How the Estonian Nation was born in a Swiss village

In a few weeks, on 6/7 July 2019, the Estonian Song Festival “Laulupidu” will celebrate its 150-year jubilee. It is the country’s major cultural event, gathering ten thousands of Estonians to sing together. Such public celebrations have a long tradition in German-speaking countries, too – who actually invented it? A search for traces in the 18th century. 

Wetzikon, in the year of our Lord 1754. Johannes Schmidlin, a young vicar born and raised in Zurich, is appointed to become pastor of the placid village’s parish in the Zurich Highlands. Not a year passed and Pastor Schmidlin – a student of Zurich Cathedral Cantor Johann Caspar Bachofen – has founded a choral society to improve the congregational singing. Nothing new under the sun, singing societies had been existing in this area since the Zwinglian music ban loosened in the 17th century, and vocal music had been cherished by the upper class. But Schmidlin had other plans; he wanted the people outside of church and salon walls to get to sing.

In 1769 – his society already numbered 200 members, a proud 10 % of the village’s population –Schmidlin published a collection of secular songs, some being patriotic and bloody, but some also sincere and forward-looking. He wrote them for all social strata, for women and children alike. Singing should not only draw people nearer to the Word of God, but also to education, liberty and prosperity – just like his famous compatriots Rousseau and Pestalozzi. 20 years short of the French Revolution and Schmidlin pioneered enlightenment at Lake Pfäffikon which inspired other skilled villagers. 

When Schmidlin suddenly died in 1772, Hans Jakob Nägeli took over as pastor and leader of the choral society, where also his youngest son Hans Georg sung as a boy. Hans Georg was a prodigy child, able to play difficult piano sonatas by the age of 8 and occasionally substituting his father at the weekly rehearsals. Not surprisingly, he decided to become a musician, and it were Schmidlin’s songs from his childhood days, which pushed him from now on to promote choral singing as a way to educate people.

Tirelessly, Nägeli travelled throughout the country, delivered countless lectures and gained fellow campaigners: Johann Heinrich Tobler, for example, who initiated the very first song festival in history in the Appenzell region in 1825 and contributed his “Ode to God”, a popular folksong to this day. And Franz Xaver Schnyder von Wartensee, who emigrated to Frankfurt to found the city’s first men’s choir in 1828, one year after Württemberger men’s choirs had organised the first song festival on German soil. These were the fruits of decades of work by Nägeli, which culminated in the “First All-German Song Festival” in Frankfurt in 1838 – with Schnyder von Wartensee serving as the festival’s chairman.

Now the expansion of mass singing took its way northwards; the concept of combining singing with demands for unity, liberty and civil rights appealed to the emerging national movements. In Latvia and Estonia, where German culture had been predominant since the conquest by Baltic Germans in the 12th century, Baltic German choral societies quickly formed. A first song festival is documented in Riga as early as 1836, and further festivals took place in Tallinn in 1857 and 1866. However, they were far from being genuine public celebrations, as only Baltic German noblemen and clergymen took part. But the Estonians, passing on runic Regilaul songs for centuries, were eager to have their own party. Thanks to clever marketing (they promoted it as a commemoration of the 50-year of the abolishment of serfdom), the Russian rulers gave their approval and 845 singers celebrated the first All-Estonian Song Festival in 1869 – including after all two Estonian songs on the programme.

By 1918, when Estonia became an independent republic, the number of participants had increased to over 10’000, and meanwhile, mixed, women’s and children’s choirs were allowed, too. Even during the Soviet occupation 1940–1991 the Singing Nation could not be silenced. Hans Georg Nägeli’s dream of a Single People of Singers became reality in Estonia. And back in Switzerland? Nägeli has been dubbed the “Godfather of Singers”, however, his merits fell into oblivion. History was too well-meaning towards Mother Helvetia, whom had not to be lauded a thousand times to retain liberty and unity like Eesti Ema, her enduring sister.

At least, Nägeli has been honoured by the great Estonian folksong composer Veljo Tormis, when in 1988, at the dawn of the Singing Revolution, he arranged a simple “Salute to the Fatherland” from 1817 and called it “Kodukeel” (Native Tongue). Soon after, it was sung by 300’000 Estonians at the Song Festival Grounds, amongst other forbidden songs. The biggest gathering of people in Estonian history was an exceptional mass protest against the tumbling regime, only surpassed by the 600-kilometre long human chain through the Baltic states in autumn 1989. On 20 August 1991, Estonia became independent again, thanks to a largely bloodless revolution. Estonia gathered in singing, as Schmidlin had preached unto his fellow parishioners: “Let us be a light on Earth; free as we are, so shall be others; until all nations have become one.”

David Rossel

Song and Dance Celebration to become more eco-friendly than before

The organisers of the Song and Dance Celebration find it important to keep the ecological footprint of the festival as small as possible and to use local raw materials and resources where possible. In addition to the organisers, the same principles are followed by the event’s major partners and suppliers, who contribute to making the anniversary celebration reality.

We will hereby introduce the most important steps taken and methods used by the organisers to keep the ecological footprint of the event as small as possible.

Waste is sorted both by participants and caterers. We want to make sure that the majority of waste collected during the Song and Dance Celebration is recycled and reprocessed. To this end, we urge people to separate deposit-subjected packaging from other waste, which has to date become a common practice among the majority of Estonian people. With the help of partners, we give participants, caterers and vendors the opportunity to sort their waste and organise the transport and further processing thereof. The organisers also expect all caterers and vendors to thoroughly sort their waste.

