Another Key to Finland’s Success in Music Education: Its Summer Music Festivals

Kaustinen Folk Music Festival Image Credit: Lauri Ono
Graham Strahle
| April 10, 2018

Finland’s world renowned music education system is a subject of continuing interest among music educationists in Australia. Attention has naturally focused on how music is taught in its school system and how we could learn from some of its ideas in this country. But there is yet more we could find out if we turn our attention further afield to Finland’s distinctive approach to music festivals.

Finland plays host to numerous summer music festivals, many of which are specifically for children and involve them in various types of participation from singing and dancing to music theatre. The largest and most prominent is the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, and it is enormous. Kaustinen itself is a village 450 kilometres north of Helsinki with a population barely more than 4,000, but each summer over 100,000 people head there for a week-long event that includes concerts, workshops, jam sessions, and a highly developed series of children’s events.

We asked Kaustinen Folk Music Festival’s Program Director, Anne-Mari Hakamäki, to explain more about the festival and particularly its educational approach. She says the key aspect is involvement by both children and grown-ups in its many events.

“Our philosophy is that we don’t want to draw a line between an artist and a listener – we want everyone to be able to choose their own way to attend the event – as a player, singer, dancer or a listener,” says Hakamäki. “By doing this we want to keep the event as a social meeting point but also maintain the important aspect of folk music – passing on the tradition live, from one person to another.”

“During the festival week the festival hosts more than 30 open workshops for the public. The workshops are short, 60-90 minutes and you can learn to play tunes, sing folk songs, dance or sometimes also build simple folk instruments as whistles etc. The Folk Music Institute arranges open lessons about folk music related topics such as different types of traditions and styles.”

The Kaustinen Festival’s most celebrated event for children is Näppärit (“string pluckers”). In this, hundreds of children come under the direction of Mauno Järvelä, a renowned Finnish folk fiddler and teacher, to learn folk fiddling using easy methods of playing and singing. He uses classical violin teaching methods similar to the Suzuki methods but does so in ways that enable all participating children, including those who have never played music before, to take on roles appropriate to their level.

Hakamäki says 300-500 young people participate in Näppärit each year under festival’s main tent. To learn more about it she recommends reading Citizen Engagement & Education, a learning kit that explores “citizen engagement and education in heritage” and describes the Näppärit method as one underpinned by a “belief that it is possible to provide an enriching musical experience that is available to everyone”. Its idea is that “music should be a natural part of the personal life and social interactions of each individual”.

The book explains that the key principles of Näppärit are fourfold: equality in involvement (“Everybody is allowed to join in”), accommodating all levels of ability (“the music that is played is arranged so that there are more and less demanding parts, and everybody can play or sing something, together and simultaneously”), making music enjoyable and part of everyday life (“there is no stress that comes from standards of excellence or examination schedules”), and founding the program within a folk music tradition (“The aim is to safeguard local traditions and their heterogeneity against the homogenising global tendencies of popular music and against the strict and exclusive canon of classical music-based education”).

The book says the Näppärit method has “spread to more than ten European countries, as well as to North America and South Africa”.

So there might be lessons that can be learned about how music is embedded within wider Finnish culture, and how this is reflected in its summer festivals. With so many of Australia’s popular music festivals presently racked by serious behaviour problems ranging from drug taking to sexual harassment and assault, it seems all the more imperative to look at them for some answers.

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