Nordplus Higher Education

A gigantic music network binds the Baltic and Nordic regions together


“It gives us a bigger voice and a longer reach, and I think it is important to stick together,” says Hanneleen Pihlak.

She is the main coordinator for the Sibelius Network. A quite unique network since it consists of almost all conservatoires in the Nordic and Baltic countries.

“The Nordic countries and the Baltic countries are rather small, but this cooperation makes smaller countries seem bigger,” she says

She is herself from The Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, which has about 700 students, in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn. She is the international coordinator here and, practically, that means she handles international exchange agreements for students and teachers. One of the main activities in this work is the Sibelius Network, which consists of about 30 conservatoires. Her job is to support the institutions and the teachers with ideas for projects, exchange and, not least, to contribute to the overall progress of the network and the possibility of future projects.

“Music is part of the Nordic and Baltic identity. Musicians are used to working together, and they need a sustainable platform where they can develop new projects and make them a reality,” Hanneleen Pihlak says.

No hindering borders

High towards north – north of the Arctic border – classical music is played too. Michael Strobelt is a teacher at the Arctic University of Norway, which is in the town of Tromsø. He is the university’s coordinator of the Sibelius Network, and he himself has been part of the network for many years.

“The network gives us a much larger academic field. We are so far away from everyone else that anything, which can be shared digitally and be part of the long-distance cooperation, is interesting and important to us,” says Michael Strobelt.

Photo by Dmitrijus Matvejevas

Photo by Dmitrijus Matvejevas

There are only 120 students attending the Arctic University in northern Norway, and here Michael Strobelt teaches music didactic for instrumental teachers.

“We have multiple instruments which only a single teacher is able to teach – that is incredibly vulnerable, so we are slightly dependent on the teacher exchange in the network,” he says.

To Michael Strobelt and colleagues, it means that the guest teachers participate in the actual teaching either in corporation with the local teachers or as workshops – and, if necessary, take charge of the teaching for multiple weeks, when Michael Strobelt and colleagues are on training leave, holidays or preoccupied with other projects. Michael Strobelt sees many advantages of the exchange of teachers.

“When we, for example, have a Finnish singing teacher visiting, he will of course teach about the great Finnish composers and the particular Finnish repertoire. That way we get a holistic picture of both the artistic and the linguistic part,” says the Norwegian teacher.

Personally, he is very happy with the cooperation in the network – both regarding the actual teaching with instruments and the theoretical teaching. Among the benefits, he highlights the valuable academic discussions and the new perspectives.

“It was really inspiring to cooperate with the Danish conservatoires. Their teaching is somewhat different concerning music theory and ear training to the way we do it, and they are pretty advanced regarding digital music as well,” says Michael Strobelt.

Long-distance orchestra wanted

Four arctic conservatoires has participated in a project, where the musicians played together across the distances. Unfortunately the goal of playing together in real time was not reached, because they never got rid of the microscopic delay often present in the sound. The project was nevertheless valuable.

“The digital concerts were an experiment, which we were happy with, but no one becomes a musician without physically playing music with others!” says Michael Strobelt.

And the thing about meeting up – that is not so cheap, because nobody flies straight from the top of Norway to the top of Finland – everyone has to round both Helsinki and Oslo because there are no direct flight. Perhaps that is why the northern Norwegian university is especially excited about the Sibelius Network.

“In the Arctic, we have many of the same challenges – we are pretty isolated from the outside world. For many years we, for example, only had a single student playing the tuba, and he had to be part of everything. To him it meant a lot to get in touch with other students playing the same instrument,” says the Norwegian teacher.

Hanneleen Pihlak completely agrees. She sees the same challenges with smaller conservatoires, and, in day to day life, she senses how they utilise the expertise from the network.

“The schools which are active now risk a decrease in activity if no one funds their research – with application processes and funds for example,” she says.

With time the network has become a joint Nordic/Baltic project, where also institutions from the Baltic countries play an active part.

“It is possible because we share common values. In Europe, there is a strong hierarchy, and they often prefer to do things the traditional way. The Nordic and Baltic countries try things out and if it does not work – then we know it does not work” she says and shrugs and smiles.

Photo by Janis Porietis

Photo by Janis Porietis

The Sibelius Network

Website of The Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre

Project details 

Workshop in electronic music gave network and new inspiration

Compose a piece of contemporary music and utilise digital solutions – experiment, learn and create something unique. The project “Nord+Mix” under the Sibelius Network has worked with electronic music in 2016 – with the very best of the best.

A lot of music was composed by the students, and there were teachings in many interesting subjects. So says Kasper Bai Andersen, teacher at The Royal Danish Academy of Music in Aarhus, Denmark. He has along with the students and teachers from Estonia, Latvia, Norway, Sweden and Finland participated in the seminar “Nord+Mix”, which was facilitated by the Sibelius Network and ran over a period of ten days in Vilnius in spring 2016. The geographical location was no coincidence.

“In Vilnius, they have an "Ambisonic Sphere", which is a concert hall with a 21-channel surround sound system. They are especially good at this, and they established the frame for the project,” says Kasper Bai Andersen.

He himself works primarily with composition and string quartets, and the digital is more of a tool in his everyday life than an instrument in his everyday life. He participated with two students from the rhythmic part of the education.

Photo by Dmitrijus Matvejevas

Photo by Dmitrijus Matvejevas

“They were both very inspired, and I can see that they subsequently are trying out new things in their own music,” he says.

A balance between innovation and tradition

A top professional string quartet was ready at the end of the process, so besides the concrete experience of composing and creating experimental music in cooperation with the Nordic and Baltic students, everyone had a unique experience.

“Hearing your own music performed by an ensemble, which is among the absolute best and is used to performing experimental music, is a chance many students would normally not have,” says Kasper Bai Andersen.
It is the first time he has participated in a Nordic project with his students.

“I had the opportunity to see how other conservatoires in other countries handle the teaching, what they value and their differences. It was a solid and good meeting, which, overall, was a great success,” says the Danish teacher.

A paradigm shift is coming

In Vilnius, the school focuses on the balance between traditions of the music education and the innovation via technology – and innovative solutions concerning education and teaching.

“In these years, a break-up between musicians, composers and technology is taking place – and actually the audience as well. There is a clear interest for it among the students,” he says.

It was “Brand new Music Innovation Studies Centre” at “Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre” that hosted the project. The centre has won international awards within the field and that affected the entire project.

“Academically, my expertise is on string quartets, so that was where I could help out, but I came home with new knowledge and a greater sense of the potential regarding the digital,” says Kasper Bai Andersen.

Personally, he is glad for the new networking opportunities the project gave him, and he has already held a workshop in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“The seminar gave me lots of inspiration, and it was fruitful to meet other teachers and discuss the music education and network with them. There was actually a common concept about what a music education is,” says Kasper Bai Andersen.

In fact, he is most surprised about how much the participants had in common.

“The Baltic countries are very different countries to visit, but, in regards to the music education, music culture and the thing about working with music, we are actually very similar,” says Kasper Bai Andersen.