FINLAND'S SHOUTING MEN
Have you seen a very funny photograph of a group of men dressed as penguins
serenading the crew of an ice-breaker stuck in arctic pack ice? The British
Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) posted it on its popular website early last
month, and it's been copied (often without attribution) by dozens of "humor"
sites around the world.
"Take a group of men from the northern Finnish town of
Oulu - population 100,000 - dress them in dark suits with black ties made from
the inner tubes of car tyres," says the accompanying BBC story.
"Next, send them out on to the ice floes of the frozen Baltic and get them to
shout - in choral unison - at a stranded 10,000-ton ice breaking vessel, and you
have got something called Mieskuoro Huutajat.
"Otherwise known as the shouting men of Finland, it is more than a bunch of
Finns getting things off their chests by upping their decibels. It is a new art
form, and it is taking parts of the world by arctic storm."
Eager to learn more, we found an excellent illustrated history of the choir,
which now has 30 members, on the Welcome to Finland website. Here are a
The story of the choir began over a decade ago when
a group of young men gathered around a table in a tavern in the northern
city of Oulu. They got to talking about the Finnish tradition of male choirs
and someone mooted the possibility of putting together one that would be
very different from all the rest. Petri Sirviö took the idea so seriously
that he decided to go ahead and form a choir.
The Shouters gave their first public performance in
their home town on Independence Day (6 December) in 1987. They immediately
became the darlings of the media, as reporters vied with each other to write
articles studded with phrases like "primeval force from Oulu" and "Arctic
hysteria". Thanks to the laudatory press coverage, invitations to perform
were soon arriving from many other parts of Finland.
The media hullabaloo eventually died down, but not
before the choir had established itself as a cult phenomenon all over
Europe. In the 1990s it performed abroad more times than in Finland.
The choir usually does a couple of longer European
tours each year. More travel than that is not possible, because Sirviö is
the only full-time member. The other Shouters are ordinary Finnish men by
day: husbands, fathers, students, rock musicians and doctors. About ten of
them are founder-members.
There is something very military about the
spectacle. Thirty big men march onto the stage. All are wearing
old-fashioned black suits, white shirts and rubber ties. Not a single man
relaxes his stern expression even the slightest as he takes his accustomed
place in the choral line-up.
All very normal so far, but the listeners, even
those who have heard it all, are certain to be startled as soon as the men
open their mouths. That is because they do not sing; they shout. Loudly and
aggressively, but also in a disciplined, rhythmic manner.
The songs have no actual melody, but contain all
the more energy and attitude for that. Thus the numbers the choir presents
can usually be recognised only by the lyrics. Some are patriotic Finnish
ones, others folk songs from various countries. Every now and then the choir
shouts an evergreen of classical music, or perhaps a children's song. The
next item on the programme could well be the Universal Declaration of Human
A film about the choir was screened in Britain at last year's Sheffield
International Documentary Festival. One critic, apparently unimpressed, wrote:
"Mika Ronkainen's Screaming Men (Huutajat) is an introduction to the art of
shouting. The Finnish men's choir, Mieskuoro Huutajat, performs its repertoire
of songs by screaming - often leaving the audience shocked and bewildered."
SAUNA AND NOKIA
We thank Kirsti, "a proud Finn" in North Vancouver, Canada, for
telling us about The Shouting Men of Finland. She added: "Speaking of Finns
and Finland, how about a short article on the pronunciation of things
Finnish, like the ubiquitous 'sauna' and the popular 'Nokia' products. The
correct pronunciation of sauna is SOW- na (as in 'pig'), rather than SAW-na
that seems to be the way most non-Finns say it. Nokia, which is actually a
town in Finland near the second largest city of Tampere (Tam-per-A) is
pronounced 'Nook-E-ah' NOT 'NO-ki-a' as most North Americans say. Nokia
started out making rubber boots!"