in Columns

On my music and beyond: Creating connections and togetherness through music

by Cecilia Damström

“In a time of disinformation warfare and polarisation, where people gain power and money by spreading fear and hate and by polarising people against each other, what we need the most is love and a sense of connection,” writes composer Cecilia Damström in her column.

I have always been interested in a lot of subjects, in everything this world has to offer. When I was a child, I had many hobbies and enjoyed them all, although I always wanted to be a musician. I took weekly lessons in piano, cello, chamber music and choir but was also active in ceramics, painting, gymnastics, circus, figure skating, ballet, jazz dance and Indian temple dance. I attended a Waldorf/Steiner school, so through school, I also studied drama, eurythmics, bookbinding and woodworking, had a two-week internship at an organic farm, and took nearly every available subject the school had to offer. I was easily bored and worried that my broad range of interests would prevent me from becoming proficient at anything, since I quickly grew tired for instance of practicing the piano or indeed of doing any one thing for too long.

Ever since I began composing, at the age of nine, I have always wanted to tell stories with my music. This interest in storytelling has remained with me throughout my life. For a long time, it seemed that I covered a wide range of topics in my compositions: gender equality, mental and physical health issues and ecological topics. However, while studying the basics of gender studies at the University of Helsinki, I finally realised that all my topics fell under the broader umbrella of equality.

Whenever I begin work on a new piece, I first look for a topic that I am passionate about. I delve deep into the topic and try to read as much as possible about it. I feel I need to understand the topic both at the micro level and at the big picture level to grasp the essence of the issue. I feel like an investigative journalist who happens to be writing their final report in music. I consider that one aspect of my work is to popularise scientific topics and to make them more approachable and accessible on a new level, both emotional and abstract.


One year ago, at the time of the premiere of my pedagogical accordion piece Renewables, I had a magical experience. Renewables is a suite of eight movements, inspired by various sources of renewable energy. As I sat there, listening to the young accordionists each playing a meticulously prepared movement from Renewables with the utmost concentration, all I felt was gratitude. It made me realise how each musician in the room had been practicing for months to perform here, how each parent had been listening at home as their children practiced specific movements, and how each teacher had carefully selected a movement that suited each child the best. And here we all were, listening to one movement at a time being performed, gradually unveiling the world premiere of Renewables with 62 young accordionists, with all the parents and teachers playing a crucial role in this moment.

It felt as though Renewables was an invisible golden net, a net of love towards our planet and towards music, connecting us all in this magical moment. And that is when I realised that this for me is what art is about – creating connections between humans. But then I noticed: no, that is what life is about – us humans connecting and making magic happen together. In a time of disinformation warfare and polarisation, where people gain power and money by spreading fear and hate and by polarising people against each other, what we need the most is love and a sense of connection. After all, we are only one humanity on one planet.


This has become my main mission in both music and life. It begins when I choose a topic: whose story am I telling? I feel that since I am being given a platform as a composer, I carry a huge responsibility for how I use this platform. How can I approach difficult topics from a place of love? Then, when rehearsals begin, I think it is extremely important that everyone works towards creating an environment where everyone feels safe, valued and seen. I try to ask myself before and after every rehearsal: what can I do as a composer so that the musicians feel valued and seen? Giving people your time and attention is among the greatest gifts we can give, so I try to attend every performance of my music that my schedule permits. Because a performance is, in many ways, the culmination of all the work. Sharing the experience and sharing a moment of space, time and togetherness for the duration of one concert, creating connections through music flowing through all of us, is one of the greatest things in my work as a composer.

After years of being worried about being interested in too many topics at once, it all seems to come together; the plurality of interests in life is not a burden but a richness. The fact that I have been involved in so many theatre productions and various types of dancing has been very helpful when composing operas and spatial works like Requiem for our Earth. Having experience in art and an eye for aesthetics has proven invaluable when proofreading my scores, planning visual performances with light and video and creating content for my social media. Speaking five languages gives me access to information sources and perspectives from various angles on any given topic, highlighting the complexity and nuances of many subjects, as well as enabling me to connect with audiences in many countries. My interest in mathematics, symmetry and natural sciences has been useful both in composing and when updating my website.

Being easily bored turns out to be a blessing, as my work requires so many different skills between which I have to switch, ensuring that I never get the opportunity to be bored. Additionally, being a highly sensitive person who often feels the pain and emotions of other living beings as easily as if they were my own also offers the possibility of creating deep connections with people through art, with anyone who is open to receiving that connection.

I believe that by embracing all the contrasting aspects within ourselves and harnessing them to illuminate the world, and by fully embracing our authentic selves, we can each discover our unique place in the world where we find happiness and fulfillment and where we have the freedom to thrive.

Cecilia Damström is known for addressing social and environmental issues in her works, ranging from children’s opera to orchestral music.

Featured photo: Ville Juurikkala