"When I play in the orchestra, I feel like I belong"

Jon Torre, seen from the waist up, raises a bow preparing to play his violin, seats of an empty theatre rising up in stages behind him.
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Jon Torre plays the viola in the Adult Education Centre's symphony orchestra in Helsinki. The rehearsal space is one the most important places for him. He can also learn and practice the Finnish language there.
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The American Jon Torre, 27, moved to Helsinki a couple of years ago. He used work in the United States at the software company Epic. When the company opened an office in Helsinki, he decided to move to Finland.

Born in Virginia, Jon was fretting over whether it would be difficult to get to know Finns. He quickly discovered however that the stereotype is exaggerated.

"Finns are no more reserved than Americans. The culture is actually surprisingly similar. If you want to get to know Finnish people, it's worthwhile to go talk to them, they are not shy at all", Jon hints.

Seen from the lower torso up, and standing against a blue background facing the camera, Jon Torre plays his violin.
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Jon got a tip about the Adult Education Centre's symphony orchestra already right after he moved to Helsinki. His colleague, who is active in the music scene, heard that Jon had played in orchestras his whole life and suggested that he apply to to the centre's symphony orchestra. Jon e-mailed the conductor Veli-Antti Koivuranta and was taken in the orchestra after an audition.

The Helsinginkatu Philharmonic Orchestra, the symphony orchestra of the Finnish language Adult Education Orchestra, is composed of adults with a varied background to music. Many have played an instrument since childhood and have experience from many orchestras. The Helsinginkatu Philharmonic Orchestra is a symphony orchestra, with string, woodwind, brass and percussion instruments.

The orchestra has become an important community for Jon in the past two years. The orchestra rehearses every Tuesday for three hours and sometimes also on Saturdays leading up to a performance. The orchestra performs annually with a full orchestra programme and the successful season is celebrated in bars or a restaurant.

"I have made friends especially in the string section. I have also made friends in the orchestra with whom I play pop music in a string quartet."

The orchestra has about 65 musicians, most of them Finns. In addition to an American, there are also musicians from France, Mexico and England.


The rehearsals are mostly in Finnish and I've had the chance to practice my language skills. Finns speak such good English that in other situations they easily change to English. This makes practicing Finnish difficult.

Jon Torre
Jon Torre

The best thing for Jon is a feeling part of a group.

"I appreciate the network that I have found through this. It is also handy if I get mail in Finnish or need some kind of local help. I don't have to wait for next Tuesday," Jon laughs.

Before moving to Helsinki, Jon traveled a lot for work. He was unable to commit to anything with a regular schedule, such as rehearsals. Jon feels that the orchestra is in a way a symbol for his new lifestyle and sense of belonging.

Now he is able to play every week and hang out with the crowd that he knows. He has also had time to discover his favourite spots in Helsinki, such as the peaceful island of Vallisaari and its Kuningassaari beach. Being part of the orchestra has had a big impact on Jon's feeling of integration.


At the end of 2017, we held a concert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence and we played Finlandia by Sibelius. It was one of the most intense musical experiences of my life. Many people in the audience cried. I had been in Finland for about a year then, and at that point I started to really feel like I am home.

Jon Torre
Jon Torre

The Helsinki Adult Education Centre has offered general education and hobby opportunities for 100 years already. Anyone over 16 years of age can take classes at the centre regardless of their place of residence. Every year some 70,000 students take part in the teaching, which comprises about 2,500 different classes. The schedule includes, for example foreign languages, music, arts, computer sciences and home economics.

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Jon Torre plays the viola in the Adult Education Centre's symphony orchestra in Helsinki. The rehearsal space is one the most important places for him. He can also learn and practice the Finnish language there.