One Oregonian's Trip to the Song Festival (1)

Emily Ferguson
7/3/2014 4:20 PM
Category: Laulupidu
The Song Festival is a shared moment for Estonia, but it also means something different to every person who experiences it. It's not just Estonians who have a great emotional investment in the quinquennial event. Emily Ferguson, a 22-year-old theology student from Oregon City, Oregon, told Stuart Garlick of ERR News her story. It would be a story carrying much less impact were it chopped and quoted, so below are her words on the passion for Estonia that brought Emily to Estonia for the first time, on a quest to see the Song Festival this year.

It all started as a Senior, back in 2009 at Oregon City High School, singing as a soprano and alto in their Master Choir, under the direction of Ms. Amy Amott. She was a beautiful soul, with a deeply compassionate heart for Estonian people. That winter our choir decided to take on a challenge piece; a song no one in our region has done, or frankly really heard of. At the time, we didn't even know what we were getting ourselves into. The main rule for a Challenge piece is that it has to be in a foreign language, and the singers have to learn about the culture of the people group, as well as the reason and context of the piece.

We chose a piece that, at first didn't even sound choral to my then-ignorant ear - "Raua Needmine" (Curse Upon Iron), by Veljo Tormis. As a choir we preformed Raua Needmine for a league choir competition, where we would be judged as well as get scores to qualify us for state. Our judge was a man named Lonnie Cline, a conductor and choral director from Clackamas Community College, as well as an alumni choir called Unistus. Cline was very much moved by our performance. He has personal connections with the composer, as well as taking his choir over for the song festival when it comes around. He is a very active member in the West Coast Estonian community. So, in respect for a people he loved dearly, he then took it upon himself to take us under his wing and properly teach us how to sing the Estonian piece, so that we would honor it in the way it deserved to be.

Lonnie communicated with Tormis, who communicated to us through him. And together, we were brilliant. Word quickly got out in the Estonian community what our humble little choir was doing. and it is safe to say that by the time we had our big performance, we had an audience of many Estonians. Which then turned into an invitation to sing Raua that summer in the West Coast Estonian Days festival in Portland.

Without much hesitation, the choir's response was unanimous. My world quickly became saturated in Estonian Everything. I read everything I could get my hands on. I watched the documentary The Singing Revolution so many times that I ended up purchasing it. I was in love with everything I read. and became so connected to a people I hardly knew, having never been to their homeland.

I graduated from high school that year, and I was still hungry for Estonian music. I quickly got myself involved in both Lonnie Cline’s choirs. I was part of the first American performance of the Estonian Requiem, by Cyrillus Kreek. In just a few months, I went from never even hearing of the country, to being as immersed in the Estonian culture as one could on this side of the world. Estonia stole my heart. And it has been hers ever since. I am yet to be able to watch The Singing Revolution without shedding many tears of just true love and adoration for Estonia.

Writing this all out, I am still trying to figure out how these people have made home in my heart. Today, Sadly choral music has had to be put on the back burner do to me studying hard at university to become a Pastor. I miss it every day. Lonnie’s Choir is in Estonia for the festival, an opportunity that was of course available to me, that I sadly, with many tears shed, had to turn down due to the time commitment of the practices conflicting with my job and schooling. It was THE hardest thing I had had to do in a long time. I felt like I was giving up, and handing over the only chance of fulfilling my dream to not only go to Estonia, but also be a part of the festival.

Despite it all, deep down I knew that I will would still be crossing the Atlantic ocean and placing my feet on Estonian soil. I had no grounds for this feeling. I just knew. So, this brings us here. To the present day, in Tallinn Old Town. Though I'm not part of a choir this weekend, my passion is music. So, all in all, I haven't slept soundly in a couple weeks due to the constant state of awe I am in. Because, who actually gets to live their dreams? Not many people.

Lonnie Cline, the conductor of Unistus since 2000, is performing as part of the Song Festival program on Saturday and Sunday. He has been attending the Song and Dance festivals since 1996. And Emily Ferguson will be there to watch, for the first time.


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