Soups offered at the event are made of locally produced ingredients. The Song and Dance Celebration’s catering partner, Põltsamaa, will treat the participants to 180,000 portions of soup made of 30 tonnes of Estonian-produced vegetables and meat. Additionally, the soup is cooked in moderate quantities, which means that ingredients are used economically. The soups are free from preservatives and flavour enhancers and made of locally produced meat and vegetables (potatoes, carrots, cabbage and beetroots). Since vegetarianism is becoming increasingly popular in the world, this year’s menu includes two vegetarian options (meatless Russian pickle soup and lentil soup with vegetables). The use and preference of local produce over foreign ingredients also reduces the environmental impact of transport.

In cooperation with our catering partners, we hand out reusable water bottles to all performers attending this year’s celebrations in order to reduce the number of plastic bottles used and other waste. During the rehearsal week, all performers have access to water stations where they can fill their bottles. During the previous Song and Dance Celebration, a total of 60,000 single-use water bottles were handed out to performers, which are now replaced with reusable bottles.

The packaging of the Song and Dance Celebration’s official ice cream is made of paper. According to ice cream producer Premia, ice cream packaging is rarely made of paper, as plastic is a more efficient and a considerably better option when it comes to preserving the product and maintaining its temperature. The Song and Dance Celebration’s official ice cream uses paper as a more eco-friendly solution. The ice cream is produced in small batches to ensure that it finds its way to consumers as quickly as possible and is not left in warehouses for a longer period of time.

All of the official Song and Dance Celebration memorabilia is also produced following the principles of sustainability. Souvenirs are designed to have a specific practical purpose and be usable even after the event. The production and sale of memorabilia is organised by Sokisahtel OÜ, which aims to offer smart and environmentally friendly anniversary souvenirs.

The Song and Dance Celebration’s official T-shirts are produced in cooperation with fashion designer Reet Aus and bear the Fair Trade marking; all printed materials, card games and stickers are printed at Ecoprint’s eco-friendly printing house; the tights are made with Ecocare yarn, thanks to which their manufacturing process requires 55% less resources (water and electricity) than that of regular tights and practically all of the production waste is recycled. The manufacturing process uses as many natural materials as possible and focuses on increasing products’ value in use. According to Sokisahtel, which is responsible for the sale of the souvenirs, this is also in line with the underlying idea of the Song and Dance Celebration to create things that last and help to recall memories of the event even years after. The Song and Dance Celebration’s official gift shop features more than 30 products. The production and sale of memorabilia is organised by Sokisahtel OÜ under public procurement contract.

Fair Trade marking ensures that small farmers in developing countries receive minimum price for their products, which covers the costs and promotes sustainable growth; a living wage and humane working conditions for plantation and cooperative workers; no slave or child labour is used in the production process; additional funds or profit received from fair trade are used for the social development of communities; and that the production process is based on the principles of sustainability (

The design choice of lanyards used by media and organisers was also made with the environment in mind. The lanyards are made of organic bamboo fibre and printed using water-based inks.

The Song and Dance Celebration flame is fed by green gas, i.e. biogas produced by Eesti Gaas from biowaste via fermentation. More information about biogas can be found here.

Participants in Song and Dance Celebration to include visiting groups from Australia to Japan

The XXVII Song and Dance Celebration “My Fatherland is My Love” will feature a number of foreign performers, including Estonians who live and work abroad as well as foreigners who have taken the trouble to learn our songs and dances. Estonia will host choirs from Finland and Sweden as well as more distant locations such as the US, Australia, Luxembourg and Switzerland – a total of 42 visiting groups. Foreign ensembles taking part in the Dance Celebration include seven mixed, six female and two family ensembles.

This time, the foreign groups’ above-average interest in the Song and Dance Celebration can also be put down to the fact that it is immediately preceded by the XII International Estonian Culture Festival taking place in Helsinki, Tartu and Tallinn.

Several of the visiting groups have also participated in previous Song and Dance Celebrations. The groups that have already stood under the arch of the Song Festival Grounds include the majority of European choirs, but also the US-based Piedmont Children’s Choir. One of the most special visiting groups participating in this year’s event is the Wakayama Children’s Choir from Japan.

Of all foreign Estonian groups performing at the Dance Celebration, two family ensembles stand out from among mixed and female ensembles – Vingerpussid from Finland and UK-based Estonian Folks. The family ensemble is an entirely new type of group specifically designed for the XX Dance Celebration, which is comprised of adults and children.

Estonian diaspora choirs attending the XXVII Song Celebration “My Fatherland is My Love”

  • Kooskõlas (mixed choir) – Australia
  • Pillerkoor (partial mixed choir) – Austria
  • Beene Belgian Estonian Mixed Choir(mixed choir) – Belgium
  • Toronto Estonian Male Voice Choir(male choir) – Canada
  • Hamilton Estonian Society Choir(mixed choir) – Canada
  • Läänetuul(mixed choir) – Canada
  • TEAS ööbik(mixed choir) – Canada
  • Estonia Choir(partial mixed choir) – Canada
  • European Estonian Children’s Choir(children’s choir) – Luxembourg
  • European Estonian Choir(partial mixed choir) – Luxembourg
  • Stavanger Estonian Mixed Choir(mixed choir) – Norway
  • French Estonian Song Celebration Choir(female choir) – France
  • Stockholm Estonian Female Choir(female choir) – Sweden
  • Gothenburg Estonian Mixed Choir(mixed choir) – Sweden
  • Stockholm Estonian Mixed Choir(partial mixed choir) – Sweden
  • Helsinki Estonian Children’s Choir(children’s choir) – Finland
  • Helsinki Estonian Female Choir(female choir) – Finland
  • Tampere Estonian Mixed Choir(mixed choir) – Finland
  • Siller(mixed choir) – Finland
  • I.M.E. Choir (International Music-friends of Estonia)(mixed choir) – Switzerland
  • United Kingdom Estonian Mixed Choir(mixed choir) – United Kingdom
  • Baltimore-Washington Estonian Mixed Choir(mixed choir) – USA
  • Estonian Community Choir of San Francisco(mixed choir) – USA
  • New York Estonian Mixed Choir(mixed choir) – USA
  • Seattle Estonian Mixed Choir(mixed choir) – USA

