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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Wednesday, 22.05.2019, 22:16

Tiny Estonia tunes up for giant national-pride choir

BC, Tallinn, 10.06.2009.Print version

Twenty-two thousand Estonians will sing together in a single choir when their small Baltic nation hosts a traditional festival that preserved national identity through years, informs LETA-AFP.


"Competing for your right to sing at least once in your life in that giant choir during our traditional song festival is an essential part of being Estonian," said Mati Maarits, 50, who has sung in all the festivals except one since 1969.


This year's event called "To Breathe as One" takes place from July 2-5 in Tallinn, including some 37,000 performers – singers, dancers and musicians from various orchestras – with many people parading through the capital in traditional costume.


Tens of thousands of Estonians from nearly one thousand choirs competed this past winter to join the giant choir which has been the highlight of the traditional event held regularly since 1869.

"For Estonians singing is a way to express our identity," Maarits said of his homeland, an ex-Soviet state of just 1.3 million which joined the European Union in 2004.


Estonia's giant song festivals were venues of resistance under nearly 50 years of Soviet occupation which ended in August 1991.


In addition to a traditional repertoire, all song festivals ended with both singers and their audiences of some 200,000 standing and tearfully singing the patriotic song "My Dear Fatherland".

This was the cradle of what became known as Estonia's "Singing Revolution", a string of mass demonstrations against the Soviet occupation that began in 1987 and united 300,000 protesters in song.


The Singing Revolution lasted more than four years, bringing together Estonians in spontaneous acts of musical defiance. In 1991 Soviet tanks failed to crush the independence movement which came to fruition that August.


After sovereignty was restored, fears that the song festival tradition would fail to attract younger generations proved unfounded as tens of thousands continued to compete for a spot on the national stage.


Ants Soots, chief conductor of the song festival, told AFP that the event has lasted for some 140 years because "for Estonians culture is a form to feel our national identity."


An audience of up to 200,000 is expected to watch two open-air concerts in the capital during this year's festival.


For participants, most of the cost of attending the festival, including accommodation and meals – literally tonnes of soup – are paid for by the state. Tallinn city council also grants free public transport to all participants.

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