jussisarkkaFirst question! Tell us what you do, where you play and where you teach.

  • I am the co-principal bassoonist of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and I have been there for 21 years. Before that I played in the Joensuu Orchestra and the Helsinki Philharmonic and then in the Finnish National Opera. At the moment I teach in the Sibelius Academy. I began teaching in the Joensuu music school already while I was myself still studying. After that I taught in Espoo’s music school and a bit in the Helsinki Conservatory. In 1994 I came to the Sibelius Academy as a teacher and in 1995 I was chosen to be the lecturer in bassoon.

Where were you born?

  • In Joensuu.

So you were studying in school and a teacher there as well?

  • Yes, I taught there too. I was a student there, and then I went to the Sibelius Academy Youth Department. At the time in Joensuu they were just beginning to organise a professional orchestra, so for some instruments the instruction was a little difficult to arrange. In the mid 70’s it was difficult to get instruction for some of the instruments.

So how did you work around that...you auditioned for the Sibelius Academy Youth Department ?

  • Yes, it was really much more informal, compared to how it is today. I had an audition and in the jury there was my teacher at that time, Emmanuel Elola, the dean of the Sibelius Academy, Veikko Helasvuo, and my piano accompanist, Hjördi Humander. Basically two people were on the jury. I had taken lessons with Elola already privately and then he suggested that I apply for the Youth Department. It was quite straightforward. When I was there playing the audition, the jury left the room for 10 minutes and came back in with my registration papers. After that I started the following January as an official student in the Youth Department. 

So, Elola was your teacher already when you were applying for the Youth Department. Was he teaching in Joensuu as well sometimes?

  • No, I met him in the Ristavesi Music Camp for a few years. He was of the opinion, after hearing me for a few years, that I should apply for the Sibelius Academy Youth department.

How old were you when you began to play?

  • I was just under 11 years old.

And why the bassoon?

  • Again, just luck. I didn’t really know anything about the instrument at all. In Joensuu there was an orchestra, and it was the size of a symphony orchestra, but it had a kind of variable collection of instruments at times. My parents and I went to their concerts. Somehow it was clear that it was something that interested me. I heard various instruments there, and since we played recorders in school, somehow the idea of a woodwind instrument came to me. And then at the same time the local music school was looking for bassoonists. My music teacher in school had heard about it from the bassoon teacher in the music school who had asked if there were any boys who wanted to start to play the bassoon. There were many girls in my school, but they preferred to look for a boy. It was back in the year 1972. My school’s music teacher suggested me, because he knew that I was interested in wind instruments. After that it was a clear thing! 

It’s surprising that it was so clear back then that boys played bassoon and girls didn’t!

  • Yes, it was pretty rare back then. Nowadays there are girls playing almost every instrument, but back then it was different.

What is your favourite orchestra piece?

  • It probably changes with different life circumstances. Now I would say the Rite of Spring, because it has just been played. And if I had to say in front of a firing squad what is the most meaningful and influential orchestra piece, then it would be the Rite of Spring. It was a turning point. Its like the French Revolution is in political history. In music the world is divided into events before and after the Rite of Spring. And musically it really is fascinating.

Was there an orchestra in the Sibelius Academy when you were studying there?

  • There was, but we didn’t play the Rite of Spring there! And I didn’t actually get to study there for very long because I had entered the Youth Academy, and one could be there only until you had applied for the university level studies.When school ended my bassoon studies ended as well, because I was supposed to go tho the Helsinki University to study physics.

So, it wasn’t clear to you that the bassoon...

  • No, it wasn’t. I went for almost a year without playing when I went in to the army and took care of that responsibility. But while in the army the feeling that I wanted to play bassoon grew stronger. So I began bassoon from scratch again after I left the army and I started to really work at it. I was in the Joensuu orchestra for a year, then I applied for the Sibelius Academy in 1982 and was accepted into the Helsinki Philharmonic already in the fall of 1983. It was a pretty busy couple of years for me!

How many hours a day did you practice before you applied for the Youth Department?

  • Maybe I practiced a couple hours, maybe it would be more honest to say about an hour a day when I was in school.

What about when you applied for the actual Sibelius Academy ?

  • I certainly practiced more then, but believe it or not I can’t really remember. I have to confess that I’ve never been a very hard worker when it comes to practicing. I probably could have practiced a lot more. 

Is that because of your own personality, or because there was not so much competition back then?

  • It was probably a bit of both. I was interested in many things beside music and I didn’t want to isolate myself like a hermit in the practice room. I didn’t want to practice like crazy alone in a room because I had a lot of other things in my life to do. But, just to be sure I don’t give the wrong impression to the youth of today ,I was basically disciplined and hard-working. I think in the end I somehow compensated with quality what I missed in quantity.

Did you have the same teacher in both he Youth Department and the Sibelius Academy?