Foreign choirs attending XXVII Song Celebration “My Fatherland is My Love”

  • Wakayama Children’s Choir(children’s choir) – Japan
  • Aukstyn Brass Band(brass band) – Lithuania
  • Osterøykoret(mixed choir) – Norway
  • Sandviken Kantori(mixed choir) – Norway
  • L’orchestre d’harmonie de Gerzat(brass band) – France
  • Aixmuusika(mixed choir) – Germany
  • Kammerchor Nordhessen(mixed choir) – Germany
  • Mieskuoro Laulajat(male choir) – Finland
  • POHJAN LAULU(male choir) – Finland
  • YNNIN POJAT(boys’ choir) – Finland
  • Seitakuoro(partial mixed choir) – Finland
  • Vocalino Wettingen(mixed choir) – Switzerland
  • Pueri gaudentes(boys’ choir) – Czech Republic
  • Piedmont Children’s Choir(children’s choir) – USA
  • Jubilate Singers of the Upper Valley(mixed choir) – USA
  • Unistus Chamber Choir(mixed choir) – USA
  • University of Washington Festival Chorus (mixed choir) – USA

Estonian diaspora ensembles attending the XX Dance Celebration “MY Fatherland is My Love”

Mixed ensembles:

  • Euroviisud– Belgium (S3)
  • Estonian Folks– United Kingdom (S3)
  • Kilplased– Canada (S4)
  • Toronto Kungla– Canada (S4)
  • Viikingid– Norway (S3)
  • Virvel– Sweden (S4)
  • Ülelahedad– Finland (S4)

Female ensembles:

  • Brisbane’i Eesti– Australia (N2)
  • Tuuletütred– Netherlands (N1)
  • Iiris– Ireland (N2)
  • Laiali– Luxembourg (N1)
  • Helsinki Helmed– Finland (N2)
  • Nopsjalad ja Trondheimi Trollid– Finnish-Norwegian mixed group (N2)

Family ensembles:

  • ESTONIAN FOLKS– United Kingdom (P)
  • Vingerpussid– Finland (P)

The choir from farthest away: an American Estonian helps us learn lyrics

For years the Song Celebration hasn’t been just the Estonians’ playground. Already for several years there have been foreigners singing in our melodic language, who might not even fully understand the words they are singing.

At this year’s celebration there are foreign choirs coming from all over the world. Singers are coming from Finland, Germany, Norway, and even from farther places like the United States of America and Japan. The most exotic choir the Wakayama children’s choir from Japan. It is a choir of 47 singers, who perform every year in the USA and Europe. Even though the choir is singing in Estonian at the Song Celebration, they also love to sing in English and have won many international choir competitions in Germany, Hungary and Austria.

The choir traveling the longest distance is California-based Piedmont children’s choir. The Piedmont choir’s founder Susan Rahl told Postimees, that her children are participating in the Song Celebration for the fourth time and have a big interest in the event. This time they have learnt 14 Estonian songs.

«Since Estonian isn’t our mother tongue, the hardest part has been learning the lyrics and correct pronunciation for all 14 songs,» she explained. Rahl said, that the song «Üksi pole keegi» has a lot of words, which is why that song has been the hardest for the children. Piedmont children’s choir’s favourite song is Tõnis Mägi’s piece «Ilus oled, isamaa». Despite the difficulty of learning the songs, the children and choir conductors don’t have to figure out the pronunciation by themselves. Rahl said, that already for 15 years Saima Kint, an Estonian living in Oakland California, has been helping them with Estonian. She has been living in the USA since the Second World War, when she was forced to leave her home country. Rahl explained the reason that keeps on bringing them back to the Song Celebration: «The Estonian people’s story is an inspiring reminder of what humans are capable of». According to her, singing in Estonian is a positive experience for the children as they have already gotten used to singing in this difficult language.

Rearrangements in Tallinn traffic and parking during Song and Dance Festival 2019

In relation to the XXVII Song and XX Dance Festival “My Fatherland is my Love” anniversary celebrations on July 04-07, Ühisteenused is helping rearrange city traffic during the jubilee week to ensure traffic safety for participants and spectators, area residents, employees of companies and customers. This year`s festivities involve the city of Tallinn from Kassisaba district to Kadriorg, which means  that residents of these areas and everyone active there have to consider the traffic rearrangements and parking restrictions established by Tallinn City Government already in the first week of July.

Important information about traffic rearrangements

  • The main traffic and parking rearrangements in Tallinn affect the areas in the vicinity of Kalev Stadium and Tallinn Song Festival Ground and areas along the route of the procession.
  • The rearrangements are established at different periods, max during the week of festivities i.e. the first week of July (01.07-07.07.2019).
  • Temporary traffic signs and traffic managers in neon vests direct the new traffic and parking arrangement in the festivities` areas.

Main areas of traffic and parking rearrangements:


The following streets are closed to public traffic and only vehicles with the organiser`s special permits servicing the festival and local residents` vehicles are allowed to drive and park on these streets.  In the given streets, the traffic speed is restricted to 30 km/h during this time period.

