esmaspäev, juuli 06, 2009

hingame üheskoos

Who can describe music? The sound of thousands of people singing? It's an impossible task, but why not reach for other musical metaphors to guide the way?

When I was in Tallinn this past weekend, the music of one group kept coming to mind. It wasn't any of the hundreds of choirs that made up the singing organism of the Laulupidu, where balloons drifted by bearing the soulful words: Hingame üheskoos! -- "Let's all breathe in concert." It wasn't the sweet rock'n'roll of Rein Rannap, one of my favorite Estonian songsmiths whose works were on display at the festival, sung by rows and rows of ecstatic teenagers. It was Led Zeppelin.

Why not? They were the teachers of Norse Mythology 101 to junior high school students everywhere. And there was something deeply northern and slightly mythic about the whole event. The hordes of the blonde and blue-eyed. The noise as the crowd egged on the giant flames of the Laulupidu torch. The cool and soothing winds of the north coast, putting thousands of austere blue, black, and white flags to move. And then, the opening of the mouths, the flow of sound, the breathing in concert. I am not of this land, I sensed, but I understand what these people are saying.

One recurring thought I have when in the company of Estonians is that they are still pagans. They have modern technology and speak the language of liberalism, but when you are out in the countryside with them, seated next to a bonfire, it's not hard to imagine how their insurgent armies slayed Cistercian monks during the St. George's Uprising of 1343. Such thoughts resurface, even as I watch floats pass by bearing the young choir singers of Saaremaa -- they whose forefathers renounced Christianity in 1261 and slayed all Germans on the island.

Pop music and pop history aside, Laulipidu is an exercise in identity building. Our friends and acquaintances may make up one voice in one local singing group, but at Laulupidu, all of the chains of singers are connected. The people breathe as one. They have been doing this since 1869. Young people take the bus from, say, Sillamäe to Tallinn as local singers. They leave the Laulupidu as one of the Estonian masses.

The folk costumes that people wear at the Laulipidu though are exemplary of Estonia's ardent individualism. Sometimes it seems every local parish has its own folk costume. The men of Mulgimaa -- a band of south Estonia stretching through Pärnu, Viljandi, and Valga counties -- wear the Mulgi kuub, a long, black robe symbolic of affluence and ambition. The ladies of Setomaa -- a border region in Võru and Põlva counties, wear on their chests kilos of silver jewelry. Once upon a time, it served as their doury. Now it is purely for fun.

For our family, choosing rahvariided -- national clothes -- is a conundrum. Epp is from Mulgimaa, but her mother's family is from the West Coast and her father's family from near Rakvere. As mentioned previously, we have now shacked up with the Setos, but Epp's mother used to wear a folk costume from Muhu island, "because its the most stylish," she explained. I told her that if I have got to dress up, then I am going with the Mulgi kuub. No emasculating knickers for this writer. And the president wears one too. "Folk costumes don't have anything to do with where you are from," a friend told me during the rongkäik. "You wear what you like best."

You may think that Laulupidu is an event that can only be experienced at Lauluväljak. This is not true. In some ways, the TV coverage is better. At home or in a cafe, you can get a much clearer picture of what is going on. The crowds are invigorating, but Laulupidu can really break you as you contort your body to best use your minuscule amount of personal space. I got a taste for what the event was like for the armchair singers in the cafe at the Tallinn bus station. The waiting passengers sat mesmerized by ERR's coverage. Most sang along as the festival rolled on past the festival's scheduled set list.

18 kommentaari:

Myst ütles ...

One recurring thought I have when in the company of Estonians is that they are still pagans.

Well... I would say that we are currently godless, and that is not a good way to be. The ancient feeling for the world has been lost, the religion of võõrad ristikoerad is unsuitable. What to do...?

