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Study Abroad: Natalie’s Year at Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy

15 July 2021

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We’re all dreaming about when we can travel abroad again. Composition student Natalie Roe was lucky enough to spend this last year in Finland recently studying at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki as part of the Erasmus+ Exchange programme.*

She tells us all about how this experience exceeded all her expectations, both in her music training and in many other ways…


‘Being on an Erasmus with other international students meant that I learnt about a lot of different cultures from all over the world which was very valuable.


I’ve definitely made some friends for life as well as gaining a life changing experience.’

Studying at Sibelius Academy

Sibelius Academy is a phenomenal institution with the very best facilities and tuition. I went there to study Music Technology with a focus on composing and performance with electronic instruments and was involved in many exciting projects around Helsinki.

Digging deeper into electronic music I learnt how to perform using various electronic instruments, particularly the modular synthesiser. Through this composed music I went on to perform at different festivals.

In my first semester I got the opportunity to perform in Sibelius Academy’s MuTe Festival 2020 celebrating music creation with technology. I performed a 30-minute live set of original experimental electronic dance music for modular synthesiser, controller and laptop titled Increase.

Natalie playing the synths at Sibelius Academy’s MuTe. Festival 2020. Credit Susanna Kekkonen

Alongside two great sets you can watch my performance here, starting at 31 minutes:

I was also fortunate to work on creating an installation for a dome shaped 16-speaker structure displayed below. I recorded field recordings from tram rides around Helsinki and composed with these to create Below The Surface, an ambisonic work which will be exhibited in Helsinki later this year.

Click here to listen to Below the Surface 

Among other projects I composed a piece for piano trio and live electronics which I recorded in the Sibelius studios, building and writing music for various games and films and learning different programming languages including Max MSP and SuperCollider. I coded a granular synthesiser in SuperCollider and am now currently building the hardware for the new instrument.

Enjoying everything that Finland has to offer!

I also got to see a huge range of live concerts including YLE Orchestra concerts, live spatialized electronics, synthesiser orchestras, mixed media jazz gigs and many more.

Of course I went to Helsinki to further my education in composition and music technology and to experience a new institute, which I did, but I also gained so much more…

Gaining Skills Outside of Music

Exceeding all the expectations I had before I went I also gained so many skills outside of music. Moving to a new country and learning a new culture is such an amazing experience. I was able to travel all around Finland and meet so many new people from Helsinki and also other international students.



I experienced some fantastic moments which I will treasure forever like when a group of my friends also studying at Sibelius Academy drove from Helsinki to Ylläs in Lapland to stay in a log cabin for a few nights. The snow was up to our hips and there were minus 25-degree temperatures at times, something I had never experienced before! On that trip we were fortunate to see the Northern Lights which was an unforgettable experience!

Finland as a country is a great place to live and study and I couldn’t recommend living, visiting or studying there more. It’s a very safe country with beautiful nature and scenery and a must-experience culture. Students feel very welcome there and the international feel is great – I couldn’t speak a word of Finnish when I arrived, but everyone is very open to speaking in English.

Additionally, I’d like to thank everyone at Sibelius Academy and who was part of my Erasmus experience and also Zoe Smith, John Hardy, Odilon Marcenaro and all the tutors in the Composition Department for encouraging me to do an Erasmus.

I will take forward the skills I have gained this year as I look forward to my final year studying composition at Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama.

*With life not being as restricted by COVID in Finland I was lucky enough to do almost all of the activities I had planned to do.

Find out more about studying Composition at the College on our course pages.

Although Brexit has meant the end to involvement for the UK in Erasmus + the College has signed up to participate in the Turing Scheme from September 2021, which supports student exchanges both in Europe and beyond. Numbers of College students travelling abroad to study this coming academic year are higher than ever, in spite of the challenges of managing Covid-19.

Natalie’s profile image by Laura Malmivaara

Feature image: Susanna Kekkonen

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