From July 01, 7 AM until July 05, 11 PM:

Võistluse St – converted to a one-way street from the side of Filtri Street, parking is prohibited, except for vehicles with special permit on the left side of the street up to Võistluse 23 building, stopping is prohibited from Võistluse 23 building to Püssirohu St. Passage from Püssirohu St to Võistluse St (towards Staadioni St) is closed.

Püssirohu St – converted to a one-way street from the side of Võistluse St, stopping on left side of the street is prohibited, parking on the right side of the street is allowed only with special permits.

Herne St – stopping is prohibited around Tallinn Athletics Hall until July 05, midnight.

Juhkentali St – buses with special permits are allowed under exceptional cicumstances to stop in both directions on the Staadioni-Püssirohu stretch to allow participants to enter and exit, parking of coaches with special permits is organised in the right-hand lane of Püssirohu St- Rimi (pedestrian crossing).

Staadioni St – closed for public traffic and parking from June 30 to July 05, except vehicles with special permits. Visitors of Athletics Hall are directed to Herne Street for leaving. On July 04, between 1 PM and 11 PM and July 05, between 9 AM and 11 PM, there will be operational closing of traffic on Juhkentali St from both Odra and Liivalaia side (except vehicles with special permits and public transportation) during times when high numbers of Dance Festival spectators are gathering and leaving.

With aticket forspectators arriving in a wheelchair, special permit parking spaces are reserved in Staadioni parking area. To apply for a special permit, first turn to the organiser`s HQ and if a permit is issued, take out the parking permit from the HQ (Oru Hotel) before arriving at the festival.


  • From July 01, 7 AM to July 08, 2 PM, parking in the parking area in front of Oru hotel is prohibited (also in the PARGI JA REISI area).
  • From July 03, 7 AM to July 07, midnight, Joa St is converted into a one-way street (from side of Kuristiku St) and parking in this area is prohibited (except vehicles with the organiser`s special permits on the left side of the street).
  • From July 04, 7 AM until July 07, midnight, parking vehicles in Russalka parking area, Pirita St in the direction exiting the city centre i.e. Vana-Pirita St – Pirita tee 20, Vana-Pirita St Pirita St – Pirita tee 20, parking areas in the vicinity of the Song Festival Ground`s Lasnamägi Gates and on Narva Road in the direction exiting the city centre from Narva Road 128 until Turba St is prohibited.
  • From July 04, 7 AM until July 07, midnight, buses with the organiser`s special permits may stop to allow participants to exit and enter on Pirita St (Vana-Pirita St – Pirita St 20) in the direction exiting the city centre and on Narva Road (Kuristiku-Oru St both directions).

Speed limit 30 km/h applies:

  • From July 04, 2 PM to July 07, 11 PM, in Narva St (Pirita St-Smuuli) and Pirita Street (Narva Road-Näitusekeskus (Exhibitions` Centre).
  • From July 03, 7 AM until July 07, 11 PM, Kuristiku (Narva Road-Oru), Joa and Oru St (Narva Rd-Joa).

Narva Rd (Pirita St-Turba) is closed to public traffic from July 06, 17.30 – midnight (I concert) and July 07, 1 PM to 10 PM (II concert), the restriction does not apply to interurban buses.

With aticket forspectators arriving in a wheelchair, special permit parking spaces are reserved in the Song Festival Ground`s seaside parking area (Merevärav).


  • From July 05, 9 PM until July 06, 6 PM, parking is prohibited in the area where the procession groups line up until the last participants in the procession leave Tõnismäe, Hariduse, Wismari (Toompuiestee-Toompea St), Roosikrantsi (Kaarli Avenue- Roosikrantsi 15) Streets. During the same period, Falgi Street will be converted into a two-way street to access Toompea from Toompuiestee.
  • From July 06, 9 AM to 6 PM, traffic is closed in the area where the procession groups line up: Vabaduse Square, Kaarli, Roosikrantsi (Kaarli Av-Roosikrantsi 15), Hariduse, Tõnismäe, Toompea (Kaarli Av-Falgi St), Wismari (Toompea-Toompuiestee), Toompuiestee (Wismari-Endla), Luise (Toompuiestee-Koidu), Koidu (Luise-Endla), Endla (Suur-Ameerika-Tõnismäe), Pärnu Road (area between Liivalaia-Viru Square). As an exception, entry from Suur-Ameerika St to Lõkke St is open, due to closing Lõkke St entrance from Endla St side during line-up of groups.
  • From July 06, 11 AM (interurban buses from noon) until 6 PM, public traffic is closed due to the procession on the route Vabaduse Square – Viru Square – Narva Road – Pirita St – Vana-Pirita St until the Song Festival Ground`s seaside gates (Merevärav). Trolley-bus traffic from Mustamägi only goes to Koidu St before U-turn. Buses will be redirected from Pärnu Road to Estonia Avenue during this time and from Estonia Avenue to Liivalaia St through Teatri Square and Lembitu St.


Concert of foreign-Estonian folkdance groups “Ühendusmaa on Eestimaa”

Sunday, July 7 2019 at 12:00
Vabaduse Square, Tallinn
Concert of foreign-Estonian folkdance groups
“Ühendusmaa on Eestimaa”

340 dancers from 13 countries who dance Estonian dances take part in the concert. They are from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, USA, Canada, Australia, Russia, England, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg. The folk art ensembles Leigarid and Koidupuna are also involved.

