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Introduction Estonia is the Land of Songs. Estonia has given birth to numerous prominent composers and conductors, and we are proud to share their talent with the world. Estonians are righteously considered as the Singing Nation. It is singing that has defined us, otherwise calm and quiet people. It is singing together that built us as a nation. It is singing together that helped us carry freedom in our hearts during the 50 years of Soviet occupation. And it was singing together that blew the fatal punch to the USSR when Estonians raised in what is  now known as the Singing Revolution. Today, even though that times have changed and we’re independent again, hundreds of thousands of people – more than ever – still come together to sing and take part in this event. Song Celebrations are so much more than just a cultural phenomenon. They have been drivers of political and social changes. Today, the role of cultural and creative industries around the Song Celebrations is becoming increasingly important for local communities and the whole country. The ideals of the Song Celebration are still alive and younger generations are discovering new ways to interpret the tradition.   Song Celebrations, Nation Building And Resistance For the first time, Estonian choirs came together in Tartu in 1869. However, the idea of song celebrations was not new. In 1858, the initiator of Estonian song celebrations Johann Voldemar Jannsen underlined the example of Switzerland: “They sang in Zurich with a vigour making the walls shake!” Soon after Estonia, similar traditions were also born in Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia’s neighbours in the south. Singing was complemented by folk dance. Today the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian nationwide festivals, officially called as Song and Dance Celebrations, have been included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The tradition was started by male singers. 51 choirs and brass bands – all in all 850 singers and musicians – came together in Tartu in 1869. Women first participated in 1891. It was in 1910 when the programme finally consisted only of Estonian original compositions. There were four song celebrations in the first sovereignty period of Estonia at the beginning of the 20th century. The first celebration under the Soviet rule took place in 1947. During Soviet occupation and regardless of the communist rhetoric, there was no doubt in people’s mind that singing together was something essentially Estonian. Calling the festival “national in form and socialist in content” made it acceptable to the authorities. Singers in natio-nal costumes performed a repertoire approved by the communist party, apparently glorifying “the fraternal family of the Soviet peoples” and “great communist leaders and teachers”. Back in those days music culture was inseparable from politics. Over the years, song celebrations had to be held – at least officially – to the glory of foreign rulers, be him the Tsar or Lenin/Stalin. But after performing the ‘compulsory’ songs, people always sung what came straight from their heart. Oddly enough the song celebration tradition never ceased to exist during occupations. Back in those days choir leaders had to perform Soviet repertoire with their choirs, as this was the only path to real repertoire – the beloved Estonian songs that were living in people’s hearts, no matter what. Gustav Ernesaks’ “My Fatherland is My Love” became a sort of anthem, where each word had acquired a special meaning. How much the authorities really dreaded the singing people was evident from the large number of guards and their eagerness to send off people after the last song had been performed. The grounds were immediately drowned in march music to prevent any outbreak of spontaneous singing.  Song celebrations encouraged people to stand up and consolidated cultural identity despite of the foreign oppression. Without this century-long tradition there would have been no singing revolution that helped Estonia regain its independence. Huge masses of people, who expressed their will by singing, confused even the most dedicated military men. A choir, made up of thousands of amateur singers, is a powerful instrument, and only the singers’ dedication and hard work make it possible to improvise under the conductor’s baton. The unison of the joint choir has always been praised and admired. Joint singing has boosted morale even after the Singing Revolution – the non-violent campaign that led to the regaining of independence in 1991. Today, the tradition of singing has taken new forms: children’s TV competitions have been much loved for decades and are never short of participants. The popular TV show seeking new talents has found a rival in Estonia – a programme where choirs compete.      Song Festivals And Future The Estonians often found themselves in a situation where they had to be either for or against something.  However, no matter to whom the song celebrations were officially dedicated – to the Tsar or the Communist Party – people really sang about their homeland. Now that we no longer need to be against something, the ‘resistant’ mood of the song celebrations has disappeared. Certain voices have spoken for a more ‘professional repertoire’ that would mean a switch to a classical choir festival. The future of the song celebrations is seen differently: some like to turn it into a choir festival, others want it to become a performance of a variety of compositions. The answer to the question, if a song festival is something more than just a musical event, is ‘Yes’.  The singers and dancers wearing national costumes have certainly encouraged local traditional handicrafts and the birth of new choral compositions. International music awards to Estonian choirs have been earned largely thanks to the song celebration tradition. Now the main question is how to maintain and develop this heritage.  The performance of Estonian choral music and choirs abroad, under the baton of high-minded conductors, has always been an important consideration. My sincere thanks to maestro Roman Toi and maestro Taavo Virkhaus who have been persistent in keeping and spreading our heritage. The spirit of song celebrations has not left us. It’s just that today our people sing for, not against things.   Laine Randjärv and Ragnar Siil   Laine Randjärv (until 2011 Laine Jänes) is the Vice-President of the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament). She is also the Chairman of the Estonian Delegation to the Baltic Assembly since 2011 . Randjärv is currently involved 2005–2012 in the PhD programme of the University of Tartu, the Faculty of Philosophy. The topic of her thesis is „The role of creative intellectuals in socio-political processes and the Estonia’s Song Celebration Tradition in 1940–1980”.    Ragnar Siil is the Under-secretary (fine arts) of the Estonian Ministry of Culture.  


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