I became acquainted with Tarja Jormalainen when she was planning her doctoral dissertation on the topic – the All-night Vigil for the feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist, as composed by Einojuhani Rautavaara. It is a piece of art that shook Finnish Orthodox society in the 1970s with its modernity and energy. Rautavaara’s All-night Vigil was something entirely new in the Finnish church music world at that time.
As a candidate for a PhD in Orthodox church music at the University of Joensuu, Tarja began traveling from Helsinki to Joensuu, a journey of several hundreds of kilometres, to participate in the Seminar meetings. Cooperation with her was fruitful from the very beginning. I came to know a musical professional who had studied music theory also in Hungary, Tarja’s specialty, which gave her an excellent starting point for the analysis of Rautavaara’s composition, in which she showed her creativity as a researcher.
Tarja’s participation in the Seminar sessions at the Joensuu University brought new vitality to the postgraduate students’ work. She always had new material to present and she inspired other students to more analytical conversations with her enthusiasm. By this time, Rautavaara’s All-night Vigil was not a novelty any more – it had been composed some 30 years earlier, but no musicologist had yet addressed it. The unfamiliarity of its text to non-Orthodox music researchers in Finland had made the composition something difficult to approach.
During the research process, Rautavaara’s All-night Vigil revealed fascinating details. It was discovered, for instance, that in order to have the Easter cycle, day of the week, and tone of the Octoechos coincide precisely in the same way as it was on 29th August of the year when the composition first saw light, the All-night Vigil for St John the Baptist could be celebrated in church only a few times in 500 years. The composition was modified by the composer into a concert version which has become familiar to a wider audience, particularly outside Finland.
During the research process, a serious illness entered Tarja’s life. However, her enthusiasm and energy did not seem to cease. She also had a position at the University of Helsinki, as well as a family – spouse and two small children. With almost miraculous persistence she continued her dissertation project, and for the time being, the illness was conquered.
Tarja Jormalainen defended her doctoral dissertation with success in the autumn of 2006. She became the first Doctor of Theology in the field of church music at the University of Joensuu. The title of her dissertation was ‘The All-night Vigil to the memory of St John the Baptist’ by Einojuhani Rautavaara in the context of Orthodox church music.
Her audience included the highest ranks of the Finnish Orthodox church, Metropolitan Johannes of Nicea (Archbishop emeritus of Finland), Igumena Marina of the Lintula monastery. The following spring, the University of Joensuu awarded her with a special acknowledgement for her work. She had also introduced her research to an international audience at the first Conference on Orthodox Church Music (ISOCM) in 2005 in Joensuu.
Tarja Jormalainen was an active member of the Society of Byzantine Music in Finland, founded in 2007 and served as its vice-chairperson. In early 2010, the Society started a project of publishing an anthology of musical teachings by early Church Fathers in the Finnish language. Tarja was involved in the project with all her heart. Her enthusiastic comments on the details of the texts encouraged the conclusion of the project.
Tarja Jormalainen came to Joensuu to receive guidance but turned out to be more of a guide herself. She was very well educated, a skilled and confident person, with a realistic approach to life. At the same time she had a great spiritual strength. She was extremely intuitive and sensitive. Material things, such as her illness, did not bring her down. She seemed to be as if above them.
In the Orthodox tradition, St John the Baptist is called not only the Baptist, but also a Predecessor – Prodromos – literally “Forerunner.” Tarja was the Prodromos in the research of the Finnish Orthodox church music. She reached her academic goal before others and gave them a living example.
Tarja was also active in promoting Karelian culture in Helsinki. She was a devout Orthodox Christian, participating in volunteer work in her home parish, and had developed close ties with the Lintula monastery. Igumena Marina of the monastery travelled a long way to Helsinki, after the divine services of the Ascension, to greet her dying spiritual daughter. Soon after her visit, this ascetic was taken away to the place where there is neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life everlasting.
The news of her death reached us on a paradise-like bright morning. The armies of wood anemones had taken over forests and fields and the earth was radiant in the light of thousands of flowers. The frail and pure anemone, strong at the same time, reaching towards heaven – you are a reflection of Tarja, frail in body but mentally and spiritually so very strong!
The funeral service of Tarja Jormalainen took place in the Prophet Elijah church in Helsinki. She was buried in the monastery of Lintula, Heinävesi.
May Tarja’s memory be eternal!
By Hilkka Seppälä, professor of Orthodox church music, University of Eastern Finland