And The People Sang Themselves Free

Serendipity found one of the local WOSU channels (34.2) airing “To Breath As One”. Quotes from the online synopsis courtesy WOSU: “Every five years, 30,000 people gather on the same stage in the small country of Estonia to join voices at Laulupidu, the National Song Festival, to become the largest choir in the world. More than a song festival, Laulupidu is an Estonian miracle that at least twice in history gave freedom to that country.” The origins of this festival stretch back to 1869, when Estonia independent was not. Estonia came in and out of being in the ensuing years with the identity maintained through song. Asked why such huge choirs would gather to sing Stalinist era Soviet songs at the time, the reply was it created a unity and recognition of capacity which by its actuality could not be denied. Later, in the post Stalinist Soviet years, traditional Estonian folks songs were reconfigured as choral works to justify re-instituting the festival. During the years leading up to the Gorbachev era (and Glasnost), works incorporating Lenin’s writings were used as justification to enlarge and expand the scope of the festival. Everyone knew how to read between the lines. Finally, the demise of Glasnost and the Soviet hold of Estonia likewise came during a huge rock concert where the audience spontaneously broke into patriotic song. The concert, along with the gathering, as well as the songs given voice did not have the proper permits. The gathering swelled and moved to the festival site where it grew and continued for four days. The crowd was too immense to arrest, detain or deport. The “Singing Revolution” had begun. The production portrays “the unique role that music has played for Estonians for over 150 years, as an integral force in maintaining strength and identity for a people who have faced cultural genocide – more than once. From the filmmakers of the acclaimed, “The Singing Revolution”, the film reveals that for Estonians singing is not just a means of cultural expression, but a defining part of their identity.”



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