Song and Dance Celebration

Today’s song in my head is a tune I heard the whole weekend at a festival:

I was away in Estonia this past weekend. An Estonian friend and colleague invited me to come see one of their song and dance celebrations. From the 1st to the 3rd of July was the 11th Youth Song and Dance Celebration in Tallinn. It was such a privilege to be there and I am not sure I will be able to put into words exactly how amazing it all was (especially using English as a second language!).

I know almost nothing about the culture on that side of Europe and although I have been the furthest away from home I could possibly be (New Zealand, literally the other side of the world from Portugal), this weekend trip was definitely the furthest away culturally I have ever been.

I am now glad I experienced the hot Baltic Summer with daylight until 1am (it could be later, I’m not sure), the home sauna experience, the mix of cutting edge attitudes with respect for tradition, and, of course, an event that had me watching about 30’000 choir singers perform!

I don’t think 3 days are enough to grasp a foreign culture but what I was able to perceive was that the Estonians have an intense respect for music in all its forms.

Their attitude towards music is amazing! It’s more than a non-elitist attitude towards music*. They not only accept that all can participate (sing, play, dance), but they believe it can be taught to all and all can learn how to do it. They don’t diminish the complexity of music or pretend that it’s easy. They don’t dumb it down. They accept its complexity and simply find ways to deal with it so that it’s accessible to all, so that all can be taught how to sing, dance or play an instrument.

This was the main point I gathered from my field trip: for Estonians, music is not only something you listen to, but something you make with others. I am now really curious as to how this spills into daily life, as individuals and as a society. I want to look it up, see markers for well-being in Estonia and see if they differ from other places.

Together with this respect for music, I also feel they seem to have a really respectful attitude towards life and the world around them. They don’t seem afraid to embrace the future but they also aren’t embarrassed or afraid to remember the past, where they come from, and maintain the positive traditions that make them unique as a culture.

They also don’t seem afraid of inter-generation bonding, something sometimes disregarded and even a stigma where I come from (and I suspect most of the western world): “what? you’re hanging out with your parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles this weekend? Loser!”.

This weekend looked to me as an amazing display of a nation’s unity. The coordination needed to put together something with such a large scale can only be understood in a context of cooperation. Anywhere else this would have been turned immediately from a celebration into a competition. But not in Estonia. Here was the majority of the nation’s youth, coming together to simply make music together. Must be an amazing bonding experience!

For me it was an incredible emotional experience. I couldn’t understand one word of the language but the musical language is universal and that I understood. It only made me sad to think that it’s not a worldwide phenomena and that I will never be able to experience such a celebration in my nation!

I am placing it as one of the top 5 wonders of humanity! In first place!! If you have the chance, don’t miss one of Estonia’s song or dance celebrations. The next big one is in 2014!

Check the dance performance here (unless you speak Estonian, the fun starts around 18 minutes) and the singing celebration here.

*I don’t think I have discussed the elitist/non-elitist view before but just so you know, in the western world most of us have an elitist attitude towards music and particularly music-making; we believe it is something special and out of reach of most of us; singing is something only a few privileged people are born with and the rest of us are limited to listening to that elite perform; like never before in human history, music is nowadays mostly non-participatory, something that only a few do and the majority listens…


About Rita BA

I read, I write, I think, I dream, I write a bit more...
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