Bird Droppings from Estonia: Breathing as one … (5)
Archived Articles 14 Jul 2009 Hilary BirdEWR
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Oh, let’s sing and let’s rejoice,
for now’s our joyful hour!
We can sing with freedom’s voice,
songs of worth and power!
All your worries, all your care
are forgotten when you sing,
your heart is full and so aware
of the joy the song will bring!

For, how can you worry?
or get in a flurry,
when there’s an
an ai or an oh in your mouth ?
And, now surely you‘ll see
trouble and care, they’ll all flee,
you’ll do everything well, you’ll wake up to life,
Its goodbye to trouble and goodbye to strife.

There is joy in a song
so just sing along:
a simple refrain
will take away pain.
And, what’s important,
everyone will now see
worry is a part of life,
nothing comes for free.
Be honest and be fair,
and in harmony share,
and then you’ll discover
life’s a fragrant affair.

- „Oh laula ja hõiska“ (Oh Sing and Rejoice), Karl August Hermann (1851 – 1909)

This year’s 28th All-Estonia Song and Dance festival (my third, ÜhesHingamine (To breathe as one), was a great treat!

Postimees (the Courier) newspaper reported, with a typical Estonian obsession with stats, that:

35,230 people (altogether) sang at the song festival grounds and danced at the Kalev sports stadium
26,430 sang and played brass instruments at the song festival grounds
345 rehearsals took place (singers, dancers, musicians)
8.7 tons of bread were consumed
The oldest singer was 91 years old
The oldest dancer was 75 years old

For more go to (Estonian speakers).

Numerically this is rather astonishing as there are only a million souls in our little Eesti. In addition the festival programme included, for the first time, choirs that had been invited from Belgium, Spain, Canada, Latvia, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Finland, UK (the St Edmondsbury Male Voice Choir), Denmark, the Ukraine, Hungary the USA and Russia, Urra! The mass choir that sings at the beginning and the end of the last day consisted of 24, 705 singers, and, by Our Ancient Gods!, the listener could feel the power! A (scientist) friend estimates that there was an audience of around 70,000 - 100,00 at the last (folksy) day of the song festival and reports that it was standing room only.

The weather was fine for the dance festival – a lovely hymn to the sea – and for the folk song festival – a hymn to the sun - but our Old Ones did not like the classical music section. The sky opened and Pikker the thunderer raged … too much Christianity, one suspects. And it wasn’t only Pikker that was p*ssed off. My Canadian Esto pals and myself took to our heels and ran for home after four waterlogged songs, hiked the road along a stormy, dark Baltic Sea and watched the rest on TV. I am full of admiration for the keepers of the festival fire who carefully tended the flame (that had been brought from Tartu via the Islands – see
) despite the deluge. The sodden participants went gamefully on, choirs and conductors (including Neeme Järvi) donning the cheap and cheerful transparent plastic capes that have become an unofficial addition to national dress. Those in the audience outside the shelter of the great jaw of the festival stage soon followed suit with Liina and myself and there can only have been a few hundred left by the end of the evening.

The ‘Droppings’ picks:

Oles mo heli ennitses, (were that my songs what they used to be is a rough translation from a southern Estonian dialect). This is an Estonian folk song set to music by Cyrillus Kreek, one of the greatest of Estonian composers. His music is very simple, elegant and spiritual and one suspects the man was too. Kreek stayed in Estonia after the Soviet occupation but the Soviets did not touch him when many others, also important in the first republic, were being dispatched to ‘the cold land.’

Otsekui hirv (As the deer). Rudolf Tobias (1873-1918). A setting of Psalm 24 – ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, Oh God.’ Tobias is a recent discovery – I have been stopped dead in my tracks over the past year by both his 1909 oratorio Joonase lähetamine (Jonah sets out on his mission) and his 1900 Eks teie tea (Know ye not), a setting for 1 Corinthians 6 - Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost (heard at the re-opening of Maarjakirik – St Mary’s church - as part of the local Tartu laulupidu this year). Tobias’ music is monumental, grandiose and massive – not normally qualities one associates with Estonia!

After graduation from the St Petersburg conservatoire Tobias worked as organist and choir conductor of the St. Petersburg Estonian St. John’s church from 1898-1904. In 1904 he moved to Tartu, working as a music teacher, organizing concerts and preparing oratorios by Händel and Mendelssohn. All these influences add up to marvellous fusion! Rudolf Tobias was a true Estonian pioneer - the first Estonian professional musician to write instrumental works (including a symphony), a ground breaking musical journalist and a member of the important literary group Noor-Eesti (Young Estonia), whose motto was Let us be Estonians but also let us be Europeans!