  • Yes, I studied with Elola for a long time. I had already been playing for a bit in the HKO when Laszlo Hara moved to Finland in 1987. I took private lessons from him for a few years. he was another important teacher for me. Elola had certain things that related to the playing of the bassoon but Laszlo was more a passionate, artistic type of teacher. Perhaps from him I got another kind of inspiration and a different perspective.

Next question...what is your favourite bassoon piece?

  • Oh, such difficult questions! Well, lets say the Mozart Bassoon concerto.

It’s a great piece.

  • It is a great piece, even if one runs into it all the time in competitive situations like auditions. Mozart’s concerto contains everything yet has nothing extraneous. And it still can tell everything about a player. With that piece you can’t hide or conceal anything. It gives an honest picture of the performer.

When did you make your first reed?

  • It was back in Joensuu. I remember I unfortunately destroyed it somehow. My first teacher, Esa Kervinen, had a certain kind of ”original” style for reeds. My first reed didn’t have thread on it at all, it had some kind of window caulk or something that gave it a hard surface. It was pretty extreme looking, not very symmetrical! I was about 13 years old. Elola taught more about real reed making. He had a very clear method, and I still have the notes I made about his method. But good notes don't guarantee good reeds, and I wasn’t able to make good reeds for a long time. The most important thing was the reed he gave me.

What do you do when a reed fails..for example when you have a reed crisis?

  • For me a reed crisis means that one makes 10 reeds and the cane is so bad that only one succeeds. It bothers me because so much darn effort and time have been wasted. I haven’t had a serious reed crisis luckily (knock knock knock!) for many years. My reed making has become very stabilised. Already years ago I found a suitable way for myself to make reeds.

Do you teach reed making?

  • Yes, to some degree. But. it’s really a very personal thing. I don’t force my teaching on others. All of my students at some point try my reeds for themselves. If it is clear that my style suits them, then I teach them my method and look at their reeds. I show then always what I do and how it changes the reed. But I accept that there are very many different reeds out there and everything is fine if you can get out of them what it is you that you need.

Do you think young bassoonists should make their own reeds before they apply to the Youth Department?

  • It’s not required. It is what it is. But when applying to the Sibelius Academy the expectations change. Not everyone makes their own reeds, but some kind of reed making skills are expected. If you find a reed maker whose reeds suit you, and that reed maker slips on a banana peel and can’t make reeds anymore, or if they win the lottery and move to Hawaii, one has to be able to make something. You can’t be totally in the dark about what it takes to make a reed.

What does the Sibelius Academy look for in auditions?

  • It’s not looking for ready and accomplished players, at least not in the bassoon department. We try to listen for the potential that each candidate has, even if they haven’t gotten very far. Of course all the information we have is used in the process. If someone has heard the same player by chance a year earlier at a music camp or even 3 years earlier, and they notice that they have made a lot of progress in that time, one can draw some kind of conclusions from that information. Or, on the other hand, someone heard someone play 5 years ago and the player still has the same problems, then of course one could be a bit pessimistic about the prognosis. And age can make a difference... For example a 19 year old. If they have clear problems, they can probably be fixed. But if there is a 29 year old with the same problems its pretty clear that we would take the younger player. Everyone knows that things that have been wrong for a long time are much harder to repair than something that has just started to go wrong. If you draw on a clean board, you don’t have to wipe away so many old mistakes.

So teaching at the music school level is very important.

  • It is. The foundation is really important. Everything is so much easier later if the foundation is done well and with a lot of care.

What advice would you give to young bassoonists?

  • Well, of course, one should enjoy what you are doing 100%. This work is amazingly fun and it is a privilege as well. But we must remember that one must work a lot. It demands repetitive motor skills and learning about music. Talent doesn't take away the need to do the work, although a little talent certainly helps and gives one a nice head start. But everyone has to do the hard work.

You mean basic practicing...?

  • And concentration. You have to concentrate. And the quality of practicing is really important. The amount doesn't guarantee anything .

Last question! Jorma is doing a youth project with the younger oboists in Finland...

  • We have had those as well, when I went to different areas of Finland. Oulu and Tampere last year and the year before. In Tampere we had a lot of bassoonists present, two teachers and 26 students.


  • Now we will be going to Kuopio, to Eastern Finland. And we will be organising something in Helsinki too, In Kuopio we will be having many activities. The youngest student there is 6 years old.

So, it’s open to everyone!

  • Yes. I will be teaching there everything and everyone. Of course if it is like in Tampere and there are 26 students, then not everyone will have a private lesson. There will be ensemble playing and everyone can join in. The idea of the weekend is to play together in large bassoon ensembles and then also in smaller ensembles where the more advanced students will play. It lasts two whole days, basically morning to night. The Sibelius Academy wants to gets an idea about what is going on, how many players there are, and what the general level of playing is. And we want to provide a little fun and a change of pace. Many of these players have never met each other or played together. In the smaller ensembles inside the music schools it can get a bit lonely if there are only 2 or three players.

It’s great that players can meet and get to know each other. Bassoonists are cool people!

  • Yes, it’s been noticed now the both the young and older bassoonists get inspired a lot from each other and from doing things together!