Estonia Postcard from Tour
Dear SFGC Family, Tere, meil on Eestis! (Hello, we are in Estonia!)
After our performance in Helsinki, Finland with the Sibelius High School Choir, we headed to Tallinn, Estonia! We travelled to Tallinn via ferry, on a boat the size of a cruise ship. The ride across the shining, serene Baltic Sea lasted two hours. Ellerhein Girls Choir, our hosts for the next three days, greeted us upon our arrival at the Tallinn harbor. Ellerhein is one of the most highly-regarded girls’ vocal ensembles in the world, and they can be considered a sister choir to ours— they have a sophisticated and varied repertoire, a choral school with different levels, a summer camp, and rigorous rehearsals three times a week. Choristers from both programs had the eye-opening and unique opportunity to share the similarities of a lifestyle saturated with Chorus while living totally different cultural experiences.
The first day, many of us toured the historic Old Town of Tallinn with our hosts, where we saw the Tallinn skyline, walked down medieval cobblestone streets, and passed dozens of amber shops, a Baltic specialty (the largest known deposits of amber in the world are in the Baltic region).
We spent the next two days rehearsing with Ellerhein in their rehearsal space, which is in a building called the “Hobby Centre” filled with different artistic organizations across various genres, such as dance, fine arts, and orchestras. When we began to sing, the voices of Ellerhein and the SFGC integrated beautifully. The Estonian language has dark, tall vowels that are reflected in Ellerhein’s sound, a beautiful and warm singing tone, which -in combination with SFGC—created a rich and blended sound. We sang two songs by Estonian composer Veljo Tormis with Ellerhein, conducted by Ellerhein’s principal conductor, Ingrid Kõrvits.
Ingrid deepened our understanding and embodiment of these songs, which we’ve been singing since our Davies performance, by explaining to us what the words meant conceptually, and their meaningfulness to Estonian culture. Ellerhein, in turn, joined us on some of our American repertoire, working with Valerie to fortify our collaboration of Meredith Monk’s Panda Chant, and Amy Beach’s I Send My Heart to Thee.
During rehearsal, Ellerhein organized a surprise for us—a traditional Estonian folk dance, by teenagers wearing the Estonian national costume! The girls wore long, colorful skirts with long socks, leather dance slippers, and white embroidered shirts. The boys wore the same shoes, with knee length trousers, leather vests, and a similar white embroidered shirt. It was inspiring to see young people preserving and celebrating their country’s history, tradition, folklore and culture.
Later that day, we visited the Estonian Open Air Museum. We hiked through the forest and had a picnic in a beautiful meadow, where we made daisy chains with our new Estonian friends, exchanging stories about our lives in California and eagerly asking questions about their lives in Estonia. The Open Air Museum is also home to one of the two oldest chapels in Estonia, erected during the 17th century, where each chorus sang spontaneous mini-concerts for each other.
Our stay in Tallinn culminated in our joint concert with Ellerhein. Our performance was at the Estonian Song Festival grounds, a stadium where the famous Estonian Song Festival is held every five years. This festival is one of the largest choir festivals in the world, celebrating one of the most important aspects of Estonian culture— singing. The Estonian Song Festival has been declared a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Prior to our actual performance, which was held inside one of the stadium lobbies, we were granted the great honor and opportunity to sing a song on the incredible outdoor stadium stage, which can seat up to 30,000 participating singers. The grounds of the stadium is the site of one of Estonia’s most influential historical events—the Estonian Singing Revolution.
Estonia gained independence from the Soviet Union in part through the Estonian Singing Revolution, a series of subversive events that happened over the course of four years. During each of these moments, Estonians came together in rebellion to sing traditional Estonian folk songs prohibited by the Soviet Regime. The largest-ever demonstration occurred at the Tallinn Estonian Song Festival Grounds, where approximately 300,000 Estonians sang their way to freedom.
The Baltic and Scandinavian Regions have always had a special place in my heart. I represented Estonia in Model UN last year, and was able to have a meeting with the Estonian Ambassador to the UN in New York City. I have researched the region extensively, and really admire Baltic and Scandinavian culture, music, and language. Being able to visit—and sing in!—these places that I have always dreamt of visiting and experiencing, has been a privilege that I will forever be grateful for.
Visiting Estonia on tour was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, because we were able to experience the power of choral singing, and what choral singing is about, on a global scale. Choral singing has united the Estonian people, carried them to freedom, and now, has connected the San Francisco Girls Chorus to Ellerhein, and San Francisco to Tallinn.
Nägemist, meeldiv kohtuda! (Farewell, and nice to meet you!)
Juliana Iluminata Wilczynski