Estonia was too small, however, for such a grand soul and Tobias left Tartu in 1908 and travelled to Paris, Prague, Münich and Dresden. In 1910 he settled in Berlin and worked at the Royal Academy. He acquired German citizenship in 1914 but continues to return to Estonia. Rudolf Tobias died in 1918 and was buried in Berlin: his remains were returned to his birthplace – Kullamaa on Hiiumaa island – in 1992.

Credo for piano solo, mixed choir and orchestra, Arvo Pärt (b.1935). My favourite. This was the 1968 version, not the 1992 Berliner mass one. This Credo was written during Pärt’s early period when he was experimenting with Serialism; it was banned by the Soviet authorities because of its religious content. After Credo, Pärt chose to enter the first of several periods of contemplative silence and to study medieval French and Franco-Flemish choral music. The 1968 Credo is, in places, an angry piece that will come as a surprise to those familiar with the gentle post-1976 Tintinnabuli style. It comes from a period when Pärt was beginning to be performed in the west much to the annoyance of Soviet officialdom. Their hindrance and Pärt’s frustration ultimately forced his family to emigrate in 1980. They never made it to Israel (Nora Pärt is Jewish) but went to Vienna, where the composer took Austrian citizenship.

In 1981 Pärt moved to Berlin where he still lives, although he keeps a flat in Tallinn in my street and I have seen him several times whilst tippling in the Czech pub. Like the Tobias, Pärt’s early Credo is big and has lots of bite. A real heavyweight piece of music as opposed to the froth of the UK’s Bob Chilcott or even Urmas Sisask’s work that’s tuneful and attractive but sounds as it its been written for an Errol Flynn film. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I just happen to like serious, heavyweight music.

A great display of unity
The feel good factor on the last folksy day was high. All the old favourites were sung and Päike the sun god blessed us after a few anxious moments (when the plastic macs appeared en masse) with warm weather and clear skies. And how we needed it! No one out in the great wide world can have escaped the news of the fall of the Baltic economies. We know that the bad times are not over by a long way, despite the vacuous prattling of our pond life politicians. President Tom Ilves is a decent enough chap but the office of President does not have much power: all the rest of the political pack has reacted to the situation by squabbling amongst themselves. It’s dog eat dog while the rudderless Estonian people think ootame, vaatame (wait and see). Estonian pride has taken a hard knock but, as I have written before – see my Christmas 2008 ‘Drop,’ – Eesti is a nation that has survived, within living memory, two world wars, a War of Independence, six occupations, three regimes of terror and a Singing Revolution. One way or another it can surely survive an economic depression. Every one I know has been in the garden/allotment/field cultivating free food like mad, the woods are full of edible pigs and rabbits, there’s wood for the stove … and, if the telly conks out Estonians can always make their own entertainment …

There were tears, not least of all from the author and her chum (we had been in the beer tent but even sober folk were weeping) as we sniffled our way through Juhan Liiv’s Ta lendab mesipuu poole (She flies towards the bee hive) and Lydia Koidula’s Mu isamaa on minu arm (My country is my love) along with all the other 999,998-odd people in the choirs, band, dance troupes and audience. Thank Vanemuine I remembered a packet of paper handkerchiefs this year! Best of all were the ‘waves’ that started with the people on the stage linking hands and leaning backwards and forwards. With one voice indeed the whole festival crowd lifted their hands: those in the front seats took their cue from the choir, stood up and turned to the folk standing on the grass, shouting “Urra!” We did this three times … a great display of unity … let the hard times roll. Eesti can take it …

Anyone wishing to read about the current economic situation is directed to Edward Lucas’ article in this month’s Foreign policy magazine. See

For those of you not on my newly acquired Facebook site go to for some great pictures of the dancing and singing.

While we in the most northern of the Baltic States were enjoying our knees up and sing song, the Lithuanians were doing the same in the most southern of the states to celebrate 1,000 years of Lithuania. See fire and song at:

The Latvians, the middle Baltic State, made an appearance at our dance festival looking very cool and elegant and I leave you with some very good advice from the Latvian poet Imants Zeidonis (b.1933) – “My child, put your spoon back into your bowl when a song is being sung. Don’t look at that man eating, don’t learn from him. He has eaten all his songs. He can’t tell the difference between songs and lettuce. “ Vanemuine forbid!

Finally a tidbit from Oz: “I understand the word ‘viking’ has no direct meaning in any of the Scandinavian languages and may be a corruption of vee-king, meaning ‘water shoe’ in Estonian, in reference to a shoe-shaped hull of a boat. Whether Estonians were on them, or merely suffered as a result of their visits is a moot point.” This would not be the first time that a Finno-Ugrian word has (possibly) made its way into the vocab of NE Europe. The word ‘Russia’ could be derived from rootsi, the Finno-Ugric word for Sweden. Russia’s first rulers were, after all, Vikings invited from Sweden …
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