By. Andres Raudsepp
I always attend “Suvihari” at Seedrioru - one of the beauty spots in southern Ontario - because of longtime personal memories going back to the late 50’s.
Called “Suvihari” because the festival is only a week after St. John’s Day
and the summer solstice, for Estonians it relates to two important national holidays, “Jaanipäev” and Victory Day.
While the latter refers to a hard-won victory during the War of Independence and gives reason to pause in remembrance of losses suffered in later years, Jaanipäev evokes traditional bonfires and celebration of summer.
The festival programme is rock-solid – afternoon ceremonial assembly, evening performance, late-night meditation at the memorial monument and subsequent dancing. What I remember most are the singalong campfires when we sang until dawn, making new friends along the way.
During the long-decades between my youth and my current self, I have noticed an increasing separation between devoted visitors and youthful merrymaking revelers. One group attends all the festival events while other stays on the open high ground around parked cars and tents and follows its own good-time agenda. This seemed to become a blissfully accepted Seedrioru tradition.
Four years ago a group of Estonian-Canadian music-makers headed by local summer resident Lembit Nieländer, a nimble accordionist, started a new tradition – setting up part of the high ground for the formation of a St. John’s bonfire site in an area no longer needed for tenting or parking. This site includes temporary outdoor seating and a tent-roof for singers and instrumentalists. Joining Lembit were Andres Tamm and Lia Hess on guitars, with Toomas Heinar on bass. Bandleader Allan Liik has sung and played with the group on a couple of occasions and this year the new head of Hamilton’s Esto Society Olavi Kelle added guitar and voice to the ensemble.
As a result, the younger generation which prefers private partying in nearby tents and around vehicles is enticed to join the visitors who follow the “Suvihari” programme. A broad community and a sense of unity was thus created.
This year, the lyrics for the singalong were conveniently printed in the glossy programme booklet. As an added feature, the Rev. Mart Salumäe of St Peter’s, who took part in the afternoon ceremony, and his talented son Juhan Mart were asked to introduce the songs; this they did with wit and aplomb, adding their fine voices to the singalong leaders.
A quality sound system had been set up on the field by two perspiring but intrepid Hamiltonians, Andre Vare and Rein Ende, who had to mount the system first in the valley, then in the outdoor theatre and subsequently atop the high ground. After a few glitches, the music finally lifted across the plain, over the valley and beyond the attentive cedars. The full moon would have sung along if it only could hold a tune. Moon and fire provided sufficient light for dancing but - alas! - no opportunity for traditional fire-jumping. Being a real “Jaanituli”, the mighty bonfire could only allow pole-vaulting Olympians to make that attempt. And they were in training elsewhere.
This really was one of the best campfire singalongs that I have experienced.
Plenty of atmosphere and good sounding music, especially when Lia Hess and Andres Tamm started harmonizing. An excellent set-up and good organization. And a great community plan. Congratulations!
Seedrioru sets a new standard for singalong campfires