teaching. Originally from Sweden, Fornhammar has travelled to Helsinki from Leipzig in Germany, where she lives with her husband, tenor Dan Karlström, from the Aland Islands, and their two daughters, aged 11 and 9, Quite a lot of countries and roles for one woman. Is combining them easy?

”No”, Fornhammar says and laughs.

”Finding time for everything is sometimes challenging. On the other hand, all three roles feed each other. The more I perform, the better a teacher I am, and the more I teach, the better a researcher I become. I can apply almost everything which I learn doing my research to my teaching.”

Sibelius Academy is one of those rare places where it is possible as an artist to do a purely scientific dissertation and, on the other hand, study so flexibly that working at the same time also succeeds, Fornhammar explains how she ended up as a doctoral student in Helsinki.

The other reason is research. Fornhammar has found at Sibelius Academy a sounding board for her views about the importance of co-operation between singers and composers.

Contemporary music can be scary

As part of her research on singer-composer collaboration, Fornhammar is developing tools suitable for teaching contemporary music, which she believes there is a great need for.

”There is a lot of fear among singers and singing teachers about contemporary music, which is partly quite legitimate. All kinds of experiments are tried out in contemporary music and, done wrongly, they can be harmful for the voice.”

Fornhammar herself is collaborating closely with Hyytiäinen, who is currently developing an app called Voice Map for voice analysis. The app is designed to facilitate co-operation between composers and singers.

In earlier times, it was a common practice for a composer to make music directly for a particular singer, but the practice has since disappeared almost completely, Fornhammar says.

”Mozart wrote almost all his pieces for or with a specific singer. Nowadays, many composers fight shy of composing for a specific person, because they are afraid that the piece will then no longer be performed by anyone else. But in reality, just the opposite happens.”

The reason is that, when working together with the singer, the composer obtains a deeper understanding of the voice, its physiology, limitations and potential, Fornhammar says. Contemporary music in particular can be a trial for the voice.

”When the composer has no contact with the person performing the piece, he or she can write anything at all, and the singer is often horrified. But when the composer and singer work together, improvise together and discuss things, the situation is quite different.”

More about Lisa Fornhammar
More about doctoral studies at the University of the Arts Helsinki

Silja Ylitalo