The idea of ​​the concert was created by MTÜ Tantsupeomuuseum team led by Angela Arraste and Ülo Luht already in August 2018, when the summer course of foreign-Estonian dance teachers at Kihnu island and Paikuse took place. As a positive motivative fact that the record number of foreign dance groups were registered for the 2019 National Dance Celebration, it was decided to present these groups at a special concert aswell.

“Ühendusmaa on Eestimaa” brings the foreign-Estonian groups to the common dance floor. The groups have their own fascinating story and traditions to preserve Estonian culture. Each group has its own face – as in every village in Estonia also in these worldwide “villages of Estonia” they keep the tradition while dancing in their way.

When thinking together creates a common field of mind, then dancing together creates a common space, or a field of connection. The topic of global Estonia is actual and seeing a common Estonia also outside our country’s borders becomes more and more important.

At the end of the concert we also ask the spectators to dance to further support the common sense of Estonia.

Directors of the concert: Karmen Ong and Jaan Ulst.

The project is led by MTÜ Tantsupeomuuseum.

The concert is 50 minutes long and the entrance is free.

Supporters: Eesti Kultuurkapitali Rahvakultuuri sihtkapital, Tallinna Kultuuriamet, Tallinna linn, Integratsiooni Sihtasutus and Tallinna Kesklinna Valitsus.
Cooperation partners: Tallinna Teeninduskooli õpilaskodu and Laulu- ja Tantsupeo SA.

Peeter Perens: Our descendants have to be able to look back to our era and understand us through the songs and music created today.

By Maris Hellrand

Estonia is celebrating the 150thanniversary of the Song Celebration this July. The first ever event in 1869 brought 878 male singers and brass players to Tartu. Publisher Johann Voldemar Jannsen initiated the Song Celebration as part of the Estonian national awakening movement. Jannsen’s daughter, Lydia Koidula was the author of lyrics of “Mu isamaa on minu arm” /My Fatherland is My Love”/ that gained the status of Estonia’s unofficial anthem with the melody by Gustav Ernesaks from 1944. “My Fatherland is My Love” is also the title of this year’s anniversary Song Celebration on 6thand 7thJuly in Tallinn. The grand event that will bring more than 30 000 singers and dancers on stage at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds has been two years in the making.

Peeter Perens

Each edition of the song celebration is based on the unique vision of the artistic director and his team, selected in an open competition. The artistic concept of the 27thsong celebration was created by Peeter Perens (47) and Siim Selis (46), both conductors of the TalTech Academic Male Choir.

Perens comes from a family of choir musicians and remembers his first song celebration as a four-year-old in the procession, on the shoulders of his father, also a choir conductor. With the conductor’s baton of the Song Celebration he now has reached the top of the pyramid of choir music.

PP: “The foundation of this concept is to look at the combination of two cultures that define the vitality of Estonians – the old Finno-Ugric runic song culture that has been in focus for Lennart Meri (the late president and writer 1929-2006) and Veljo Tormis (composer 1930-2017) on the one hand and the European culture that we are part of today on the other hand. In the concept for this celebration we want to create a musical fusion of these two cultures. Estonian classical choir music like by VeljoTormis, Cyrillus Kreek or Ester Mägi always includes ancient Estonian folk songs and European composition culture. This is a very natural thing in Estonian music that we want to be very aware about.

The song celebration takes place on two days and offers two different concerts. The second day usually is quite traditional with only minor changes throughout decades. The first day however offers more flexibility and artistic freedom. So, my idea for this was to arrange a happy open-air concert of Estonian classical music, just as they happen all over Europe during summer with people listening to opera or Tchaikovsky with their picnic baskets. We looked for the brightest pieces of Estonian music that would suit this concept at the song celebration. By doing that we realized that what has been the key to Estonia’s success is the thirst for education, hence the subtitle of the first concert “To the Teacher”. The programme is a journey through different schools of composers and dedicated to teachers within them. We are talking about Estonian music education and focusing on the teacher by doing that. Any teacher actually, not just music.”

Is it easy to find “happy” music within Estonian classical choir music?

PP: “The programme includes instrumental pieces and even a solo song next to choir pieces. Classical music tends to be introvert overall, it’s not just a characteristic of Estonian music. Classical composers usually deal with deep individual analysis. So yes, it’s more difficult to find extrovert classics, but fortunately it is possible in Estonian music, it’s all not that sad!”

What are your favourite pieces of the first day?

PP: “A very special piece on the programme is a Latvian song “Riga dimd” – the reason being that the Estonian music education actually began in the 19thcentury at the Livonian teachers’ seminar in Valmiera, later Valga, led by the Latvian Janis Cimze. Among the students were later well-known conductors and composers such as Aleksander Kunileid, Aleksander Läte, who became founders of Estonian classical music. It makes me very happy to have a song in Latvian language in the programme. We live next to each other and should interact much more than we do.

I am also very happy to have a piece by Mart Saar “Noore veljo, veeritäge” in the programme – a very energetic song for mixed choir and a brave choice for song celebration. It’s polyphonic, rhythmically complicated, but having heard it in several large rehearsals it seems to be a risk worth taking. It sounds great and the singers are very motivated.

Towards the end of the first concert we will perform a newly commissioned piece by Tauno Aints, that will hopefully turn into a runic joint choir with the audience. Aints has used a runo song to create a new piece with lyrics by Urve Tinnuri with the title “Üksi pole keegi”/Nobody is alone. The singers on stage will take the lead and the whole audience will hopefully join in in response. I’m looking forward to this as a highlight of the first day.”

