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Musical Journeys: A Trip to Finland

Musical Journeys: A Trip to Finland

Did you know that the Minnesota Orchestra’s music director, Osmo Vänskä, is from Finland?

Osmo has shared some recommendations so that your family can get to know the music, art and food of his home country without leaving your home. Feel free to tailor the activities to fit your family’s ages and interests, and enjoy “A Trip to Finland.” Bon voyage!

Explore Finland

Finland is home to 5.3 million people, and its capital and largest city is Helsinki. One sight Osmo recommends checking out in Helsinki is Ateneum, the Finnish National Gallery; you can browse their art collection digitally.

Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. Finnish is a unique language and notoriously tricky to learn. The word for “soapstone merchant,” “saippuakauppias,” is the longest palindrome in any language. See if you can master “good morning,” “thank you,” “bye-bye,” and other basic Finnish words and phrases.

Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but Finland has over 188,000 lakes. The blue cross on Finland’s flag represents its many lakes and blue skies, while the background is white like the snow that blankets the country in winter. You may also know that Finland is famous for inventing the sauna. There are more than two million saunas in the country—including one inside its Parliament!

What do you want to know about Finland? Think of three questions to which you'd like to learn the answers and continue exploring. Visit Finland is a great starting point for making more discoveries!

Enjoy Music by Famous Finnish Composers and Artists

Osmo and the Minnesota Orchestra are known for performing the music of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). The playlist starts with their recording Sibelius’ Finlandia, written in 1899 to protest press censorship as the country struggled to gain independence from Russia. (Finland eventually achieved independence in 1917.) Next up is Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela; listen for the English horn, played by Marni J. Hougham, as the voice of the swan that guards the underworld in this interpretation of a story from The Kalevala, a Finnish epic poem.

Afterward, you’ll hear “Lampaan Polska,” or “The Sheep’s Polka,” by Toivo Kuula (1883-1918). Then the playlist concludes with two pieces performed by the Finnish a cappella ensemble Rajaton: the popular love song “Romanssi” and “Muutolintu,” which translates to “migratory bird.”

Make Karelian Pie

Osmo likes to make Karelian Pie, or Karjalan Piirakka, which is one of the most popular foods in Finland. This pastry with a rye crust and rice pudding filling can be eaten at any time of the day, and it is often topped with egg butter. Try this Karelian Pie recipe at home, or if you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can also explore some of Finland’s other “weirdest (yet delicious) foods.”  

Watch the Northern Lights

Lapland is the northernmost region of Finland and the home of the Santa Claus Village. It’s a place where you can experience the Midnight Sun in the summer (in the far north, the sun doesn’t set for 70 days!) and the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, about 200 nights from August to April. Enjoy a series of beautiful images and learn more about the science behind the lights in this video featuring Esa Turunen of the Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory.

Meet the Moomins

Created by Finnish artist and writer Tove Jansson (1914-2001), the Moomins are a family of trolls who look like hippopotamuses, and they are very popular in Finland, Japan and other countries around the world. Since their creation in 1945, the Moomins have starred in 14 books, a comic strip, and many TV series and films. Find the books at your local library or bookstore, or watch episodes from the 1990 anime television series on the Moomin Official YouTube Channel.

Minnesota Orchestra at Home

Find more educational activities, playlists and at-home performances from the Minnesota Orchestra musicians on our new webpage!




  • This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
    This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
  • Official Airline of the Minnesota Orchestra
    Official Airline of the Minnesota Orchestra