Day 12 - More Rehearsals

July 5, 2019 | EnsTour Blogger

This morning, we enjoyed a little bit of leisure time before diving into a full afternoon of rehearsal at the Song Festival Grounds (Lauluvaljäk). Those homestaying with the ETV Children’s Choir had the morning off with their hosts, and partook in a variety of activities including sleeping in to gain some well-deserved rest; sightseeing in Tallinn; and visiting the haunting Victims of Communism memorial, which lists the names of 22,000 people killed by the Soviet regime.

Those homestaying with the older students of the ETV Girls’ Choir, which was involved in morning rehearsals at the Song Festival Grounds, spent the morning on a sightseeing expedition with Bob, Chris, and Eric. After breakfast at a local cafe, we took the local tram (Tallinn public transit is free for all Laulupidu participants) to the massive Kumu Art Museum, located in the picturesque gardens of Kadriog Park. The singers were fascinated by the main exhibit, which featured the thought-provoking music and visual art of the Estonian rapper Tommy Cash alongside fashion works by American designer Rick Owens. Equally interesting was an exhibit tracing the history of Estonian visual art under the Soviet regime, which illustrated the ways in which native artists sought to both conform their work to and subvert the expectations of the Communist Party.

At noon, we all arrived at the festival grounds for another afternoon of rehearsal. This time, the premises were noticeably more crowded, as all 33,000 singers in the massed choirs were participating in today’s rehearsal. We began by joining the 10,000 singers of the massed children’s choir in four songs, ranging from the slow and melodious “Maarja kuld” to the raucous “Onn ei tule pikutades,” which is perhaps best described as Estonian ABBA and features some very exciting choreography! The weather was mercurial, changing from bright sunshine to pouring rain at a moment’s notice. It’s a good thing we were liberally equipped with windbreakers and the signature purple ponchos!

Then, we joined the lunch line of 10,000 (literally - 1,000 participants per soup station) to pick up today’s portion of soup, this time accompanied by a mango lassi drink. After a short break, we headed back to the “Singing Arch” for the full massed rehearsal - 33,000 singers all on stage at once. This was a deeply emotional moment as the full choir joined together in the most beloved Estonian patriotic songs, including the anthem “Mu isamaa on minu arm,” which was sung in defiance of the Soviets at every song festival dating back to 1947. Particularly powerful was the premiere of Pärt Uusberg’s new piece “Igaviku tuules,” which wove together the traditional Estonian regilaul (runic song) with lush harmonies in a beautiful unaccompanied performance. Yet the highlight was “Ta lendab mesipuu poole” (“One flies towards the beehive”), which holds particular emotion for the Estonian people and is also a favorite of our singers. The song describes the ways in which the bee always returns to the beehive, even through darkness, storm, and death - a powerful metaphor for the way in which Estonians have held onto their language, music, and culture even through the darkest of times.

After rehearsal, we headed back to our hosts for dinner. There are many choir families shadowing this year’s tour to experience the Laulupidu, and these enjoyed a special reception at a wine cellar in the Old Town hosted by our Executive Director, Karim Baer. It was a unique opportunity to celebrate our choir community in the midst of this extraordinary choral gathering, as well as to honor Bob’s accomplishments as he makes his final tour with Ensemble. It was a special treat to enjoy a visit from Aarne Saluveer - conductor of the esteemed Estonian TV Girls’ Choir and one of the leading lights of Estonian music, as well as our gracious host for the week - as he talked about his experiences in the festival dating back to the Soviet era.

Heather Saulnier