PS. Your link is to St. George himself. For the uprising, the link is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._George%27s_Night_Uprising

Michael Moossen ütles ...

i do not have the knowledge you have about estonian traditions, but i had high expectations on this event, which at the end where fulfilled, but not without noticing some big problems. read more

sorry if this looks like spam but i really want to share my experience with all of you ;)

Kristopher ütles ...

Good post entry, Michael -- I had many of the same feelings regarding Saturday. One important point of order -- the people who were leaving rather early included most of the 25,000 singers. Saturday is the more "serious" concert for professional choirs. Even the "Koit" is a different "Koit" from the one sung by Tõnis Mägi. The massed choirs only sing 4-5 songs at the beginning.

Michael Moossen ütles ...

the people who were leaving rather early included most of the 25,000 singers

ufff... i did not know that, even worse...

Saturday is the more "serious" concert for professional choirs

yes, i know, but i do not want them, specially not alone, and as far i can tell most of estonians they do not want them either, they rather prefer to hear the old country ladies that can not really sing and where banned from the event.

Even the "Koit" is a different "Koit" from the one sung by Tõnis Mägi

i was also really mad at this, and to use the same name!!

Myst ütles ...

Michael, I agree with most of your critical points.

The thing with Saturday, though. I've never understood the point of having this "serious concert" as part of Laulupidu. This is supposed to be an event where people come together and sing the important songs, together. The songs with which we have an emotional connection.

The works of Beethoven, Wagner and Verdi - they're just out of place. We have the "Estonia" theater for those - or did Juhan Liiv give away the coat off his back for nothing? :-) And plenty of concert halls. And plenty and plenty of occasions to listen to them.

Once in five years, we should focus on the music that's ours. That people really care about.

I hope the en-masse leaving on Saturday evening will serve as a good hint for the organizers, for the future.

Andres ütles ...

I hope you're all joking about the Koit thing, right? ;) Lüdig's "Koit" is way older and a traditional opening song. Michael's critique is true on many occasions.

The rongkäik wasn't organized well enough. If the people didn't have the intelligence to keep a corridor, the organizers should have anticipated that. It was really horrible near the back of the song stage. I, who was carrying a sign, was cut off by old ladies chatting with each other and eating something. They were literally standing in the middle of the parade and were completely oblivious of their wrongdoing. That also caused massive halts all along the parade's path. At times it seemed that there was more standing than marching.

Then, I think it's important to distinguish between the "professional choirs" (kutselised koorid) and the "selected choirs" (valikkoorid). The thousands of singers in the selected choirs pretty much have no other stage in Estonia where to perform together with such a mass than the laululava. The professional choirs and the symphony orchestra had 9 pieces put together which was in my opinion excessive and made most of the people leave. Many people are criticizing the repertoir of the valikkoorid although most people had already left by the time the selected choirs actually came on stage (between 23:20 and 23:30 somewhere). And those songs were a lot more "hearable" in my opinion, it's just a pity that by then there was no one to hear them.

Mina ütles ...

The tradition of the "first day for the serious music" has been alive for many song festivals. Don’t mix up children’s song festival and the “greater” song festival!

Saturday’s tragedy was the immense crowds that blocked procession and delayed the arrival of the participants.

I liked it. If only it had began 1.5 hours earlier everything would have been ok. We were all able to read the program before attending the first concert.

Giustino ütles ...

My biggest complaint was that giant Canadian flag. It's Tallinn, guys, not Toronto.

Michael Moossen ütles ...

i would have liked to have a chilean flag ;)

Kristopher ütles ...

And it was July 4... And no Obama signs either, unbelievable.

I was joking about Koit, I hope Michael was too. :)

Tickets at the door were only being sold on one side of the parade. That was also dumb. The booths on the "kesklinn" side were dilapidated. People had to dart across to buy tickets, including me, slowing things down further.

Colm ütles ...

This is supposed to be an event where people come together and sing the important songs, together. The songs with which we have an emotional connection.

My feelings exactly. It is called a pidu after all!


My biggest complaint was that giant Canadian flag. It's Tallinn, guys, not Toronto.

