August Saarinen & Vuolas Virta
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August Saarinen & Vuolas Virta,” a jazz/folk quintet

The ensemble "August Saarinen & Vuolas Virta," a jazz/folk quintet, pays tribute to the "king of Finnish tango" Olavi Virta (1915-1972). The musicians are Joonas Mikkilä, Juho Vanamo, Matias Mäntyranta, Miiko Renfors, and Joonas Tuhkanen.

Juho Vanamo< Juho Vanamo, aka August Saarinen, was born in Turku, Finland, in 1988. He started playing piano at age eight.

"My older brother was my inspiration to take up singing, and my parents gently forced me to take up piano lessons when I was younger," Vanamo says. "Nowadays, I feel really grateful for that. It's wonderful to have an opportunity to do what you do best, and make a living out of it, too."

"My high school music teacher's enthusiasm had a huge impact on me," he adds. "My piano teachers have also been a constant inspiration."

Vanamo graduated from Turku Conservatory in 2009, majoring in classical piano with a minor in classical singing. In 2010, he began studying music education at the Sibelius Academy, where he met most of his fellow players in August Saarinen & Vuolas Virta.

Vanamo's musical interests are varied and he identifies no specific favorite genre. In addition to a career in teaching, he says it "would be great to live as a performing artist some day."

His additional interests include friends, snooker, reading, and movies.

 Matias Mantyranta Matias Mäntyranta was born in Turku, Finland, in 1992. He began playing and studying cello at the age of four, but switched to piano at age eight. He studied classical and pop/jazz piano at the Turku Music Conservatory until 2010, when he applied to study music education at the Sibelius Academy.

Mäntyranta notes that one of his strengths as a musician is the ability to learn quickly new musical styles and instruments. He says he enjoys the challenges presented by playing percussion instruments with August Saarinen & Vuolas Virta.

Mäntyranta is a self-taught marimba and percussion player, and he has performed in choirs for more than a decade.

"As a multi-instrumentalist, different instruments interest me and make me want to develop my skills even further," he says. "I especially enjoy playing marimba, because it's not my main instrument."

Mäntyranta feels that the best thing about being a musician is the opportunity to play music with other musicians and friends, adding that performing for an enthusiastic audience is also fulfilling.

"I see music as a strong focal point in my life, but I would also like to do something else to make a living," he says, explaining that, money-wise, performing gigs as a multi-instrumentalist or session player isn't particularly rewarding. "Doing music on the side is much easier; then you aren't totally dependent on one thing."

Joonas Mikkila In his early teens, Joonas Mikkilä (b. 1990) began his music education studies in Tampere, Finland, , studying the clarinet and choral conducting, and later piano.

"My mum convinced me that I should start playing," he says.

In 2010 Mikkilä began pursuing his Music Education degree at the Sibelius Academy.

Mikkilä works widely as a freelance musician. In addition to August Saarinen & Vuolas Virta, he's half of the electronic music duo Orion & J. Shore. He is also artistic director of the award-winning Euga Male Voice Choir and works as répétiteur in theaters and operas.

Mikkilä shares that, as a performer, "affecting other people is probably the best thing you can do as a musician." As an arranger, he finds it most rewarding to watch how his arrangements slowly develop into something new as they are performed.

He feels that it's important for a musician to have a wide cultural knowledge. "Sometimes reading a good book can be better for your playing than practicing," he notes. "Many teachers have influenced me by recommending a book or a film that I should see."

Mikkilä career plans incorporate working as a freelance musician and perhaps as a band leader or producer.

Joonas Tuhkanen Saxophonist Joonas Tuhkanen is from Alavus, a small town in western Finland. He graduated from the Conservatory of Jyväskylä, and now he lives in Helsinki studying music education in Sibelius Academy.

Tuhkanen began his musical journey with classical piano and saxophone. "The sound of the saxophone was the primary reason for picking it up," he says.

For the past six years, Tuhkanen has been focusing on pop and jazz music. He has worked with many ensembles, including projects from big band, jazz combos, and soul music to Finnish folk music and world music. Because of his keen interest in music and the arts, he performs on the piano, saxophone, flute, guitar, bass guitar, percussion, and steel drums. He is also a singer and part of a dance group.

Tuhkanen draws motivation from the potential of music to evoke deep feelings in others, and by the many talented musicians he has worked with. "All the great players around me were and still are a constant inspiration to me," he says. He identifies his best teachers as those who genuinely care about his learning.

Creating and playing music, and gaining recognition under his own name, are among Tuhkanen's career goals. He adds that teaching and freelance musicianship are also tempting possibilities. He enjoys nature and sports.

Mikko Renfors Mikko Renfors, from Tampere, Finland, began his music studies at the age of seven. He started with the accordion, gradually changing his focus to drums, then classical percussion, and later electronic music and digital synthesis.

It was the sound and appearance of the accordion that first drew Mikko's attention. "[It was] something that felt really special for a young guy," he explains. "The same thing happened a few years later with drums."

Mikko began his studies in the Sibelius Academy's Department of Music Technology this fall. He studied instrument pedagogy at the Tampere University of Applied Sciences, with classical percussion as his main instrument. He has also performed as a sideman and soloist in projects of genres and styles

In addition to August Saarinen & Vuolas Virta, Mikko plays in the electronic percussion ensemble Takomo Percussion, sings in the award-winning male voice choir Mieskuoro Euga, and works on his own electronic material.

"Electronic music has been a huge influence for me and I see it as a part of my musical self," Mikko says.

When he's not composing and producing music, Mikko Renfors enjoys drinking coffee, cars, and staying physically fit.