Canadian-born Estonian musician and journalist Peeter Kopvillem, who was awarded the Order of the White Star, V Class by the President of Estonia in February in recognition of his efforts in promoting Estonian culture in Canada, died in Toronto on May 10; he was 61 years old.
Kopvillem was born on August 19, 1954 in Montreal. He majored in history and in 1978 graduated with a Master’s degree in history from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, before beginning a career in journalism, but ultimately gained fame as a musician. He was the son of chemist and musician Olaf Kopvillem, who was likewise known in Estonia and the Estonian diaspora alike.
Peeter Kopvillem began his journalism career in the 1980s, working first for smaller publications and later for nearly 30 years as editor, senior editor, and senior managing editor at Canadian national weekly current affairs magazine Maclean’s, before being forced to retire for medical reasons in 2012.
For a brief period from 1993 to 1995, Kopvillem also worked as the director of the Estonian editorial board for Radio Free Europe in Munich, replacing now-president Toomas Hendrik Ilves in the role. He and his family returned to Canada after Radio Free Europe was relocated to Prague.
Kopvillem’s first major foray into music was with the popular Canadian-Estonian band Külapoisid (The Village Boys) in the late 1970s, who released their only album, “Külapoisid … lõppude lõpuks” (“The Village Boys … Finally”), in 1979.
His first solo album, “Kuku sa kägu” (“Call, you cuckoo”) was released in 1984, and before embarking on a two-week, ten-concert tour of Estonia in 1989, Kopvillem put together a band and recorded his second solo album, “Uued laulud” (“New Songs”). While visiting Estonia seven years ago, the musician had considered a third album after a long pause, but ultimately did not record it.
The Canadian-Estonian musician, who was raised as an active member of the Estonian diaspora in and around Montreal and Toronto, visited Estonia and met his extended family there for the first time on a four-day tourist trip in 1970, after which he did not make it back to his family’s native country until his band’s two-week tour in 1989.
During his two-year stint working for Radio Free Europe in Munich, Kopvillem and his family visited Estonia frequently, but after moving back to Canada in 1995, another 13 years passed before they returned in 2008, this time for the 50th birthday of personal friend and Ultima Thule lead singer and guitarist Riho Sibul. This visit, during which he even gave a small concert with his daughters Leiki and Keila, would be the musician’s last to his family’s native land.
Peeter Kopvillem, who was bestowed the Order of the White Star, 5th Class by Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves this February in recognition of his lifelong efforts in promoting Estonian culture in Canada, performed publicly for the last time, together with his daughters, at a Toronto Estonian House 50th Anniversary event in 2011.
Both his and his father’s music were included in a compilation of music from the post-WWII Estonian diaspora of the second half of the 20th century, “Esto-Muusika: Ulgu-Eesti Leviplaadid 1958-1988,” curated by Estonian musician Vaiko Eplik, which was released last year. The compilation included four songs by Olaf Kopvillem (“Tsivilisatsioon,” “Puhkus,” “Klunker,” and “Üks naljakas laul”) and three by Peeter Kopvillem himself (“Tule muga välja,” “Varisevad seinad,” and “Mis on armastus?”).
Kopvillem is survived by his wife of 39 years, Eva Varangu, and daughters Leiki, 31, and Keila, 26.
Aili Sarapik / ERR News