Sunniva Abelli
NoFo 2013-2015, The Royal College of Music, Sweden
The ensemble: Rim

I am a solo musician. My Bachelor work examined techniques of playing chords and riffs with my bow to accompany my singing, so that I could be self-sufficient on stage. I have always liked practicing and improvising on the nyckelharpa and discovering small details and things in my playing that I create space for, and show to my audience. It has always been my goal to be present and to have the courage to open up my soul on stage. I think the reason why I didn't dare start a band is that I get so distracted with everything that the other musicians are doing.
But I have always loved to travel, and because I am quite brave – sometimes even too much so – suddenly one day I decided to either move to London and learn about the singing traditions in the UK, or study in the Nordic Master of Folk Music program. I felt that I was lacking a lot of knowledge about ensemble playing and arranging, and that it would be so nice to be able to expand my music to something bigger than just myself and my solo playing. I also wanted to learn more about my voice and about rhythm and the different ways of arranging rhythmic structures. I also wanted to know more about the differences and similarities in Nordic folk music. And to create a bigger network.

I don't know whether I was prepared for it or not. But from day one I was the happiest person in the world. My classmates were fantastically good musicians and nice people who shared a lot of the visions I had. KMH (my home school) was great at accommodating my wishes and needs from the start. We had the best teachers in all of the schools and met fantastic people everywhere. And the best thing was that I could do both – I could be a solo musician and do my own thing – and create a successful band (Rim) and try out a lot of ideas at the same time! Rim just did a big tour throughout the whole Scandinavia, Finland, Estonia and Latvia during the late summer of 2015, and people have been so happy everywhere and it has been a really good experience. We started to work as a professional band after our first year in NoFo. It feels great to already be a freelancer with a lot of work right after graduating. My solo project is now developing and I have more time after graduating to work it into a bigger project.

After two years of constantly moving and having my belongings spread across the world, it feels very good to have a home finally! And some space for reflecting upon what I want to do now – next. But I'm amazed that nowadays I am so sure of what is necessary or what is not, what I really need, what is important. And how easy it is to have a good life without the things that I thought I needed. It has also become so easy to travel. I have some serious allergies and it has always been very stressful to travel in countries where I don't understand the language. Now I have a lot of tricks to make it work and I am much more safe and secure now when I travel. I also know exactly what I need in my suitcase and can pack it very fast.

I feel like an ambassador for Nordic folk music, and I feel that I can see things a bit from above. I (of course) don't know every detail, but I know where to look for more whenever I wish to. And I have a huge network of people I can cooperate with. The term ’folk music’ has become to mean so much more for me, with so many variations and expressions. I feel so free!

Jo Einar Jansen
NoFo 2013-2015, Ole Bull Academy, Norway
The ensemble: Rim

Nordic Folk Gypsy – That's what you easily become while studying the Nordic Master in Folk Music. I fell in love with the countries, music, atmosphere and the people. After two years of studying Nordic Folk one should believe the wanderlust was satisfied for a while. That was not how I felt. I wanted to continue my journey with many more meetings and cooperations for a long time. Luckily a small one came into this world, who made me more or less sedentary and prevented me from becoming a wayfarer forever (read Knut Hamsun for more info about Wayfarers). Thanks for these studies. And for the record: my wayfarer is still living and growing.

Sven Midgren
NoFo 2011-2013, The Royal College of Music, Sweden
The ensemble: Tranotra

When I was about to finish my NoFo-studies I wrote:

“So, where have I ended up now, after two years of exploring, developing, understanding and questioning; myself as a musician and artist, and folk music itself?

I have a lot of ideas that I have gathered during these two years that I want to explore further. With many of them I feel that I am only beginning to understand where they lead and what they actually mean.

I have acquired some good skills and tools to support my (musical) development which I will bring with me into my future work as a musician and artist. Questioning myself and my musical practices, and musical conventions in general, in order to create space for development; an interest in creating and using different types of musical experiments, often without knowing where they will lead, but just diving into them with an open and curious mind; using theoretical ideas as a basis for practical music making; connecting the body with the mind and opening myself to the power that lies in experiences.

In the end, I have gained a lot more confidence as an artist and a musician. If anything, I leave this degree program with a feeling that the exploring will go on forever. There are no limits.”

Now, a good two years later, I have a lot of energy, ideas and projects that I gained through my NoFo-studies that are still waiting to enter the real world. But even so, NoFo has provided me with invaluable knowledge, contacts and experiences for my professional life, as a musician, performer and music teacher. It really expanded my artistic vision and courage, my pedagogical work and above all my confidence. I get to use my NoFo knowledge every day, whether I am teaching Twinkle Twinkle on the violin to a 5-year-old, or creating a solo performance.