The selection of songs in the programme has to be extremely well founded. It has happened before that not just singers but the wider audience debates the suitability of a song for the event. People really seem to take it personally.

PP: “I’m very glad that you can see the profound reasoning behind the selection of the repertoire. It might not always be obvious but having gone through the process I can assure that we have really looked extremely carefully at each piece that is included. Also, the new commissioned songs – the composers have selected the lyrics very thoroughly, often in cooperation with conductors. I am incredibly grateful to our artistic council that has put such an effort into selecting the music. Song celebration is always teamwork, and my special thanks goes to Ave Sopp and Siim Selis.

The singers and audience are always expecting something new from the song celebration. In fact, it is of course exactly the same celebration as 150 years ago but we have to find a new angle each time that keeps it interesting and up to date for us also today. I think the singers are ready for something extraordinary.”  

The second day of the Song Celebration has always been based on the repertoire of different choir and orchestra types – each type has an opportunity to showcase a number of pieces, the grand finale includes all performers for the traditional standards and usually a special commissioned piece. According to Perens this year’s new commissions include many pieces that have been based on traditional folk songs: “The treasury of our folk songs is a truly endless source. What is new and changing are the topics. We have to find a balance between new music and Estonian classics that people expect to hear.Here the grand finale of joint choirs is always extremely important. I am so pleased to have a new cantata by Pärt Uusberg “Igaviku tuules”/In the Wind of Eternity/ in the finale – a special commission for this celebration that he will conduct himself. It’s based on the lyrics by old Estonian poets Juhan Liiv and Kristjan Jaak Peterson and an Estonian folk song. It’s hard to imagine anything more “Estonian” than a combination of these three sources of lyrics. Uusberg has captured the character and full potential of joint choirs in this piece. He truly uses the joint choir as an instrument. We have heard this piece in the rehearsals performed by a few hundred singers and already this sound truly incredible. I think this song has the potential to become one of the lasting song celebration standards that will be performed many times in the future.”

Isn’t it always the ambition when commissioning new music for the song celebration? The main idea is to enrich the choir repertoire with new contemporary music as if weaving an endless carpet. But the secret hope is also to create a piece or a few that will shine beyond one celebration and remain in the repertoire for years to come.

PP: “This is true. We certainly hope that all the new music will be like pearls. Right now, it seems that the singers have really responded very well to the newly commissioned music. Even some of the more complicated pieces, like “Kannel” by Hain Hõlpus for mixed choirs, that did cause some rising eyebrows at first due to difficult changes of key and other elements, have by now become familiar. Good thing takes time. Great music will not give itself in immediately, it takes practice until one realizes the greatness.”

For singers it seems interesting to challenge themselves and perform new complicated music. The question remains, how will the audience react.

PP: “I would not underestimate the audience. They are to the most part also friends and family, neighbours and colleagues of the singers. I have the feeling that the discussion about the repertoire is not just confined to choirs and musicians but rather it spreads to the whole society. The rehearsal time is almost two years, so by the time of the actual celebration people are familiar with and excited about the new pieces, eager to hear how they actually sound. As long as we can offer this kind of excitement all is well. If that ceases and people just come to a concert of songs that have been sang 150 years, it’s over. Our descendants have to be able to look back to our era and understand us through the songs and music created today.”

The Song Celebration is also a very powerful tool of communication as it touches and involves the majority of Estonians. What is today’s public debate about, how does it reflect the values and changes in the society? In that way the artistic director and team have a huge responsibility as they are actually able to lead the public debate.

PP: “I realized this responsibility during the last celebration (2017) when I was the head conductor of young men’s choirs. I have a daughter and a son who sing in choirs. All of a sudden, I started to hear the songs that we had chosen for the celebration from the shower. In that moment it hit me – all over Estonia there are young guys singing these songs in shower. Fortunately, we had chosen wisely and there was nothing to be ashamed of. If a young man sings in shower “my dear Estonia, where I was born and raised…”, you realize, it’s fine.

It is of course very tricky to select pieces for the repertoire that would be very topical today, as the process takes about two years and you can’t predict, what is going to be in the centre of public attention by the time it will be performed. This means, we focus on universal and lasting values. This is the foundation of the song celebration. To step aside from the daily hustle and contemplate about really important issues. We get together and tens of thousands of people talk about important things by singing, not one person preaching from a lectern. Song has been a medium for the most important messages ever since. Sang words are more powerful than spoken words. There and then you realize: song celebration –  it’s everything, our core, our security, our education, everything.”

Perens says, his biggest wish is to create a celebration just as worthy as the predecessors during the 150 years: “Then we have accomplished our task. This is not a humble wish. The musical level and peoples’ expectations have been very high, so if we manage to add another pearl into this row, that is just as valuable and yet original, we have already reached the high bar.”


The programme of the XXVII Song and XX Dance Celebration “My Fatherland is My Love”:

  • Relay of the Flame 1.06 (Tartu) – 3.07 (Tallinn). The journey passes all Estonian counties in 33 days.
  • Choral concert at St. Mary’s Church on Thursday, 20 June in Tartu
  • Dance Celebration on Thursday, 4 July at 7 p.m. Kalev Central Stadium in Tallinn
  • Dance Celebration on Friday, 5 July at 11.00 a.m. Kalev Central Stadium in Tallinn
  • Dance Celebration on Friday, 5 July at  6 p.m. Kalev Central Stadium in Tallinn
  • Folk music concert on Friday, 5 July at 2 p.m. Freedom Square in Tallinn
  • Procession on Saturday, 6 July from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. central Tallinn to the Song Festival Grounds
  • Song Celebration „To the Teacher“ on Saturday, 6 July at 7 p.m. Tallinn Song Festival Grounds
  • Song Celebration on Sunday, 7 July at 2 p.m. Tallinn Song Festival Grounds

View the map of the places and times of the journey of the Song and Dance Celebration flame

Relay of the flame of the XXVII Song and XX Dance Celebration starts from Tartu on June 1 and reaches the Kalev stadium in the evening of July 4 after the journey of 4,200 kilometers. A map with approximately 500 significant places of the stops of the flame has been prepared about the 33 days long journey all over Estonia.

