It might seem hard to believe, but young Estonians from the US eastern seaboard are willing to drive hours to get together to sing their beloved campfire songs out of season. But laagrilaulude õhtu (camp song night) does not just mean Järvemetsa scout and guide camp in Lakewood NJ. The get-together, which has been held at the New York Estonian House every November for four years now, includes favourite songs from Long Islandi Eesti Laste Suvekodu and similar summer camps Jõekääru and Seedrioru on our side of the border, which have done their share in "keeping kids Estonian", by cementing identity and binding friendships lasting a lifetime.
Earlier still, our predecessors sang at a very different kind of camp, põgenikelaager or displaced persons camps in Germany and Sweden after WW II. Estonian songs brought from the homeland kept spirits up for the DPs, becoming favourites that continue to be sung in downtown NYC in 2008.
Naturally the repertoire has expanded over the years to include new songs written for annual scout/guide camps, with jamborees producing true classics written by infamous youth leaders and lõkkevanad (campfire leaders) extraordinaires. Estonia is now a great source for new songs, but the oldies are undoubtedly the goodies, even for the tiniest hellake (brownie).
What is particularly heartwarming about this event is that alongside the diehard contingent, now grandparents, who laid the foundations of summer camps a half century ago, is a new third generation of young people, whose enthusiasm and dedication for all things Estonian sets a fiery example for those younger still. Accompanists, sisters Liina and Aili Sarapik from Baltimore, Gunnar Tamm and Urmas Kärner of New York (on kitarr) and the evening's mastermind Kaie Põhi-Latterner from Florida (on akordion), are but a few who succeeded in making the evening a most spirited, participatory campfire(-like) event, since the fire code for New York allows for mock lõkked.
And the secret to getting kids to speak Estonian? Start singing! It turns out you don't need to speak the language well to dare to and love to sing in it. And that's a crucial firestarter.
Estonian camp songs in midtown Manhattan (+ PHOTOS) (4)