There was no shortage of Estonian flags but yes I agree the Canadian flag was a little too big. I wish the organisers had put up some decorations on the stage and around the grounds. There was just flags and more flags, something that was certianly not missing in the crowd.

Colm ütles ...

One recurring thought I have when in the company of Estonians is that they are still pagans.

You could say the same thing about the unvailing of the independence monument. After the president's speech all these religious went up to bless the cross and all the crowd are just silent wondering what's going on. I am fairly sure that God didn't actually make that cross. In fact they even interviewed the creators on the telly!

Andres ütles ...

You could say the same thing about the unvailing of the independence monument.

That was pretty amusing. After the clerical inauguration, the choir and orchestra performed Sisask's Pro Patria which basically talks about how Estonians were "the man" before the crusaiders and how the Scandinavians feared them. So it's basically making heroes out of pre-Christian Estonians.

Myst ütles ...

That was pretty amusing. After the clerical inauguration, the choir and orchestra performed Sisask's Pro Patria which basically talks about how Estonians were "the man" before the crusaiders and how the Scandinavians feared them. So it's basically making heroes out of pre-Christian Estonians.


Yeah... Just what I meant with my first comment here. We don't really know "where to sit" when it comes to religion, do we. So we perform Christian rituals out of habit, while not really giving a damn about them, or Christianity in general.

("Hey eestlased, did you know that Issand is actually supposed to mean Isand, and it's not just a meaningless name? Isand Jumal. Lord God. Herr Gott. Herra Jumala." - "What?? You mean Issand isn't God's first name??") :-)

My personal opinion is that this is actually a very serious problem. 'Cause, like most Estonians, I also believe "there's more to it than meets the eye". And I think if there'd be a credible explanation to the more, we'd all end up living better, fuller lives.

But that's just me. ;-) And everyone else who feels the same way, of course. :-)

Anyway, not trying to hijack the discussion about Laulupidu. ;-)

PS.
Strangely, the English and Estonian Wikipedia accounts on Jüriöö ülestõus differ somewhat. As to the fate of the "four kings", the English version states that "all four Estonian "kings" were hanged in the castle of Weissenstein (Paide)". The Estonian that "Neli kuningat läksid 4. mail Paidesse ... kus rüütlid nad mõõkadega tükkideks raiusid." ("The four kings went to Paide on May 4th ... where the knights hacked them to pieces with swords")

Myst ütles ...

Hehh, just realized that my PS was also not topical. Sorry! :-)

Andres ütles ...

Being at the laulupidu made me unsure of myself a bit though. All those early-developed jailbait chicks. THEY WERE FRIGGIN' EVERYWHERE! I was constantly like "Ooh yeah, look at that ass right there! I'd do nasty things with tha--- OH MY GOD IS SHE LIKE 13??"

Giustino ütles ...

As I mentioned, it was a life affirming event.

Troels-Peter ütles ...

I agree that Saturday night had some dull moments, but that was mostly because it rained at times, I suppose. There is nothing to do about the weather, but I was happy to have bought only a cheap "on the grass" ticket for that day.

What puzzled me a bit, though, was why so many people in the audience remained standing, or rather walking, instead of sitting down. It reminded me a bit of the traffic of Tallinn - always restlessly on the move, but where from and where to?

Anyway, the weather caused only the dedicated to stay, which was all right. I enjoyed the orchestra pieces and the works by Carl Orff at the end of the day. The Laulupidu is an Estonian occasion of course, but maybe it's also a good opportunity for popularising works by foreign composers.

Sunday with the more popular repertoire was absolutely fabulous and had some very magical moments. I enjoyed being close to the singers and I found it easy to identify with the "Nordic" tune of Estonian singing.

I was in awe when the boy's choir cheered at one of the composers, and conductor Hirvo Surva finally silenced all 5.000 with a single move of his hand. Crowd control - Malcolm X style!

It was a great üldlaulupidu!