As part of my travels to Helsinki as a Fulbright Finland Inter-Country Travel grant recipient, I had the honor of meeting Kaarlo Uusitalo, Director of Resonaari Music Center and creator of Figurenotes. I met him at the programʼs site – a home in a residential neighborhood, which provides unique musical experiences to 350 students ages 8 to 80 years old, many of whom receive additional support needs. I sat down with Kaarlo at his dining room table while music-making could be heard throughout the house.
Kaarlo shared the inspiration behind the creation of the Resonaari Music Center, which has received worldwide recognition. In 1995, Kaarlo, a therapist working with individuals receiving additional support needs, found that traditional counseling was not serving many of his clients. He felt that each week he was starting from scratch because his clients were not able to retain what was discussed, understand causal relationships between their actions or easily create structure in what can be an otherwise chaotic world.
Fortunately, Kaarlo was able to draw from his experiences playing in a rock band to find a solution: teach them how to play music! He had multiple reasons. Music is a social activity, based upon patterns, has cause and effect relationships, and helps build cognitive and social-emotional skills. What started with only a few pupils in 1995 has grown to 350 students today, ages 8 to 80, who play together in bands, compose music and perform on the stage. Kaarlo has seen how playing music enhances self-esteem, enriches lives and prevents loneliness and marginalization.
Kaarlo found that the biggest stumbling block was learning how to read music, which is quite abstract and a challenge for any beginning music student. So Kaarlo created a musical system as concrete as possible using patterns of colors and shapes so that you play what you see. This musical system is called Figurenotes, which allows beginning musicians to participate in music almost immediately. After establishing this foundation of music as concrete patterns, students can transition to reading traditional notes. On site, Resonaari teachers can transform traditional notation into Figurenotes so that they can provide music that students request. Figurenotes is used in Italy, Estonia, Japan, Ireland, Latvia, United States and the United Kingdom. In fact, I attended a Figurenotes training at Drake Music Scotland, which Iʼll share in another blog posting. Here is a video introducing Figurenotes.
Traveling from one room to the next, whether a band or individual lesson, I observed students with self- confidence, sense of purpose and strong sense of identity. In particular, I will always remember meeting one member of the girls rock band, ResoRock Girls. She was running a piece on her bright red electric guitar as part of a one-on-one lesson and in a subsequent session working diligently on lyrics to an original composition with her band. Here is ResoRock Girls performing Jingle Bells in one of the Resonaari rooms in December 2018. Lookout for the musician on the right with her bright red guitar!
Kaarlo also shared the story of the rock band, Riskiryhmä: One day after a Resonaari band performance, several women in their 70ʼs approached him and asked if they could learn how to play in a rock band, thus fulfilling a dream theyʼve shared since they were young. Not only did these ladies learn how to play at Resonaari using Figurenotes, they continue to perform regularly now in their 80ʼs. Talk about a sense of well-being! Watch them perform at a Resonaari concert in May 2018.
Kiitos, Kaarlo and Director Markku Kaikkonen for welcoming me into your inspiring Resonaari Music Center! I appreciate you taking so much of your time to share the history of Resonaari, as well as the inspiring work of musicians and bands honing their craft in practices rooms throughout this two-story home. I look forward to watching the upcoming Resonaari concert online this May 13th and 14th. You can watch last yearʼs on Youtube!
This is a personal blog, sharing my experiences living in the UK from January - June 2019 as a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching scholar. This blog is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this site are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.