Roope Aarnio from Finland speaks for SibA Folk Big Band

Finnish folk orchestra of 40 musicians with fiddles, kanteles, accordions, harmoniums, guitars, percussions, winds and vocals, a humongous Folk Big Band!

Roope Aarnio from Finland speaks for SibA Folk Big Band

The strength of the SibA Folk Big Band (SibA FBB) rises from the collective creativity of about 50 Finnish Folk musicians. The instrumentation counts fiddles, kanteles, accordions, guitars, wind instruments and harmoniums. In addition, archaic Finnish instruments such as bowed lyre (jouhikko) bring their own nuance to the “musical portrait”. All the instruments get their own moment to shine in the multifaceted program, and the show truly starts when the whole big band sings and plays together.

The orchestra was founded and lead by Petri Prauda in 2010 as part of the operation of the folk music department of Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. Each member is a player, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, soloist and ensemble musician as well as a skilled improviser! The orchestra performs without any artistic director nor the use of sheet music, with all the band members communicating together in a dynamic, rhythmic way, thanks to improvisation and communal focus.

Here goes the interview given by Roope Aarnio, artistic leader of SibA Folk Big Band, for First Arte:

Is it hard to coordinate so many musicians on and off stage?

“One of the main principles of SibA FBB has always been the idea of democracy, members are equal and independent. Of course it’s a big group and needs someone to be in charge, but we try to work as much as possible as a normal small band where everybody has equal rights and responsibilities. Everyone’s input is important. Since the Folk Big Band is a project of Sibelius Academy (University of The Arts, Helsinki) and a part of the studies at the Folk music department, we have also some University teachers in the group helping the leader and the students.

At the moment I am the artistic leader and also organize rehearsals, but we even have an intendent who takes care of many practical things. We have been trying to achieve the point where every member feels pride and ownership towards the FBB and Finnish Folk music. That’s when we start to get the best results, It hasn’t always been easy, but at the moment it seems to flow quite nicely, I found out that if people get good information about what is happening, and they have safe space to work in, the trust and commitment will follow automatically and everything will go much easier.”

Who gets to decide how a song will be shaped? I mean, who will take part in it and who will sing lyrics for that certain song: is it a coral decision?

“The idea is that the members of the SibA FBB work taking many different roles at the same time, they are professional musicians who play their main instruments, but they are also composers and arrangers. The musical material is based on Finno-ugric and Nordic music traditions, most of the material (songs, tunes) is brought by an older student or a teacher and we arrange it together with the orchestra. So the FBB tries to work in the same way as a smaller band or ensemble usually works, in democracy, this might be kinda slower method of working, but the final result is usually that we feel ownership to the pieces we perform, and therefore it’s more fun to play and listen to our songs.

We also try to avoid using sheet music, because musicians’ contact and energy during lives are much better when everyone is playing by heart. All in all our goal is to find the essence and the esthetics of traditional working methods in folk music and from that create a new form, new standards of a folk music orchestra or a big band. It has been quite challenging to break these old working connotations of orchestral music. Expecially when our line-up changes every year, old students graduate and new ones come in, but I think we are on the right path.”

What’s the core difference between performing in Finland and out of Finland?

“For some weird historical reasons traditional Finnish folk music used to be a bit disgraceful amongst finns, the people were not so proud or interested in their own culture and roots. Nowadays the situation is changing, but still there are only few venues where you can hear local folk music in Finland. That’s why many professional folk musicians are performing mainly abroad, in Finland it’s usually at folk music festivals or clubs where folk music is performed live, and the audience is mainly made of “folkie people”, who already know the genre.
Most of the ordinary Finnish people are not interested in folk music, or at least they don’t know where to find it, they haven’t heard of it, they don’t know what it is nowadays, and they have some old-fashioned expectations about it. In other countries the audience seems to not hold any prejudice towards folk music, and FBB gets greeted by an open-minded crowd who is interested to listen to other cultures’ musical traditions. Also the mindset of Finnish audience might be a bit more moderate than that of some other countries where people can party wildly even without any alcohol involved.”

How did you like performing on Rudolstadt Festival 2019 in Germany and what was your favourite stage?

“Performing at Rudolstadt festival was really a once in a lifetime experience for me and the whole SibA Folk Big Band. The festival has a reputation of being one of the greatest and nicest folk music festivals in Europe, I totally agree to that statement. We had such a big audience full of heart-warming energy at every concert, that is something I will always remember. The feeling was amazing expecially while performing at Heinepark in the Folk Ballroom, also the concert at Heidecksburg castle stays in mind with the most astonishing view. The Festival Staff was very friendly and professional, so we felt ourselves warmly welcome all the time.”

What about the SibA FBB future projects?

Next year we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of SibA Folk Big Band, in autumn 2020 we will hold a big concert that we are currently still planning at the moment, it’s meant to be spectacular. Some new songs are coming up plus a co-organized performance with a dance group, plus we have been asked to perform in some festivals around Europe for the next Summer.”

And what it means to play Folk Music as a job for you? Can you answer on behalf of the other SibA FBB members?

“To me it is a priveledge and a honour to play and perform Finnish folk music, I feel proud to be able to do that for a living. I think it as an important and meaningful work since we are preserving and developing communal living culture. Traditional music is local and global at the same time, it is the unique legacy of its homeland, great for sharing and for everybody to enjoy. There is some wisdom from the past to it, for the people of today and tomorrow.
Live Performance of SibA Folk Big Band