Please note that there are THREE student blog posts for Saturday May 28.
May 28 – Dustin Eubanks, sophomore bass, international relations major
“Revolution” is not a simple word.
The Drake Choir sang Saturday at the famous Song Festival Grounds in Estonia. The Grounds, characterized by acres of well-cared for grasses and sidewalks—all directing visitors to the expansive white and concrete stage which is built to sort of grow out of the ground—have hosted many Song Festivals, which are an Estonian tradition dating back to 1869. Every five years, Estonians gather in Tallinn to process to the Festival Grounds in a mass choir, which nowadays numbers around 30,000 participants, with an additional hundreds of thousands of audience members often joining the choir in singing the songs of Estonia.
No event on these grounds, though, has been more significant than the “Singing Revolution.” At the end of the 1980’s, as the Soviet Union began to crumble, the Estonian bid for independence was sewn into history’s weave as Estonians at the grounds in 1988 linked arms and sang of their people and heritage. They sang what is now their unofficial national anthem:
Mu isamaa on minu arm (My Fatherland is my love),
kel südant annud ma (to whom I’ve given my heart)…
In one of the most peaceful revolutions in history, Estonians sang their way to independence. Over 300,000 Estonians gathered at these grounds and defied not only the Soviet occupation, but also their history that is characterized almost entirely by occupation from foreign lands. We, the Drake Choir, learned this song of revolution and did our best to recreate the sentiments associated with it—powerful, defiant, and emotional:
sull’ laulan ma, mo ülem õnn, (to You I sing, my greatest happiness),
mo õitsev Eestimaa! (my flowering Estonia!)
There we stood beneath the arching stage shell that has, for many years, projected pride and identity in their greatest forms to the whole of the Estonian land. A small audience of tourists, training athletes, and the adults with our choir formed as we paid tribute—in the smallest but most significant of ways—to the event that made our visit to the Grounds possible.
So valu südames mul keeb, (Your pain boils in my heart),
so õnn ja rõõm mind rõõmsaks teeb, (Your pride and joy makes me happy),
mu isamaa! (my Fatherland!)
We must acknowledge that we were not singing of culture and nation in the face of armed Soviet troops. We must acknowledge that we do not and cannot know the sentiments associated with the events themselves. We must acknowledge that only Estonia and its neighbors may truly understand what it is to be beaten down for your entire existence—only to eventually rise above.
Mu isamaa on minu arm, (my Fatherland is my Love),
ei teda jäta ma, (I must never leave Him),
ja peaksin sada surma ma (even if I must die a hundred deaths)
see pärast surema! (because of Him!)
After singing Mu isamaa on minu arm, we also sang two of our own pieces: Shenandoah and Os Justi. To truly understand just how large the stage was—and thus, how significant 30,000 singers truly are—we spread out to start Shenandoah, and slowly walked back together as the piece progressed. The longing and passion of the choir’s members was quickly evident in rolling tears and the tightly held hands that formed a circle in which ABC and Dr. David Puderbaugh, a Drake Choir alumnus and the Associate Director of Choral Activities at The University of Iowa (and who was a Fulbright Scholar in Estonia; he was responsible for introducing us to Mu isamaa, teaching us how to sing it in Estonian, and who helped us, via a presentation at Drake early in May and throughout our tour, to understand Estonians’ love for singing, commitment to their country in spite of oppression, and the significance of this special song) took part.
Kas laimab võõra kadedus (Envy makes strangers slander you),
sa siiski elad südames (You are still alive in my heart),
mu isamaa, mu isamaa! (my Fatherland, my Fatherland!)
Through the rest of the day, groups oscillated between the infamous TV tower—where Soviet troops were unable to penetrate the resistance of Estonians to Soviet aggression—and the Museum of Occupations, in which artifacts of the various occupations of Estonia are strewn in cabinets, and videos characterized by historical interviews and news reels capture in images a time of oppression and lost dignity. Both were fascinating; both are heavy in the significance they hold. But optimism rests on the back side of conflict, and to know these are sites for touring comforts us; history is only history because it no longer exists.
Mu isamaa on minu arm, (My Fatherland is my love),
ja tahan puhata, (I want to have a rest).
su rüppe heidan unele (I will lie down in your lap)
Mu püha Eestimaa. (My holy Estonia).