“We invite all communities, organisations and groups of friends to notice and tidy the culturally important places of their neighbourhood when preparing for the jubilee celebrations! Prompted by the wish that everyone could take part in the Song and Dance Celebration of the jubilee year, we invite people to come out and participate in the day of civil actions Let’s Do It on May 4. The recently completed map of the journey of the flame gives a good opportunity for exciting discoveries and ideas to worthily prepare the journey of the flame of the jubilee celebration,“ said the Communications Manager of the Estonian Song and Dance Celebration, Sten Weidebaum.

Organisers of the XXVII Song and XX Dance Celebration “My Fatherland is My Love” will light the flame of the jubilee celebrations in the park of the Estonian National Museum in Tartu on June 1. Then the flame will be in the hands of the counties, moving across Estonia during the next 33 days. The flame starts its journey from Saaremaa and reaches the Kalev stadium in Tallinn in the evening of the July 4 where the first performance of the XX Dance Celebration starts at 19:00.

“It sounds incredible, but during the 33 days, the flame passes altogether 4,200 kilometers in Estonia which is actually as long as the way between Tallinn and Lisbon,” continued Weidebaum. Everyone will have an opportunity to get involved personally by carrying the flame towards Tallinn or participating in the Let’s Do It day.

The Relay of the Flame of the XXVII Song and XX Dance Celebration is an overture to the jubilee celebration by carrying the value and power of the song and dance celebrations to every corner in Estonia. The tradition of the relay of the flame will be 50 this year. The first nationwide relay of flame took place in 1969 in connection with the centennial of the song celebration. The Relay of the Flame is organised by the Foundation Estonian Song and Dance Celebration in cooperation with all Estonian counties.

Please examine the map of the flame’s journey and the cultural places at:

Põltsamaa starts making the Song and Dance Celebration soups

The important benefactor of the Song and Dance Celebration, Põltsamaa, will distribute 180,000 soup servings at the jubilee celebration. There will be altogether six soups that reach the counters of the stores “Song Celebration’s solyanka”, “Dance Celebration’s borsch”, “Sauerkraut borsch of Kaerajaan”, “Pea soup of Labajalg”, “Meatball soup of Kunglarahvas” and “Folk tune’s rassolnik”. Three out of six soups will be in the menu of the singers, dancers and instrumentalists.

“All celebration soups have the design of the motives of the celebration and naturally they all have easily opened covers. These celebration soups provide a good opportunity for the whole population in Estonia to get involved in the jubilee celebration,” said the Marketing Direcctor of the soup production of Põltsamaa, Marek Viilol.

Inspired by the traditional tastes, the singers, dancers and instrumentalists will get the fresh cabbage soup, pea soup and solyanka. For the first time, this year’s menu includes two different soups with 100% of vegetable ingredients. “Preferring the food of vegetable origin is an increasing trend in the whole world. As a modern and innovative food producer, we offer it now also for 45,000 singers, dancers and instrumentalists as an option,” said Viilol. The soups that fully contain foodstuff of vegetable origin will be the rassolnik and the lentil-vegetable soup.

Altogether 180,000 soup servings will be cooked from 30 tons of domestic vegetables for 45,000 singers, dancers and instrumentalists. Also, the women participating in the Women’s voluntary defence organization help to fill the soup bowls of the celebrators. Soup making will start at the beginning of May.

According to the historian Anu Kannike, soup was also the most important part of the meal in the peasantry culture 150 years ago. Hence the soups play an important role in the tradition of the Song and Dance Celebrations.

“Soup was made for several days and the most common ones were the pea, bean, lintel and sauerkraut soup. Some families ate already the potato soup. Unfortunately, the documents do not say anything about the food that the singers and instrumentalists had in 1869, but probably they took their own food with them. But it is known that they could participate in the festive dinner in clubhouse Vanemuine for 90 kopeks,” said Kannike about the soup eating tradition of Estonians.

The dinnerware is very innovative and for the first time it is made of renewable raw material of plant origin (corn and timber). The timber for carton soup bowls comes from the responsibly managed forest and partly also the recycled carton will be used. Corn is the raw material for the tablespoons.  All dishes comply with the food safety requirements and standards and can be industrially composted in controlled conditions by degrading in 12 weeks. The manufacture is the Vegware from the Great Britain, with the headquarters in Scotland.

Põltsamaa is an important benefactor of the XXVII Song and XX Dance Celebration “My Fatherland is My Love” and a long-term caterer of the song and dance celebrations who has provided food for the singers and dancers in the celebrations of 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2017.

Watch the photo gallery about the event of April 2 here.

Song Celebration 150. The jubilee year of the Estonian Song and Dance celebration 2019

At the beginning of December, the European cultural heritage year symbolically delivered the tied shoes to the forthcoming year that will highlight and value the tradition of the Estonian Song and Dance celebrations.

It is fully justified to call year 2019 the year of the song and dance celebration since it is the most extraordinary year in the song and dance celebration’s movement within the perspective of the nearest 50 years. In addition to the fact that 150 years have passed from the first Song Celebration and the 85-year old Dance Celebration takes place for the 20th time, the whole year is full of jubilees and anniversaries under the frame of the continued jubilee program of the Republic of Estonia 100.

