Choirmasters Vaike Uibopuu, Tiia-Ester Loitme, Hirvo Surva, and Laine Randjärv, as well as the lead conductor of this year's Youth Song and Dance Festival Heli Jürgenson find that the song festival is first and foremost a celebration of the Estonian people, and that Tallinn deputy mayor Mihhail Kõlvart shouldn't be the one to dictate its repertoire.
Choir leaders criticize Kõlvart's utterance
Center Party's Kõlvart said on ETV's “Suud puhtaks” program on Wednesday that song festivals would definitely see more Russians attend were they to include at least one song in Russian.
Long-time choirmaster and music teacher Uibopuu (77) said she was forced to present song festival programs to Soviet authorities back in the day. “So I would have Lenin, Russian folk songs. I've been read one too many lecture,” she said.
The head of the 1985 festival recalled that one time she has to explain why there weren't enough labor songs. “I was wondering what is this now and was told that being a hardworking nation, we'd need some labor songs. I was also planning to include quite a lot of classical music in Latin, spiritual songs. I was asked whether I knew the state had been separated from the church?” Uibopuu said.
The conductor said that everyone living in Estonia, whether Russian, Ukrainian etc., must speak Estonian instead of being proud they haven't learned. “It is an Estonian song festival after all,” she said.
Uibopuu added that we are approaching a milestone – 2019 will mark the passing of 150 years from the very first song festival. “For people who know the first thing about history and Estonian choirs, this is a sacred holiday. It is the only place on Earth that is ours,” she said.
Uibopuu said that otherwise song festivals would have to have a day of nations, like it was in Soviet times. “I feel prioritizing Russian over Ukrainian or Udmurt and Mari languages would be wrong – these peoples are our kin,” she said.
“Kõlvart is clueless,” said former choirmaster of Ellerhein girls' choir and many-time head of choirs and the festival Loitme (83). She emphasized that a lot of singers are already from other nationalities, as is the case concerning the audience.
“It is not a case of excluding Russians. There are plenty of them there, side by side with us. Just as we live side by side in everyday life, work, and music, we have no problem standing side by side in a symphonic orchestra or a major international choir. It's simply that some people need there to be a problem,” Loitme said.
Surva (53), who has been the head conductor and art director of song festivals since 1991, said that whether to sing in Estonia or Russian is not a problem.
“Music is music, and music has its own language,” he said. “Whether a Russian song would be suitable in the repertoire of the song festival depends on the program concept. The latter is based on music and theme.”
Reform Party MP, choirmaster Randjärv (52) said that no politician should dictate the festival's repertoire as the matter is up to the art director and his team.
Head conductor for this year's XII Youth Song and Dance Festival Jürgenson (48) said that politicians who have no idea how to put together a festival program should not make relevant statements. “The time when we had to sing about Lenin as pioneers is over,” she said.
Jürgenson explained that work on the festival's repertoire began two and a half years ago. Songs are picked based on how well they fit the program and context.
The master of ceremonies wished to commend all Russian schools and educational institutions for getting very high marks during song festival rehearsals and often singing Estonian songs better than Estonian children. She recalled how she recently visited a Russian school where the children were wearing Estonian national dress, dancing Estonian folk dances, and singing songs, and where they lit a symbolic song festival fire.