Peace and rest were gifted to Estonians in an evening concert at St. John’s Church, which is located in Victory Square and was just a short walk from our hotel. In collaboration with the well-known Tallinn-based choir Voces Musicales, Drake Choir and Chamber Choir gave fantastic, heartfelt performances that brought smiles to the sometimes-somber faces of the audience. True, some of them may not have understood what we were saying; but they knew when we were singing of beauty or sadness or sheer joy, and sometimes that is enough. The final song of the concert was none other than Shenandoah, sung jointly by Voces Musicales and the Drake Choir, and it was sung with a glorious and warm sound—a nod to our own folk song on a day in which we chiefly appreciated Estonia’s history and sense of place in the world.
Su linnud und mull’ laulavad, (Your birds are singing me to sleep),
mu põrmust lilled õitsetad, (Flowers are blooming from me),
mu isamaa, (my Fatherland),
mu isamaa! (my Fatherland)!
In song and in graciousness, the revolution of heart that accompanies singing was most certainly the theme of this warm, breezy Saturday in Estonia. We depart Sunday for the final leg of our tour to Helsinki, Finland, and, while excited, I think the choir will greatly miss Tallinn and its role as a capsule for independence, for liberty, and for revolution in the most unconventional—but perhaps most wonderful—of ways: song.
Until next time, Estonia. Here’s to your wonder.
May 28 – Anna Marceau, junior alto, pharmacy major
Another day here in Tallinn; our last in this city, unfortunately. We started our day with a trip to a place that Estonians hold very dear to their hearts: the Song Festival Grounds. For those of you who haven’t been studying Estonian culture for the past 9 months, Estonia holds a national song festival every 5 years (the next will be in 2019) that celebrates their national heritage through songs both old and new. As a choir, we had been preparing for and looking forward to this particular excursion for quite a while.
You see, to Estonians this festival grounds is much more than a place–it’s a feeling, a sense of pride, the birthplace of the revolution, holy ground. It is here where, during the Soviet occupation, something that seems almost too mythical to accept as reality occurred. Here, at the conclusion of a national festival program, a few voices rose out of the choir singing “Mu isamaa on minu arm”, a song that speaks of the great fatherland, Estonia. A song forbidden by the Soviet regime after its first performance at a national festival slipped by the Soviet censors. And yet, the few voices grew in number, until the conductor was faced with a choice: refuse to acknowledge the singing and leave the podium as planned, or unite these voices in an anthem to Estonia and Estonia alone. He chose the latter, christening what has now become known as the singing revolution. In the United States, we learn about the “shot heard ’round the world” during our own revolution. In contrast to the imagery of a gunshot starting a bloody, violent war, Estonia’s peaceful revolution started with a song. The Drake Choir, with the guidance of Dr. David Puderbaugh (a Drake Choir alumnus who participated in the first internatonial tour in 1992 and a Fullbright scholar who lived in Estonia during his research) learned this piece of music, and this morning we had the opportunity to sing it on the grounds where it was first given life as a revolutionary song, and where it gave life to a revolution years later.
It is impossible to stand on that stage, a stage that holds 30,000 people who gather in traditional national dress and sing songs that have been passed through generations, and not feel a significance, a heaviness, a weight of responsibility to keep this song, and the spirit of Estonia alive and well. After we sang “Mu isamaa on minu arm”, we sang “Shenandoah” in an interesting formation. We began the piece while spread out around the massive stage and then slowly walked back into formation and finished the song as one unit, with no conductor. With limited time to spend at the grounds, we quickly circled up and sang “Os Justi,” a song that, similar to “Shenandoah,” unites all Drake Choir members past and present in common song. To add to the enchantment of it all, Dr. ABC joined the circle to sing. I had the privilege of standing next to her, and it was a powerful experience. I felt like I was doing something beyond singing. I opened my mouth and it was a pure emotion that poured out, feeling the voices of prior members thickly present in the air.
Next, my group headed to the TV Tower, another site for revolutionary activity. During the Soviet regime, Estonia and other Baltic States had begun to discuss declaring independence. Estonian politicians officially declared their independence even as Soviet tanks were looming in the countryside, and Soviet troops descended on the TV Tower to cut off free media communications. Brave volunteers refused to be intimidated by the troops and placed a single matchbox in the door of the elevator such that it would not operate, forcing soldiers to climb the 1,000+ stairs to the top of the towers, where radio controllers were frantically broadcasting the news that the tower was under attack. Soon, a human circle formed around the tower, protecting their free media and, like the entire revolution, peacefully letting it be known that they would be occupied no more. Catapulting into the sky on the elevator of that very tower, I was struck by the fact that a single, simple matchbox, so often used for destruction and violence, helped bring peace and unity to a country and its people.