The highlight of the year is naturally the XXVII Song and XX Dance Celebration “My Fatherland is My Love” and the nationwide relay of the flame preceding it which also has the hint of jubilee. For the first time, the celebration flame was ceremonially brought from Tartu to Tallinn 50 years ago, in 1969. As the Minister of Culture, Indrek Saar, said at the opening the song and dance celebration year, the tradition of the song celebrations is the pillar of the statehood and patriotism and an interconnecting bridge between generations. According to the Minister of Culture, generation by generation – through the contribution of fathers, mothers, children and grandparents who have sung and sung along under the song arch – we have built a future to Estonia with the song and dance celebrations, and where we have sung ourselves free as a nation.

Theme year „Song Celebration 150. Estonian Song and Dance jubilee year” provides several ways for participating in the song and dance celebration for everyone. Several museums open different exhibitions and update their permanent expositions beside the jubilee celebration “My Fatherland is My Love” on July 4-7. There will be tens of different concerts and several educational programs.

The year begins buoyantly with starting of the sale of the tickets for the XXVII Song and XX Dance Celebration on January 10. The most extensive part of the learning process for preparing the jubilee celebrations – 617 preliminary rehearsals in counties all over Estonia – starts at the same time. The first concert from the series „Song Celebration 150“ take place in the St John’s Church in Tallinn on January 13.

Whenever possible, the collectives or organisations might join the participation program “Time Travel” that is led by the Estonian National Museum and the Estonian History and Civics Teachers Association, that invites all interested people to travel back in time to May 1869, approximately a month before the first Song Celebration. People will try to find out how the preparations for going to the song celebration were made, what was discussed and what were points of arguments.

The initiator of the movement of that time, Johann Voldemar Jannsen, would probably be satisfied with us today – six generations later the tradition that he initiated is in its prime and carries the same values and ideas about the Estonian language, spirit and culture as 150 years ago. His son-in-law, Heinrich Rosenthal, writes in his memories that were published in 1912 as follows: „Inspired by the German celebrations, Jannsen organised the Estonian Song Celebration for celebrating the national jubilee in 1869 which became the cradle of the national consciousness. The form was borrowed from Germans but the spirituality that spread, was genuine. Several other celebrations followed the first one that impacted the development of the nation’s life unpredictably.“

This impact, scope and meaning is something we want to learn better via the history, education and culture programs. It is obvious that such an extensive movement could not have travelled through its history of 150 years without farsighted and smart leaders – Jannsen, Härma, Ernesaks, Toomi – and without strenuous and dedicated leaders – thousands of collective leaders – who worked hard from day to day.  In the autumn, when the jubilee celebrations are over, we invite everyone to think along with us and discuss about how to notice and value more the leaders of that movement and what else to do so that the historical role and impact of the song and dance celebrations as the keeper of the core values and balance of the society would last from generation to generation.

Song Celebration 150. The program of the Estonian Song and Dance Celebration jubilee year 2019 is available from January on the homepage of the Song and Dance Celebration. It is also possible to subscribe to the jubilee year’s newsletter. We are open to substantial collaboration and co-works and hope that everyone will add all their jubilee year events also to the culture calendar of our good friend Estonian Institute.

The theme-year takes place by the initiative of the Ministry of Culture and under the leadership of the Foundation Estonian Song and Dance Celebration. We appreciate the cooperation of our friends, partners and everyone who is thinking along with us.

Happy jubilee year of the Estonian Song and Dance celebration 2019 to all of us!

Folk Music Celebration moves to Freedom Square and is free for everyone

The main concert of the folk music party to be held as part of the XXVII Song and XX Dance Celebration on 5 July will be taking place on Freedom Square in Tallinn instead of the initially planned Poolamägi because of the exceptionally high interest of the audiences. The Folk Music Celebration, which is moving to a larger venue, is free for everyone.

According to Juhan Uppin, Creative Director of the Folk Music Celebration, interest in folk music is unusually high in Estonia and it keeps growing every year. “The record number of musicians who registered for the party and rapid ticket sales showed us that Poolamägi would have been too small for folk music lovers this time,” said Uppin. “Therefore, the organisers started looking for alternative solutions and, as requested by the musicians, decided to move the party to the heart of the city. This allows us to welcome many more music lovers.”

Piletilevi will be refunding the tickets bought in advance to the folk music concert of 5 July from Tuesday, 23 April. Piletilevi itself will transfer the money back to those who bought the tickets online. The people who bought their tickets from retail outlets can return them to all Piletilevi outlets, except for Circle K service stations.

The separate repertoires of nine different types of instruments can be heard at the main concert of the folk music party: small zithers, Estonian zithers, chromatic zithers, violins, concertinas, plucked string instruments, accordions, bagpipes and a combined orchestra. All musicians who are not currently playing in a band could also sign up for the party.

“Each instrument will perform five pieces,” said Uppin. “The entire repertoire is related to the main idea of the party, which is ‘My Fatherland is My Love’, and values traditions and maintaining them.” Traditional Estonian pieces as well as some new music will be played in all types. All arrangements will be created specially for this party.

All types will perform at the main concern of the folk music party, which will be held at 14:00 on 5 July on Freedom Square in Tallinn.

The zithers will perform their separate concert “The Night of the Zithers” at the Methodist Church in the evening of 4 July and the buyback of tickets does not concern this.

Read more about ticket refunds on the Piletilevi website: