This impressive, if empty concert venue is the scene of one of the world’s largest amateur choral festivals. Lauluväljak ‘singing ground’ is in the outskirts of Tallinn, Estonia, and every five years hosts combined choirs of up to 30,000, singing to audiences of almost 100,000. Male, female, children’s, and boys choirs, accompanied by several performing bands, filling the air with music, and harmony, an outpouring of joy, and solidarity.
It’s surely quite a show, spectacular to see, and amazing, if possibly deafening to hear. The 26th festival was held in July, 2014, so I’d missed it by a few months. Talk about “after the Lord Mayor’s show, this place must rock at festival time, with plenty of Kodak moment opportunities. I can only imagine the power of this event, but hope one day to experience it, three days of celebrations, which can probably be heard all over Tallinn.
Recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity since 2003, the festival was originally held in Tartu in 1869, and moved to Tallinn way back in 1896. The singing festival gets hosted along with the Estonian Dance Festival, and must be one helluva party.
The Estonian national awakening, where the people began to recognise their rights as a self-governing nation gave birth to the festival. It even survived the Soviet occupation, although several anthems from the communist amalgamation were forced upon the organisers.
The empty site is proudly watched over by the statue of Gustav Ernesaks, fondly known as the “Father of Song”, the choir leader, and composer was a leader of the song movement for nearly half a century.
Even though the festival is over for nearly five years, there was a steady stream of visitors, including a full bus of Japanese tourists, armed with a full range of cameras of course. Where there are tourists, there are souvenir sellers, and several enterprising women selling locally made knitwear, and other crafts had set up shop. I was almost tempted by a particularly colourful matryoshka doll, the famous Russian style nesting dolls, fortunately my guide insisted we needed to leave before I had time to open my wallet.
Each of the festivals have a theme, this year had been “Touched by Time. The Time to Touch”. The organisers explain it perfectly; “This is the story of time manifesting itself in our ancestors’ heritage and us shaping our time through our own touches, contacts, caresses and impacts.” A sentiment worthy of any festival, no wonder 30,000 voices share the message so enthusiastically. The history, hopes, and aspirations of a nation voiced every five years, raising the ‘roof’ on the Estonian capital, Tallinn.
This is not merely a music festival, but a cultural event.