Next, we took a short trip to the Museum of Occupations, a donor-funded exhibit hall that contains artifacts relating to the Soviet occupation of Estonia. Our local guide, Mal, talked about her own family during this tour, telling us about her aunt, who fled in a boat to Sweden carrying only a small purse and later moved to the United States, never seeing her family or Estonia again. She also mentioned that her husband had been an Estonian dissident who was sentenced to five years of hard labor in Siberia. (He subsequently became a director of this museum.) However, she was one of the lucky ones; many of these small rowboats and fishing boats did not survive the harrowing winter sail.
This museum, I believe, helped us truly grasp the scope of the oppression of the Soviet regime. Mal told us about the 20-year wait lists for things like apartments, cars, even telephones. I think the choir, who of course has known nothing but freedom our entire lives, finally realized how amazing it is that the Baltic States revolted against this world power peacefully and successfully.
After a morning that felt like I had lived an entire lifetime (in the best way possible), it was time to fuel up, don my formalwear, and give a concert. Tonight we collaborated with Voces Musicales, a famous Estonian choir that Dr. David Puderbaugh sang in and later conducted during his time here. Dr. Puderbaugh had taught them the Drake Choir arrangement of “Shenandoah” two years ago when he was living in Estonia while on sabbatical, so we actually had repertoire in common, allowing us to sing a piece together, rather than simply both performing on the same concert. They are an extremely talented group of singers, and I feel honored to have shared a stage and a song with them. Drake Choir, during its portion of the concert truly pushed ourselves to the next level, in my opinion, improving on past successes while overcoming past disappointments. We are getting better with every concert, and how could we not? As I’ve been saying all during our tour, how can you be upset while on a concert trip to Europe with 70 of your closest friends?
May 28 – Ben Schultz, first-year bass, business major
I asked to do another blog post for this tour today, but I honestly do not even know how to begin putting today into words.
Today, I stood at the threshold of history. I walked on ground that thousands before me walked on. I stood where thousands stood previously. I sang the song that many sang to begin a revolution and continue to sing to celebrate it. Today, I became a part of a nation’s unbelievable history.
You will not be able to understand the gravity of today unless I give you some of the heartbreaking history of the beautifully peaceful Estonian people. In 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the USSR and Germany was signed, giving Soviets complete control over Estonia. This was not the first time, and certainly not the last, that Estonia was occupied. From doing extensive research for an essay on pre-WWII and WWII Russia, I can tell you life was inexplicably horrific even for native Russians. Stalin’s plans to industrialize the nation and create a nation that obeyed his every command without a whisper of dissent led to millions of dead from starvation, beatings, poverty, exhaustion, executions, KGB coming in the middle of the night and making people disappear, and being deported to Siberia.
Now imagine all of these staggering evils on a country whose people are not even native Russians. Life as Estonians knew it was forever changed; they could not fight their occupation because they never had an established government or army to stave off this sort of thing, so they lived, oppressed, for centuries, controlled by Sweden, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany. Soviets controlled almost every aspect of life for the people they occupied. Citizens were not allowed phones in their houses, and they had to apply for special licenses just to buy a car. The KGB installed cameras and listening devices in almost every apartment and hotel, spying on citizens to check for any anti-Soviet mutterings. If any was heard, there would be a knock on the door later that night, and the dissenter would likely never be heard from again. Estonians were brutally de-cultured; they were all given Russian ID’s and were banned from displaying the Estonian flag. Everything these beautiful people knew crumbled before their eyes; all they had left was poverty and pain. The occupation went on until 1991, with Germany gaining control during WWII only to directly relinquish control to the Russians again. Estonians were pitted against each other as some worked for the Communist regime. Estonia was losing everything.
Estonia holds a song festival every 5 years dating back to 1869. During Soviet occupation, Soviets controlled what music was sung to make sure nothing anti-Soviet or pro-revolution was being sung. One year, the piece “Mu isamaa on minu arm” slipped by the Communist screening and was sung. The piece glorifies the “Fatherland I love” and was immediately banned from song festivals. After a large crowd at the 1960 song festival began singing the piece, it was included in the program for 1965. After singing the piece once, however, the audience erupted in an encore of a piece they began to cherish as their cultural identity. Even while Soviet military action took place to silence the crowd, the song swelled on. “Mu isamaa” became a symbol for the revolution.
