National choirs to eclipse Madonna

  • 2009-06-18
  • By Ashley Brettell

TALLINN - As concerts go, the forthcoming Madonna concert represents a significant event in Estonia. But this will pale in significance with the 2009 Song and Dance Festival, which commences on July 2.
This massive event, which takes place every five years, has this time been named "To Breathe as One 2009."

Song and dance in Estonia is not some form of gentle pastime. It is deeply embedded into the culture of the country. It represents freedom, expression and identity for this country of just 1.3 million people.
To get the size of the event into perspective, take a look at the previous event in 2004.  Over 100,000 people participated either as performers or 'vocal' spectators.  Extrapolate that number across a medium sized country and it would represent the biggest concert on the planet.

The Baltic Times spoke to a member of the well known Vanalinna Segakoor Choir, who said he has performed in many countries but nothing beats this home event. Choir member Merit Magi said "we have about 40 members and are very excited about the upcoming festival." 
"I have been singing in every Laulupidu since 1980.  The emotion you get when you stand there under the arch is something you can't fully explain.  You just feel so proud to be Estonian, that this is my country and my home."

"Each time you attend this festival you wait for this special emotion of patriotism to come and it does.  I have been getting together with others to practice twice a week since I was a girl and this feeling is my reward," she said.

Someone experiencing the festival for the first time is Angelika Annus. Annus sings with the local Kiili Choir which has 30 members.  She has one main wish "we are very excited to be in the Laulupidu and our main wish is that the weather will be kind to us so we can fully enjoy the event."
The beginnings of this form of celebration dates back 140 years and reflect a folk tradition going back many centuries. While independence from Soviet rule was being secured, many Estonians expressed their solidarity and protests in the form of song.

The "Singing Revolution" 's as it became known in the Baltics 's began in 1988 based on the Song Celebration tradition, when over a hundred thousand people gathered in the Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn to make political demands and sing patriotic songs.
The Song Festival takes place in conjunction with a Dance Celebration which is now a well versed tradition in its own right.  A dance performance representing a certain theme takes place. Thousands of dancers appear in national costumes and form several colorful patterns on the dance field.

These two celebrations commence with a united festive parade through the city from the center of Tallinn to the Song Festival Grounds.
The prestige of the Song and Dance festival was further strengthened when it was recognized by UNESCO in November 2003. The organization declared that it was "a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity."