Text: Andruta Ilie
Photo: Anna Vättö
Nothing is unattainable to Finnish composer, arranger and orchestrator Jonne Valtonen. Renowned for his contributions in the field of demoscene, Valtonen was recently invited to write the music for the grand opening of the world’s only Moomin Museum. It turned out to be one more success added to Valtonen’s legacy, who lives and breathes music with courage and tenacity.
The Moomin Museum opened its doors in August 2017 in Tampere, and you wrote the musical composition for the opening gala. It must have been a big moment for you?
I’m very proud of it. I was asked to write the composition for the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra based on Tove Jansson’s novel collection “Tales from the Moominvalley“. The orchestra and the conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali liked it a lot, and we received a standing ovation and excellent feedback from the audience.
You started playing classical piano at the age of 9. Was that the beginning of your journey into music?
My aunt taught piano, and she would play old classical pieces and tell the stories behind them. I think that might affected me and made me want to learn how to play the piano.
My family had the first home computer on the block back in the 80’s, and I did my early compositions using a programme called Music studio with a Commodore 64. It was just dragging the notes in the right places with a joystick. I was listening to pioneers of electronic music like Jean-Michel Jarre at the same time with studying classical piano. And I discovered I could use the computer and classical piano to make my own music. That was fantastic!
And you continued exploring that path further into your teenage years…
It was the early days of the demoscene, and I spent most of my time in subgroups with people producing real-time coding and music. I was in a famous group called Future Crew. The time I spent with Future Crew reinforced my passion for music. Eventually, it all ended, and people got real jobs. Some started game companies and asked me to produce music for them. So, I thought I’d give this a serious shot – and it just got bigger.
What did you do back then that led to you being nowadays known as a famous orchestrator?
One fan asked me to write and make arrangements for the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. At first, I got panicked, but accepted to do it and spent months learning as much as I could. Then I realised I need to get an education on this, so I applied to TAMK’s Degree Programme in Music.
It’s been a very slow and painful process. You have to know yourself and your limits. Some people are born geniuses. If you’re not one of them, you can still try to go as far as you can. The most significant realisation came in my twenties: passion can turn into an actual profession.
Kirmo Lintinen was the first living composer I’ve ever met, and that made a big impact. Lintinen was the first composer to show me that it’s possible to compose and be relevant. That’s why I chose to push it forward and make a living out of composing.
The second one was Jouni Kaipainen, Head of Composition during my studies at TAMK. He was brilliant. He knew literature, music and pretty much everything. Before meeting him, I saw that this profession is possible. But Kaipainen revealed the bigger picture about it.
Do you believe that you have made the most of your studies?
I tried to get as much as possible from the education because it was fabulous. I knew that if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be as good as I am today. I was told in the applicant’s interview: “We can’t make you a composer. We can show you things, but you’ll have to make yourself one.”
Teachers were exceptional and had achieved so much that it made you want to do your best and push yourself throughout your studies. As a student, you need to have the will to achieve your goals and be active. I read a lot about composing and knew some things about this and that, but some things were missing. The only way to get them was through studying.
What does music mean to you?
It’s an extension of me. It’s expression and communication and the way I can affect this world in a tiny bit. It’s something inner that pushes out even when I feel it doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s a tough job, and you question yourself a lot. But when the orchestra gets it right, it feels like the best thing ever. It transcends into something bigger.
How would you advise people who have not discovered their life’s purpose yet?
You always have to have a lot of courage. There were a couple of times when I was terrified to do something, but I forced myself to do it. For example, I was asked to write a Finnish tango for an orchestra. I had no previous experience, but I studied and rehearsed Finnish tango for one month. It turned out great, and people liked it. It could have turned out horrible, but that’s also a good thing. Then you know how not to write Finnish tango for an orchestra.
Life can be like this sometimes, and you have to go towards the fire. My advice would be not to drop out an opportunity because you’re afraid if it. I wouldn’t recommend being a composer to anyone, but if that’s what you want, dare to go out there and grab it. Just be courageous and make the most out of everything!
What are the unseen challenges behind your work as a composer, arranger and orchestrator?
It’s an unpredictable lifestyle. The income is not stable, so you have to accept the uncertainty that comes with this type of work. You will face failures and an insane amount of work. Studying sets the starting line, but there’s still a lot left to explore after graduation.
Throughout your career, you have won several awards. Do any of them weigh more than the other?
It’s great to know that people recognise and appreciate my work. But in some way, awards are by-products just like money. I’m very happy that I’m able to do what I do. That’s my award.