My First Estonian Song Festival

February 9th, 2012 → 5:36 pm @ // No Comments

Below are some excerpts from Chapter Three of Coming Home highlighting my uniquely emotional experiences (excluding the 1982 Children’s Song Festival) at the 1984 Estonian Song Festival. The monumental national event is held every five years. I attended the 2009 Song Festival with our grandson, Matt Sampson, who is completing a documentary video that includes selections from the event that included 34,000 singers and over 200,000 attendees during the two day event.

“Promptly at 3:00 p.m. the combined choirs totaling 30,000 singers began to sing “Dawn,” the traditional opening song, as the flame in the cauldron began to flicker towards the heavens, ignited by a torch-bearing runner who had entered the Festival grounds just minutes before. It was an indescribably stirring moment as we all stood tall with tears running down our cheeks and pride of our ancient past swelling within us. The people surrounding me, young and old, were far from fully submitting to the latest invaders who had conquered their land.

Tastelessly and unavoidably, “Dawn” was followed by several long-winded speeches by Communist Party bigwigs, the Soviet National Anthem and a number entitled, “Song about Lenin.” Seeing my discomfort, Maimu smiled and told me that we only had to endure these “formalities” at the beginning of the concert. She assured me that tomorrow afternoon we wouldn’t be subjected to similar “required propaganda” as now…

The next day it began to rain about noon. During the concert, which started at two and concluded at seven in the evening, warm, gentle rain continued to fall but hardly a spectator moved until the last song was sung. As luck would have it, the drizzle stopped before the last two songs, “Mu Isamaa on Minu Arm” (My Fatherland is My Love) and “Kodumaa” (Homeland) were performed. For a moment I thought that maybe somebody greater than man was watching and listening to these people who had endured so much over the last half century.

The two-day Song Festival was undoubtedly one of the most moving and rewarding experiences I have ever had during my entire life.  I was surrounded by my sister, her immediate family and other relatives for whom freedom had been merely a dream for more than four decades. I saw them smile, shed tears and pump their umbrellas up and down with renewed hope for a free Estonia as they joined in song with the members of the combined choirs at the end of the concert. They stood with their backs straight and heads held high, refusing to be intimidated by their current landlords. I had sensed the strife and emotions of the Estonian people; I had felt their agony and pride — their willingness to suffer rather than yield to tyranny. I had touched the heart of my ancestral past. I had sensed the vastness and depth of this tiny nation’s soul.”

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