Where My Dreams Took Me

Samuel Rouleau is a French Canadian bassoonist living and working in Finland.  After an initial visit as an exchange student in 2016 he returned to Helsinki in 2019 for his Masters degree.  He describes his love for Finland, where the culture resembles Canada in its polite, humble, nature-filled and open spirit, but with a special Finnish twist.

I am grateful to share with you some of my Finnish musical journey from the past few years; it’s been so formative in so many ways! I’m also glad to reconnect with the Canadian bassoon community as I have been away for some time! I have been given a world of opportunities and experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything. Learning the local language was a big part of my integration in the society and culture here;  language works a lot like music, connecting us to one another at the deepest level. [photo above…Mikko-Pekka Svala, Erkki Suomalainen, myself, Noora Van Dok]

Learn by doing

Finnish orchestras have a special tradition of often including music students to play with them, offering an unparalleled learning experience by being fully immersed in professional orchestral playing surrounded by a supportive section. Among many others, I have played with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra and the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra. These opportunities were made possible thanks to my wonderful teachers and colleagues, and by participating in various professional auditions over the years and being offered gigs or longer-term substitutions.


My time playing with these orchestras definitely taught me more than I could have learned by playing solely in student orchestras! The trust Finnish orchestras give to students is incredibly motivating, giving us the push we sometimes need to raise our level beyond what we thought possible! Notable repertoire included Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Debussy’s La Mer, Strauss’ Symphony for Winds, Brahms Symphony No. 4, and Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2, – to name only a few. [On the left below…Jussi Särkkä, Tuukka Vihtkari, myself; centre…winds of the Turku Philharmonic; right…with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen]


Meeting your role models.

They say you should never meet your role models, but I must admit at least in this case that I strongly disagree! As a student at the Sibelius Academy I have had the honour to play for two bassoonists I have admired for a long time, Carlo Colombo and Sophie Dervaux. Having these inspiring bassoonists and musicians by my side even for a short while gave me lots of insight into what I want to do with my music making and how I want to shape my sound and voice through my instrument. For Carlo, I played a selection of orchestral excerpts for an upcoming audition I had at the time, and with his help I reached the finals of that audition. With Sophie, I was nervous but excited to play the piece I first discovered her for performing, the famed Jolivet bassoon concerto. I soon after performed this piece on my Masters recital in spring 2022, and with her guidance was able to feel expressive and grounded during my interpretation of this monstrous work that has always been a dream of mine to play. In short, playing for and learning from my greatest inspirations has allowed me to unlock a new level of feeling comfortable and capable on the bassoon and reach new heights!


As I mentioned already, studying at the Sibelius Academy has given me many opportunities to develop my musicality and create important lifelong connections with my teachers and peers. I initially chose to study here for my year-long exchange from McGill University in my Bachelors degree, but soon after felt that my time there was not over, and I returned for a 3-year Masters program some years later. I was studying with Jussi Särkkä and Jaakko Luoma as my main teachers and also received instruction from Otto Virtanen and many guest artists, not to mention my wonderful teachers in other subjects as well. I performed my final recital in April 2022, performing Jolivet’s Bassoon concerto, Mozart’s Quintet for winds and piano in Eb-major, Gubaidulina’s Duo-sonata for two bassoons, and Corrette’s Le Phénix for four bassoons and cembalo. I graduated that same spring with my Master of Music and specialized certificate in pedagogy. [on the left…colleagues from the Sibelius Academy; centre…oboist Lucia Castillo and English Hornist Michael Lawrenson; on the right…me in recital]


The musical community in Finland is very tight-knit and highly inclined focused on collaboration and education. For instance, the Helsinki Conservatory’s teacher extraordinaire Mikko-Pekka Svala organizes a yearly bassoon extravaganza inviting bassoonists from all around the country (and even abroad!) to join forces and play many different arrangements for various sizes of bassoon ensembles. A highlight this year was an arrangement of select movements from Mozart’s Requiem by Ashby Mayes for bassoon octet! Other highlights include performing a selection of songs by Jean Sibelius with a superstar of the classical music world, soprano Karita Mattila, as well as playing with the world-renowned Finnish a cappella group Rajaton for a Christmas concert in the quaint town of Kemi in the north of Finland last year. The close musical circles in Finland allowed me to collaborate with various artists and participate in different types of projects, inspiring me further to imagine other types of collaborations that could one day be possible…

[Photos: below left with cellist Aslihan Gençgönül and Karita Mattila; centre…a choir of eager Finnish bassoon students!; right…with Rajaton!]


In addition to the abundant orchestral and solo experience I have gathered both within and outside of my studies, chamber music is always an important part of any musician’s life, as we know that anything can be and often should be seen as chamber music! Notably, I was happy to participate in a chamber music festival run by up-and-coming young classical musicians in Helsinki called Kamarikesä (Chamber Summer) last August, performing Barber’s Summer Music wind quintet and an arrangement of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin for the same ensemble. It was an enriching experience and allowed me to form more intimate bonds with my fellow colleagues and perform in one of Helsinki’s most elegant and beautiful venues, Ritarihuone (The House of Nobility). A few years ago, I also began learning to play baroque bassoon and have been studying with Jani Sunnarborg, a virtuoso period bassoonist in Europe. I attended the Kälviä baroque music camp this past summer for the second time and was able to perform pieces such as Platti’s Trio Sonata in c-minor for oboe, bassoon and continuo as well as Fasch’s Quartet for two oboes and two bassoons in F major. I hope to continue working on exciting chamber music projects in the future and also deepen my skills and knowledge on the baroque bassoon. [Below right…with oboist Nahoko Kinoshita, bassist Julius Pyrhönen, cembalist Laura Vihreäpuu]

Coming Full Circle

In May of this year, I was honoured to be invited by my high school alma mater De La Salle in Ottawa to teach a masterclass for woodwind students as part of the 40th anniversary of the school’s arts program, the Centre d’Excellence Artistique de l’Ontario. This truly felt like a full-circle moment to me as I was able to connect with the young bassoon students and help them on their musical journey, even if just for a day. I evidently saw a lot of myself in them as I was once in their very shoes, and my dear first bassoon teacher Jo Ann Simpson came to support both me and her current students, which was a treat. That day I also performed C.P.E. Bach’s Sonata in A minor for solo flute arr. for bassoon in D minor. [Photos…DLS students, with Dantes Rameau and my old teacher Jo An Simpson]


Here are a few snapshots of my time in Finnish nature over the past years, including a dip in “avanto” (hole in the ice, traditionally done after some time in the sauna), staying safe from mosquitoes while enjoying a campfire, giving way to reindeer on the road, picking wild lingonberries, blueberries, and cranberries, staying warm by the fire in the Finnish “laavu” hut, and spotting northern lights in Lapland!


As I now prepare for my move to the small city of Kotka in Eastern Finland to start my first trial as co-principal bassoon in the Kymi Sinfonietta orchestra, I am reflecting on these past years and how they have shaped me as a musician and a person. I feel grateful to have had these opportunities, experiences, and adventures and am looking forward to what more lies ahead, hopefully also back in Canada. For now, I will continue my daily work at the reed desk with my favourite reed-making activity, watching tennis (if you can spot it in the picture below)… Thank you for reading.  I wish you all happy reeds and fun music making!


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