five years, Estonia mounts a massive chorale festival called Laulupidu. Do not
expect to hear “The Internationale” on the program anytime soon. Traditionally
more than a concert, Laulipidu provided a venue for several extraordinary
spontaneous acts of defiance during the Soviet years. Today, it continues as a
symbol of Estonian freedom and a celebration of its culture. It is a big deal
for the small number of international choirs that are invited to participate.
For the Piedmont Children’s Choir, it will also be a world-expanding learning
experience. With co-directors Bestor Cram and Mike Majoros, Singing Revolution filmmakers James and
Maureen Castle Tusty return to Laulupido to follow the Piedmont choir’s journey
in To Breathe as One (trailer here), which premieres
on PBS World Channel this Friday.
the Tustys documented in their previous film, even a heavily armed police state
cannot silence thirty thousand voices singing in harmony. Frankly, the Estonians
never fully submitted to their Communist occupiers. When cracks started appearing
in the Iron Curtain, Estonia’s chorale tradition played a critical role
unifying the renewed resistance. It is an inspiring story chronicled with sensitivity
and authority in the Tustys’ The Singing
Revolution, but they also provide a fine abridgment in Breathe.
members of the Piedmont performance ensemble (predominantly high school and
perhaps some middle school students) will come to appreciate that history as
they learn their Estonian repertoire. The conscientious efforts of their
director Robert Geary to connect the difficult pronunciations to their deeper
cultural and historic meanings clearly bear fruit. In fact, they probably
understand Baltic history better than most of our current foreign policy decision-makers
(sadly, a pathetically low bar to clear).
great deal of Breathe captures the
Piedmont Choir’s person-to-person diplomacy, as they befriend and perform with
their Estonian counterparts rather easily. It might sound pleasant but rather
precious, in a “human interest” kind of way. However, the striking scale of the
Laulupidu backdrop is not just photogenic. It provides a constant reminder of
the wider significance of the festival.
if you do not think chorale music is your bag, the performances at Laulupidu
will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. You can literally
hear one hundred fifty years of tumultuous history crescendoing in triumph over
their Czarist and Communist oppressors. It is also a timely reminder of the
precariousness of liberty, particularly in light of Putin’s expansionist
ambitions. Does anyone seriously think the Obama administration has a plan of
response should the Russians move against our Baltic NATO allies?
While they stand alone, the macro Singing Revolution and micro Breathe would be even better viewed in
tandem. Both films are highly recommended for students, but Breathe will likely be somewhat more
accessible for young viewers. A must-see for lovers of freedom and chorale
music, To Breathe as One airs this
Friday (6/27) on PBS World Channel.
Labels: Chorale Music, Communism, Documentary, Estonia, Laulupidu