Johanna Adele-Jüssi
NoFo 2009-2011, Carl Nielsen Academy of Music (Danish National Academy of Music)
The ensemble: Blink

The first time I heard about Nordic Master was at Nordtrad in Viljandi, 2007. I remember thinking how awesome this sounds but realising that one can not do everything – I was still studying to become an architect besides my folk music studies. A year after that, at Nordtrad in Göteborg, I became friends with Nicolaj from Denmark and Lina from Sweden who were quite consistent in their: ”Shall we take the Nordic Master together?“ And suddenly I felt that this was exactly what I wanted to do.

I took contact with Harald Haugaard, who was the coordinator in Denmark at the time and asked if it was allowed for me (coming from Estonia) to apply. After getting the confirmation that it was ok, the journey could begin. It was a very difficult year to come for me – I had way too many subjects left to finish in order to graduate from Viljandi in the spring 2009 and my personal life was also quite turbulent. But I had a NoFo poster hanging in my room which was motivating me to get out of bed and work harder. There was a Anthon Berg marzipan candy hanging next to the poster and I had a deal with myself that I could eat it first after I had gotten an official „YES!“ from NoFo.

I was, for a long time, preparing for the auditions, both mentally and musically. First it seemed scary but then I realised that the people „judging“ want the ones applying to be good, they want them to feel good, so they could show what they are best at. It went really well and I managed to play better than I actually did at the time. So, in late spring, I could eat the candy as I was accepted to take NoFo as a Danish student!

I chose to apply in Denmark because of the polkas and because I could then have Harald Haugaard as my main teacher. And as it seemed impossible to apply and get in from Sweden or Norway as one of the conditions is to play the local music believably at the auditions. And Finland seemed too close to Estonia. I guess now I would have applyed in Finland exactly because of the closeness and cultural bonds.

NoFo students had always been those mysterious amazing musicians and it took me a long time to realize that it will not be ”the great ones and me“ but it will be us.

Having quite a few different violin teachers in these two years, with every single one of them having had to adabt a new bowing-pattern, a new tonal expression, new double-stop usage, new kinds of tunes, I had to grow some Self in me. It was clear from the beginning that it was important to learn as much as possible from every wonderful one of them and then leave the new features in my toolbox, not cling on to them too hard – otherwise I would have been in serious trouble already in the beginning of the second semester.

I found it exciting and truly enjoyed living in all these different places. I had a series of self-painted cats with me which were adorning all the places I lived thus bringing some continuity to my homes.

While the other students had (some of them more, some of them less) study loan, then I was in quite a tight spot financially. I Did not get any support from Estonia as I was studying abroad and not from abroad because I was Estonian. Also, I did not get Nordplus support while I was in Denmark as „I was in my home school“. The Danish study grant officials grounded their „no“ by saying that they gave money first hand to those who were studying Danish culture or language. Hm. What about Danish traditional music being part of culture? Now I can laugh at it but during the time it seemed really hard. But I learned to write applications, finally even ending up paying half of my violin from the scholarships I managed to get.

The two years were filled with joy, love for music, getting to know myself, adventures, tears, arguments, learning about life, countless practice hours, amazing meetings, priceless talks – I can really say that I grew a lot during the time. Musically, emotiotionally and personally.

Without any further discussion about nationalism, its different forms and appearances of it I must admit that I have become a cosmopolitan. Or, to be more precice, I see myself coming from Estonia, belonging to the North. People I feel for the most, the ones I love playing music with, are scattered around the Nordic countries, there is a constant being far away from almost all of them. But since I have gotten used to that I find it hard to imagine the time where I will have settled down somewhere. Chosen the surroundings, tax system, (folk) music environment, if it is Kiwi, Rimi, Konsum or the local farmer I will buy food from. These are all decisions which I probably would not have had if I would not have taken the Nordic Master in Folk Music course. It feels unbelievable almost, how easy it seems to be to choose where to live for most of the people. I have become addicted to move around, play with very different musicians and (try) to speak different languages.

NoFo was and is an amazing, crazy thing to do. I recommend it highly.

Pauliina Pajala
NoFo 2007-2009, Sibelius-Academy
The ensemble: NOMAS

Why did I apply and what did I get?

– Opportunity of a lifetime to leave “old circles” and expand my world view
– A chance to meet new musicians and visit new musical places
– To be able to learn new languages – musical languages also!
– To live abroad, but home visits are allowed
– Nordic co-working, connecting and cultural skills
– Great possibility to expand the future working field
– Learning about project working with different people and how to apply grants :)
– Finding and expanding my “own voice” through this journey and learning to be brave!
– It was real fun with culture and language misunderstandings, differences and similarities