Milla Viljamaa is a Helsinki-based folk musician who is known as a pianist, harmonium player and composer in ensembles such as Duo Milla Viljamaa & Johanna Juhola, Hereä, Las Chicas del Tango,Saaga Ensemble and Johanna Juhola Reaktor. Viljamaa’s second solo album Minnewas awarded the Teosto Prize in April.
Minne – A Jump in the Deep End
The self-published Minne is Milla Viljamaa’s second solo album. Viljamaa has been virtually self-sufficient in terms of producing the album: she is responsible for composing, organising, producing and publishing. Viljamaa says that making the album was like jumping in the deep end as she took on all the different roles usually performed by various people in a record company. According to Viljamaa, her Teosto Prize has helped make so-called “marginal” music more visible. – It is fantastic that Teosto has created an opportunity such as this to promote works that would otherwise remain unknown to the wider public. It is truly regrettable that so many fine works fail to reach their potential audience. I am sure there are a lot of people out there who would be interested in hearing some of the more marginal albums of high quality, but never come across such albums due to the lack of publicity, says Viljamaa.
Exploring New Worlds with the Harmonium
The harmonium is one of Viljamaa’s main instruments. - It is a likeable instrument and naïve in an endearing way.
It often makes people feel cheerful with its easy-going character. The pedalling looks amusing and the teetering and wavering box is accompanied by creaking and puffing. The harmonium is an instrument that personifies all those things I want to portray with my music: positivity and joy. It doesn’t always have to be so serious, says Viljamaa.
Milla Viljamaa counts her first Näppäri course amongst the most significant milestones in her musical career. For a pianist, the course was an introduction to the harmonium, groove and ensemble playing. Her first spark for composing and arranging also stems from that time. Viljamaa points out: - It goes without saying that everything that I have ever done as amusician has influenced my identity both as a musician and as a composer. Playing classical music has also been very important, as well as theoretical studies of various musical genres. According to Viljamaa, one of the most significant influences and working environments while coming to terms with the material of her album Minne was the opportunity to tour the world with classical chamber orchestras, playing the harmonium. Viljamaa has participated in Timo Alakotila’s work Sketches from Folk Scenes, which was commissioned by the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
Careful Consideration Meets an Open World of Experience
Milla Viljamaa’s compositions are rather like miniature stories. She explains that the drama in each piece grows from the creative process. A piece can start from a small beginning, for instance a movement-based idea or an changing situation, which then evolves into a world of its own. – Instrumental music leaves ample room for one’s own thoughts, says Viljamaa.
The central theme of the album Minne explores the borderline between fantasy and reality.The Finnish word “minne” evokes thoughts of travel and destinations, whereas in Swedish it represents memory or memories. - In a child’s world, the boundaries between fantasy and reality are blurred. This is the best state to be in,
because anything is possible, Viljamaa muses and continues: - The album delves into the world of fantasy. It felt important that the sparse bits of text also contribute to how the whole entity of the album is interpreted. For instance, I gave some careful consideration to naming each track so as not to direct the listener’s mental image in the wrong direction. I wanted to create a whole new world through the album’s music, cover illustrations, pictures and
text. In addition to that, it is also possible to dive into each story separately, says Viljamaa.
Freedom and Creativity
When asked about the relationship between folk music and her own musicianship, Viljamaa reflects: - My folk musician’s identity allows a musical approach that is relatively free and creative. I don’t have any major rules in terms of creating music or working with existing
compositions. -Collaboration across different art forms feeds one’s own endeavours to explore new directions, says Viljamaa. Composing film music is one of the doors Viljamaa would like to open in the future.
More info: www.millaviljamaa.com
Photos: Milla Viljamaa
Interview: Kansanmusiikki.fi/Pauliina Pajala
Translation: Hanna-Mari Lathan