As usual, the repertoire for the Song and Dance Celebration is made up of existing and commissioned works, as well as competition winners. What makes this year’s 13th Youth Song and Dance Celebration different from previous years is that instead of a competition for new songs, in spring 2020 the Song and Dance Celebration collected works and inspiration from the original composers’ contests, where choir pieces, songs, poems, lyrics, instrumental pieces and even folk dances could be submitted. Pärt Uusberg, the main conductor and composer of the Song Festival, and Agne Kurrikoff-Herman, the main director of the Dance Festival, tell us what the contest was like.

How did the original composers’ contest differ from previous competitions for new compositions and new dances? What was its value?

Pärt Uusberg: It was not a competition in the classical sense as usual, it was not necessary to write new songs, but you could also send in previously created works that the authors thought could be performed at a song or dance festival. Of course, you could also write a piece specifically for this festival, based on the idea for the event. It was the first time that repertoire had been sought for a festival in this format, it was a major undertaking and it attracted a wider audience.

Agne Kurrikoff-Herman: The dance festival has previously found new works for its repertoire from the Estonian Folk Dance and Folk Music Society’s new dance competitions. However, the contest was broader in scope, including not only dances but also, for example, music pieces. In addition, the process of reviewing and listening to the works received and the exchange of ideas that went with it was special for me, because it united the organisers of both the dance and song festivals right from the start, it was like setting out on a journey together. What also made the contest special was the co-creation – composers, songwriters and folk music arrangers were involved in the process of preparing the programme for the festival, as well as other people who were not otherwise part of the artistic team. It seemed to me that this time the call became a nice bridge on the road to creating a song and dance festival.

How did the idea for such a contest come about?

Pärt Uusberg: If I remember correctly the idea came from composer Tauno Aints who was involved in the process of commissioning new repertoire. He found that the word ‘competition’ can be a stressful word and can lead to comparisons. We wanted the process to be more open and encouraging.

Overall, how satisfied were you with the outcome of the contest and how difficult was the selection process?

Pärt Uusberg: We received more than 500 pieces which proved that the approach was right – the feedback in the society was large. On the other hand, it has to be said that digging through such a large number of works in such a short period of time made the situation quite difficult for the artistic committee of the Song Festival (which also included Tõnu Kõrvits and Tauno Aints in the evaluation), there was simply so much material.

Otherwise, it was not too difficult, as it was clear from the start that the collection of original compositions would be an extra window from which the repertoire could be brought to the festival, but there was no expectation that the programme of the Song Festival would be largely made up of the works received from the contests. In addition to the contest, works were be commissioned from composers and a selection was made from previously composed choral music. As a result, only the songs that fitted in with the programme of the different choir types were selected and we did not have to bother ranking the works.

Which works were shortlisted?

Agne Kurrikoff-Herman: For the Dance Festival, the nice finds turned out to be folk music interpretations that found new approaches in collaboration with the songwriters, our music director and the authors. In this way, quite a number of wonderful instrumental songs and thus also dances found their way into the repertoire of the Dance Festival. For example, the dance “Mängumops” for the mixed groups of the 2nd and 3rd grades will be danced to Martin Müller’s upbeat tune “Puraviku polka”. Mirjam and Kätlin Kits created a new arrangement for the music, which is interspersed with folk songs added by dance curator director Ulla Helin-Mengel, who also choreographed the dance.

In addition, Piret Laikre’s music “Sporty walk 3 and 4” for mixed groups in grades 3 and 4 was found at the contest, and Arno Tamm created the arrangement for the Dance Festival. This way, the dance “Let’s run together” was choreographed by Ene Jakobson. The dance “Feet on the ground” was created for the mixed group of youngsters. This dance is based on the song “Labajalg”, also by Piret Laikre, with the arrangement by Tonio Tamra and choreography by Aveli Asber.

Pärt Uusberg: The Song Festival programme includes four works from the contest: Martin Sildos’ “Joy has filled the land” for the young children’s choirs, Karin Kuulpak’s “Home” for the children’s choirs, Triin Norman’s “Over Marie’s Land” for the boys’ choirs and Maili Metssalu’s “Myself and the Sea” for the girls’ choirs. Tõnis Kõrvits made a choral arrangement of Maili Metssalu’s song “Mina ja meri” (Myself and the Sea), and Hanna Grete Rebane, the author of the lyrics to Martin Sildos’ song “Rõõm on täitnud maa” (Joy has filled the land), slightly rearranged the text in collaboration with Leelo Tungal to make it more suitable for the Song Festival context.