In 1987, the “Singing Revolution” started with “Mu isamaa” sparking Estonians to start singing forbidden national hymns. 1987-1991 was a time of civil disobedience to Soviet rule characterized by the singing of the beloved Estonian song. The Revolution came to a head in 1991 when the Estonian Congress declared their independence. Soviets marched tanks and soldiers on the TV tower in Tallinn that was broadcasting this news, but they were stopped by miles of Estonians standing hand-in-hand on the side of the highway blocking their path and singing independence songs. Tens of thousands of Estonians stood in a line that was miles long to show their support for independence. These people were willing to die for the cause. Eventually, the Soviets had to withdraw from the tower, and by doing so, withdrew from Estonia. 1991. That was the year Estonia became independent. My sister is almost that old. This country has been independent for only 25 years. They suffered through centuries of torture and only became free because of the power of their cultural identity found in that famous song, “Mu isamaa on minu arm.”
That is why today was so important. Music sparked a revolution.
Today, we stood on the festival grounds. The stage is massive. The song festival stage holds 30,000 participants and countless more in the audience. As I looked at the gigantic half-shell making up the festival stage, I couldn’t help but be lost in the grandeur of this moment. I was standing where countless millions have stood before me. I was standing where 30,000 and the entire audience raised their voice in defiance of the abominable Soviet rule to sing a song that united them all under their common cultural identity and sparked a revolution. I looked out onto the massive grounds for audience members to stand in and marvel at the spectacle. How small am I? How small was everyone on that stage when “Mu isamaa” was first sung as an act of defiance? What could make them stand up against Soviet rules, knowing the possible punishments? I imagined the field full of people, people living in fear, not knowing where the next meal would come from, not knowing if they or a loved one would get that ominous knock on the door in the dead of night, not knowing who they are. I imagined myself as one of those brave souls who raised their voice to proclaim their love for their fatherland, and then we sang. We stood on sacred ground and honored Estonia by singing “Mu isamaa.” I was in tears by the end.
Everyone on the grounds stopped. The world stood still while we honored this amazing tradition. I still cannot put this feeling into words. How can you? I will never know what Soviet oppression was like. I will hopefully never know what occupation, extreme poverty, or loss of basic freedoms is like. These are the things we take for granted. These are the things Estonians sang for in 1965, from 1987-1991, and every 5 years at the festival. These are the things I sang for today.
We ended our time there by singing “Shenandoah” and “Os Justi,” but I will forever remember “Mu isamaa.” That is almost certain to be the last time I will ever perform that song. How lucky I am to honor the beautiful, peaceful, musical people of Estonia by singing the song that defines who they are at the place that began the arduous struggle for freedom. I will forever remember this day, and I will probably never be able to put it into words. I could have stayed for hours just sitting on the stage looking at the grounds. I joined history.
After our time at the Song Festival Grounds, we visited both the Museum of Occupation and the TV tower that stood as the final piece in the puzzle of independence. Both were equally breathtaking, educational, and thought-provoking. These Estonian people suffered insurmountably for centuries under Russian rule, never noticed or helped by the outside world until the 90’s. I am beyond blessed and grateful to be born where I was in the situation I was born in. I cannot thank ABC enough for this amazing opportunity.
One of our tour guides, Külli, was actually a member of the line of people standing in resistance to the Soviets, so hearing stories from her is incredible. On top of being an amazing tour guide and doing just about everything in the world, she also does ceramics. After our tour of the TV tower, a group of friends and I stopped by her shop. Most of her stuff was already packed up to head to an art show tomorrow, but there were a few things left that we bought from her. We then bought some groceries from a store and ate a beautiful picnic on the banks of the canal running along the outside of the old town. I enjoyed incredible views and even better friends.
Our concert was held in yet another church named St. John’s and located in the square in which the procession to the Song Festival Grounds take place every five years. The inside of the church was simple, yet beautiful. The walls were not ornately decorated, some of the windows were plain glass, and there was a general lack of decoration many people ascribe to European churches. This church, however, was strikingly beautiful in its own way. I cannot put my finger on it, but the space was incredible. The simplicity of the church was charming and welcoming. The acoustics were very warm and inviting. We sounded incredible in there tonight!
