in Columns

Let’s hear it for children’s music!

by Maiju Kopra

"There is a lot of children’s music being made in Finland, with diverse approaches, but it is not easy to come by at random these days," writes Maiju Kopra, President of the Children’s Music Association, in her column.

Children’s music is alive and well in Finland but rarely makes the news. This is unfortunate, because children’s music serves a very special purpose: it accompanies childhood, that unique age in human life. Childhood is where we become humans, develop a personality and learn skills. Childhood is where the foundation is laid that is meant to support us for the rest of our lives. Should that important time of life not be supported by music and art specifically designed for that purpose?  

A rich diversity of children’s music is not easy to come by at random these days, because no radio stations play it. Many apps and programs use music, of course, whether in the background or as part of their function, but beyond that there is a vast domain of music made with love and commitment that one would dearly wish could be part of the lives of children today and tomorrow. The Children’s Music Association (Lastenmusiikkiyhdistys) is dedicated to promoting wider public awareness of the songs, discs, events and people in this genre. This year, we celebrated Children’s Music Day – on World Children’s Day, 20 November – for the sixth time.  

There is a lot of children’s music being made in Finland, with diverse approaches. After all, it is music that is meant for the whole family. The musical genres employed can be anything and everything. For a music creator, children’s music allows for an astonishingly wide range of expression and broadening of horizons. The target audience must be considered, of course: children’s music must be safe and age-appropriate, but it should never underestimate its listeners and does not need to be sugar-coated or musically restricted – quite the opposite!  

This year, we celebrated Children’s Music Day in Jyväskylä, which happens to be the home city of Finland’s only state-subsidised children’s music orchestra. When I was originally writing this column, I had just learned that the City Board of Jyväskylä, host city of the 2024 Children’s Music Day, is proposing a cut of EUR 400,000 to cultural funding. This would have a huge impact on all cultural activities for children, not just music, and call into question access to culture in the city and in surrounding communities where commendable efforts have been made for decades to ensure that residents can enjoy a lifelong path of cultural experiences. With the title of 2024 Capital of Children’s Music comes great responsibility to continue developing activities favourable to children’s music in the region, but the cuts being contemplated imply that the aim is precisely the opposite. That would be a sad and short-sighted decision, considering what a huge impact music has on brain development, concentration and emotion management. In the light of this, the award for Capital of Children’s Music was presented to all those involved in children’s culture in the region: those who do everything they can to ensure that children can enjoy music created for them in the Jyväskylä region.  

Children’s Music Day is a happy occasion for engaging with target audiences, talking about current issues and meeting colleagues from all around Finland. This year, the programme for the day included two gala concerts, a music education seminar and the Jellona Gala. The headline sponsor was Jyväskylän Kulttuuriaitta - an organisation devoted to promoting children's and families' culture - and the gala concerts were jointly produced with Konserttikeskus, the concert centre that is celebrating its 60th anniversary as an organiser of concerts for schools and daycare centres. The music education seminar, under the theme ‘Everyone’s a music educator’, featured a cross-section of the field of music education in the Jyväskylä region and was jointly organised with the Finnish Society for Music Education (FiSME). The purpose of the seminar was to encourage people to use music diversely, whatever their educational background may be. The day culminated in the Jellona Gala, a celebration of children’s music and an award ceremony for rewarding distinguished creators and performers and significant acts in the field of children’s music during the past year. We also highlighted lifetime achievements in children’s music. The events could be enjoyed on site or via a live stream. The afternoon concert, seminar and Jellona Gala were streamed live on the YouTube channel of the Association to allow everyone to join the fun. None of this would be possible without partners. This year, the Children’s Music Day kicked off Children’s Music Week, during which we encourage everyone to arrange accessible children’s music events and to highlight children’s music and its creators in their activities.  

For the Jellona Gala, anyone could nominate or suggest a creator, an act or a work, depending on the category. The submissions were collated and given to the jury in each category to review and consider. The juries were supported in their work by an outside coordinator. This year, the number of nominations and suggestions broke previous records, and the juries had their work cut out to produce the shortlists from which the winners would be chosen. The Children’s Music Association considers it vital for decisions in all categories to be made by juries with a wide range of professionals.  

This process is in stark contrast with, say, the Finnish Emma Gala record awards, where the winner in the children’s music category is chosen by one class in lower-level comprehensive school, generally in the Helsinki metropolitan area. I have always considered this process strange, because children’s music as a genre is so broad and diverse that one would like to have an equally diverse and professional jury contemplating the award. Considering that the target group for children’s music is ages 0 to 14, it is obvious that the target group contains wildly differing musical tastes, and consequently the offering is wildly diverse. This year, the children’s music category is completely missing from the Emma Gala, so instead of improving the category they simply deleted it. The Children’s Music Association, together with the Finnish Music Creators' Association and the Union of Children’s Cultural Centres, issued a public statement commenting on this. We would be more than happy to talk about and develop the future of children’s music in the context of the Emma Gala as well as other contexts.  

Children’s music is a highly active genre. Most of its creators are self-employed, publishing their own music and marketing their own gigs. People want to have music in their lives. The music intended for the youngest members of society is played in homes, in early childhood education units, in schools, in concert halls and at festivals, on disc and live and through streaming services. Yes, on disc and live. The demand for actual physical discs is still high in the broad genre of children’s music, and huge numbers of people across the generations attend concerts. These are important moments for everyone, fostering experiences and memories and perhaps even teaching new skills – to both performers and listeners. Come and see for yourself!  

Feature photo: Maiju Kopra. Photo by Tuomo Eerikäinen.
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi