Yesterday (06.07.2014) was the day of the 26th Estonian Song Festival – the biggest national party that’s held here every five years. A little backstory: the tradition of countrywide song festivals in Estonia began in 1869, when 46 male choirs and five orchestras gathered together in the city of Tartu (the first song festival featured only men, mixed choirs featured first in 1891, and all-female choirs in 1896, regularly from 1933). 878 people performed. It laid the foundation for a national awakening and National Song Festivals have been an inseparable part of Estonian culture ever since. They are our main tool for defining ourselves and have always been events entwined with our yearning for independence, while simultaneously emphasizeing our oneness. During Soviet occupation, these song festivals were the most prolific regular patriotic events inside the Soviet Union – happenings that even the governing force majeure couldn’t impale nor stifle by forcing propagandistic themes into the programme. Thus, Estonia’s struggle for freedom under Soviet rule is known under the name “The Singing Revolution”.
Nowadays about 30 000 singers perform to a crowd over three times that size (which is a lot considering Estonia’s whole population is 1.3 million), all united in a positive, patriotic, uplifting circle of celebration. I didn’t go this year (as a spectator of course, thy higher powers have not blessed me with a particularly impressive set of pipes), which I’m more than a little ashamed over. It’s not that I couldn’t go, but I decided to sleep off and physically refreshen myself instead of attending after getting next to no sleep during the few days that preceded it. I was there mentally though, since I watched most of the event from behind my TV screen, and even though it obviously doesn’t compare to being on the spot, I still felt touched and uplifted. The thing is, there is still no greater patriotic event to be found in the whole wide world; the kind of positive energy the Estonian Song Festival deals out to Estonians both on the spot and watching at home, it’s unmatched anywhere else. The day of the festival is always a celebration already in itself, and the festival, for us, has the ability to erase all else, erase all the negative, even if only for a day.
This year’s event carried the title “Touch of time. Time of touch”, and to me, the most touching, ageless song that is always performed at the festival is “Ta Lendab Mesipuu Poole” (“He Flies Towards the Beehive”). I’ve long discovered that I’m actually really poor at writing about things I love. I think that comes down to the eventuality that when something deeply touches your soul, it’s all about the feeling itself. You can share the moment, you can try to describe it, but you can’t objectively convey the powerful, sweeping emotions you feel on the scale you actually experience them, at least when it comes to me.
“Ta Lendab Mesipuu Poole” is one of those soul-touching songs that I can never fully explain to people why I love as much as I do, at least not in writing and in a structured form, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try to do it anyway. The pathos, the message, the “bound to strive” feel, the power, the melody – everything about the song is perfect, yet those descriptors still don’t do it enough justice in my mind. It manages to resonate with me on a level that contains my very essence, and truly, that’s the most you can ask from a piece of art from an individual standpoint. There is no other Estonian choral song that I love nearly as much as I do “Ta Lendab Mesipuu Poole” (and we have some great, great choral songs). I’m not afraid to say that even our national anthem pales slightly in comparison to its greatness – if it was up to me, “Ta Lendab…” would be our anthem instead. Whenever I think of Estonia and its people, that is the song that comes to mind first. And I’m not alone in loving it: yesterday, when the official part of the concert had ended, all you could hear the crowd chant was “mesipuu, mesipuu, mesipuu.” So even though it is in Estonian and most of you will not be able to understand it, I want to post here two videos of this great song (one from 2004, because it sounds fantastic, and this year’s), and by doing so, I hope to share with you at least a fraction of the feelings that usually emerge when I hear “Ta Lendab Mesipuu Poole” – the quintessential Estonian choral song.
*While it’s impossible to properly translate a song from one language to another without sacrificing some of its delicate lyricism and (in this case) powerful message, especially if the song in question originates from a poem, I’ll provide a very rough translation for the sake of giving some context.
** Further footage from the 2014 Estonian Song Festival can be found over at Rahvusringhääling’s youtube page