In our pre-concert rehearsal, ABC mentioned that we seemed a little disinterested, and she was not wrong. Honestly, I was a little upset by this because the day had been so incredible to this point that it would have been a travesty to not finish with a beautiful concert. There were definitely distractions at the beginning of the concert, though. In particular, one old man was standing and waving, almost trying to throw all of us off. He was ushered out after our first two songs, but it was incredibly difficult for us to focus during that. In spite of all that lingered over us, this concert was, in my opinion, the best one of tour BY FAR. We sang every phrase with intention and care. We focused all of our energy on ABC, partially in the beginning to keep from being distracted by the old man and then probably because we sounded so incredible we figured we might as well continue. The “Agnus Dei,” my personal favorite piece, a cry for peace and mercy from God, was dedicated to Estonia today. ABC announced before the piece that we were singing it in honor of Estonia nearing its 25th anniversary of independence. (The 25th anniversary will occur on August 20 of this year.) The audience members, most of whom understood, nodded approvingly, put on a smile and sat back, having no idea what was coming. We sang the first note, and every one after flowed. It was truly an out-of-body experience. I was singing every note with intention and purpose while simultaneously seeing audience members shed tears and also thinking of the gravity of the Singing Revolution and dedicating this song to a nation. I had goosebumps the entire song and was moved to tearing up. I will also never be able to put this song into words (maybe I shouldn’t have volunteered to do the post for today), but I can truly say that for everyone who missed this song today, they will never hear anything else in their life comparable to that rendition. I was floored.
Voces Musicales, a semi-professional choir from Estonia, followed Drake Choir in the program. In my opinion, Voces was the best choir I have ever heard. There were less than 30 singers, but they filled the entire space. Every phrase was sung with clarity, direction, and purpose. Their voices blended as one magnificent breath. I was so incredibly inspired by their music that it made me seriously consider doing Fullbright or some sort of English teaching in Estonia (a lot of people at Drake do this after senior year in some capacity) just to live in Estonia and have the chance to be in such an amazing choir. I truly was speechless after their portion of the concert. They were better than I could ever describe, so I am going to stop fumbling with my words before I do them any more injustices by attempting to explain their beauty with words that can never come close to capturing it. All I can say is I was moved in ways I have never been moved before. I clung to every note they sang.
Chamber Choir performed next, and they sounded absolutely fabulous. It must have been extremely difficult to follow Voces with the performance they put on, but did they ever rise to the challenge! They delivered an incredibly emotional and powerful segment, executing their difficult pieces with mastery. I was incredibly moved by their performance as well. Drake Choir finished the performance with 3 pieces, all of which felt like the best performances of them we had ever done, but we were not finished with the concert quite yet. Many of you know that once every four years; that is, in an international tour year, ABC teaches “Shenandoah” and “Os Justi” to her students, a tradition dating back to 1992, coincidentally the year that a certain Dr. David Puderbaugh was in the Drake Choir. This Dr. Puderbaugh is a good friend of ABC’s and is with us on the trip because he sang and conducted Voces years ago when he was a Fulbright Scholar in Estonia (He also participated in the Song Festival. I am SO JEALOUS.) While Dr. Puderbaugh was conducting Voces several years ago, he taught them the same rendition of “Shenandoah” that ABC taught him in college and taught us this year. We closed the concert with Voces joining us on stage for a joint performance of this folk song.
“Shenandoah” has meant an incredible amount to me this year. Obviously in my first year at college, I went through a lot of changes. I found a new home at Drake, but my parents also moved to another state at the end of my first semester. The words to “Shenandoah” speak of a longing for home, an intense passion that burns deep, beckoning one to their roots, and these lyrics took on a life of their own as I am now trying to get used to a new house, city, state, neighborhood, and crowd. The people I love back in my forever home in Missouri are not gone, but seem much further away than ever before, and every time I sing this song, I think of those people. I think of my old home, pretty much the only one I have memories of. I think of my town and everything I know and love and how it will never be the same, and I sing for that. For that reason, this song has incredible meaning to me. Today, though, it meant so much more. I was halfway around the world from my parents, other friends, and my job. I was singing with strangers, but they were singing with the same passion I was. This song unites Drake Choir alums and it had the same effect tonight with the singers in Voces Musicales. It was beyond incredible to see how this piece affects everyone, regardless of age, language, culture, or religion.
This song is powerful! Music is powerful! It unites choirs of people who have seemingly nothing in common, letting them create wonderful music, just as it united an entire country, made them bold enough to lay down their lives to fight for their country, culture, and freedom. Music is powerful. Music is a gift. Music can change the world.