The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir perform at The Cathedral of St. Paul

by Brian Newhouse, Minnesota Public Radio
April 4, 2014
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St. Paul, Minn. — It's a story that far too few of us know, and it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck to hear it. Estonia had been "annexed" by the USSR in 1940 and had bristled under Soviet rule for decades. Then this nation a little bigger than the size of Vermont took on the Russian bear — with song.

Estonia's "Singing Revolution" began in the summer of 1987 with mass demonstrations buoyed by spontaneous singing. Estonians sang their patriotic songs and hymns in open defiance of Soviet bans that'd been in place for decades. The following year, Estonians were gathering some 300,000 strong — nearly a quarter of their whole population — to sing forbidden songs. A few months later, Estonia became the first Soviet republic to pass laws resisting central government.

These musical events became increasingly charged politically until August 20, 1991, when Estonia declared independence. The next morning, Soviet tanks rolled into Tallinn and headed for the TV and radio towers that beamed the news of freedom across the country. When the tanks arrived, they found Estonians by the thousands had linked arms and formed a human shield around the towers. And they were singing. One of the Soviet tank commanders later said, "You can't shoot people who are singing." Three days later, Soviet president Gorbachev resigned and dissolved all government parties.

Estonians have been singing to protest invasions of their country since at least the 13th century when Germans, Swedes, Danes, and others laid claim to their land for a time. All this singing has become a strand of national DNA. Far from being just an expression of protest, it has led Estonians to form the finest choirs anywhere.

Many of us choral geeks here tonight have as a life-goal the desire to experience the phenomenon of the Laulupidu, or Estonian song festival. How would you like to stand in a gigantic Estonian "song stadium" and hear 30,000 people singing all at once? What on earth must that sound like?

Until we make that trip to Tallinn, Estonia has sent us its very best. We get to hear not only the finest choir from a nation of singers, but arguably the finest choir in the world. Don't be surprised if the hair stands up on the back of your neck for other, far better, reasons.

Program

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Daniel Reuss - conductor

Recorded November 22, 2013, Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Paul, Minn.

Brahms:

Warum ist das Licht gegeben den Muhseligen? Op 74 No. 1
1. Warum ist das Licht gegeben
2. Lasset uns unser Herz samt den Handen aufheben
3. Siehe, wer preisen selig
4. Choral

Tobias:

Kleine Karfreitagsmotette/Little Motet of Good Friday
Vivit / He Lives!
Ascendit in coelum/ Gone Up the Sky

Hill:

Canción del Alma/ Song of the Soul (2013)

Part:

Two Slavonic Psalms
Psalm 117
Psalm 131

Schnittke:

Three Sacred Hymns
I. Moderato
II. Pesante
III. Largo

Part

Magnificat
Da Pacem Domine
Dopo la Vittoria

Encore

Traditional Estonian folk song

Second encore

Traditional Estonian folk song

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