Estonian Roots Sustain Montreal Musician (1)
Raudsepp, 24, grew up in Montreal where his paternal Estonian grandparents settled after fleeing Estonia during the Second World War via a German displaced person’s camp. The musician and actor carries the stories of his grandparents’ journey close to his heart. “I can’t imagine it, personally,” he says somberly. He marvels at how Estonian immigrants stuck together and helped each other survive and succeed in Canada.
Many Estonians know Matt’s grandfather as the late Piiskop Raudsepp, who became a bishop of the Estonian Lutheran Church in Canada. He helped establish eight congregations across the country, including in Vana Andres (St. Andrew’s) in Toronto and St. John’s in Montreal, where Matt’s father, Karl J. Raudsepp, remains the organist.
The young artist is candid about his father’s influence saying, “My dad is the reason I play music.” Karl J. Raudsepp, is a Montreal music professor with a long-time business restoring historic pipe-organs. Growing up, Matt’s father encouraged having instruments around, like guitars and pianos, while his social worker mother introduced him to the harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel.
Raudsepp is particularly fond of the tastes and sounds of his Estonian roots. He spent his summers at Lättemäe, a rural gathering place for the Estonian community near Montreal. Lättemäe’s family camp used to attract Estonians from across eastern Canada and the United States. Raudsepp and up to 60 other children learned leathercrafts and nurtured a love of song by blazing campfires. The fortifying joy and simple power of song as witnessed by Estonians’ peaceful protest in the dying days of Soviet rule is not lost on this Montrealer.
Raudsepp laughs as he recalls thinking the person who stoked Lättemäe’s bonfires and sauna had the “coolest role.” Surely, he thought as a boy, heating a sauna to the perfect crowd-pleasing temperature was the mark of a true Estonian. He remembers proudly bringing a dish of rosolje (beet and potatoe salad)--finely chopped, as is somehow the standard--to a grade school heritage event and watching classmates enjoy the dark pink salad that represented, in part, where he came from. Raudsepp also enjoys skumbria (marinated fish) and confesses a love for verevorst (blood sausage).
Asked about the future of the Estonian community in Canada, Raudsepp grows wistful. He finds it sad that Lättemäe’s family camp program shut down a few years ago due to declining participation.
While big ticket events certainly help preserve Estonian culture, Raudsepp feels they often attract the same narrow audience. He feels that a more broadly-based collection of individual effort is also needed. As the Estonian Foundation of Canada consults on the future of the community, Raudsepp encourages Estonian-Canadians to follow their hearts and focus on sustaining even one tradition that is dear to them. Thinking of his beloved verevost, Raudsepp vows to invite a circle of friends to make sausages. Just as his grandparents’ generation banded together to survive, perhaps a vital grassroots is equally necessary to sustain Estonian culture in 21st century Canada.
The passage of time can also bring hope. Karl J. Raudsepp is president of the Montreal Estonian Society and believes that Lättemäe’s family camp could re-start as early as 2012 with a new generation of parents and children. (to be continued)