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Finnish choir sings

BY TOMMY MORGAN JR. | FEBRUARY 18, 2010 7:30 AM

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While the works of British, German, and American composers are easy to find in Iowa, music from other locales may at times be less prominent. This weekend, the YL Male Voice Choir, a Finnish group, will bring a taste of its national music and identity to Iowa City.

The choir will kick a two-week tour of the United States on Feb. 21 with a performance at 2 p.m. in the West High Auditorium, 2901 Melrose Ave. Admission is $35.

The group, based in Helsinki, Finland, at Helsinki University, was formed in 1883, and it is the oldest Finnish-language choir. The 65-member group is composed primarily of university students.

YL goes on one or two international tours a year, conductor Matti Hyskki said in an e-mail to The Daily Iowan. The group last performed in the United States in 2005.

While the choir will later perform with the Minnesota Orchestra, the performance at West High will be a cappella. Member Tomas Blomberg, a student at Aalto University School of Science and Technology, prefers singing a cappella, the group’s typical performance.

“A cappella singing gives us more possibilities to reflect on our sound,” he wrote in an e-mail to the DI.

The group will perform works from all over the world, including music by Japanese composer Joji Yuasa and Austrian composer Franz Schubert. Finnish music, however, is the group’s favorite.

The work of composers such as Jean Sibelius, said Hyskki, who teaches conducting at the Sibelius Academy, is where “Finnish music found its roots” and helped Finland establish a national identity.

In the music of Finnish artists, the true nature of the country can be found.

“In Finnish choral music, the listener can hear features from our country,” Blomberg said. “The arctic climate and pure nature have always been in our blood. Different harmonies and melodies symbolize our history. Although Finnish music is usually melancholic, it gives the listener more time to think.”

Of course, for the members of the choir, there are also other benefits to singing songs by Sibelius and other Romantic period composers.

“Songs from the national romantic period are often harmonical and very nice to sing,” Blomberg said. “And of course, serenades for the beautiful girls. I love to sing for a girl [with a] knee on the ground, rose in hand, and after the song, give it for her and seal with a kiss.”

For Blomberg, who performed in Des Moines with a different choir in 1999, the travel the choir does also provides many opportunities, even if it has its drawbacks.

The singer said he loves to travel and enjoys seeing parts all over the globe.

“I think that Finland is like a small ‘island’ in the Europe, and traveling is not that easy,” he said. “Of course, long flights are not so good for the voice. Air-conditioned and pressurized plane cabins are not the best place to be.”

The trouble of long flights is worth it for him, though.

“I love to sing in my native language,” he said. “I am proud to represent Finland and Finnish music on the stages all over the world.”


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