The lion's share of Estonian music cannot be bought or listened to online today. If our musical heritage fails to make it to streaming services, it will not exist in the future, Martin Aadamsoo writes in Müürileht (Link in Estonian).
Estonia's national self-awareness and cultural self-image have always been closely tied to music. Jakob Hurt and Matthias Johann Eisen launched a global collection campaign in the 19th century that resulted in a nation of just one million people having one of the largest folk music and folklore collections in the world today. The first major mass events of national awakening were the song festivals. We called the process of restoring our independence the Singing Revolution. Arvo Pärt is the most performed living composer. The list goes on forever. And yet – paradoxically – most of that heritage remains beyond our reach. Locked in repositories, most of which are stored at ERR. The lion's share of Estonian music cannot be bought or listened to online today.
The first sound recordings in Estonia used wax cylinders. The first record of Estonian music was recorded in St. Petersburg in 1901. It is sculptor August Weizenberg's song "Paistab sügisel ka päikene" (The Sun also Shines in Autumn) performed by Jewish-Russian tenor Mihhail Goltisson. Next to and following vinyl records, music has been recorded on tapes, CDs and many other mediums. Every switch has resulted in a discontinuance and the need to carry the entire collection to the new format. However, the greatest disruption in Estonian musical history is the advent of streaming after the internet was invented. The majority of our musical heritage remains on physical sound mediums or is locked away in music repositories as files to which there is no online access. That massive gate through which we get our daily information – smart devices with screens – is locked when it comes to Estonian musical heritage.
From digital consumers to creators
One of the world's foremost memory researchers, Estonian Endel Tulving has a hypothesis according to which if a child lacks contact with a part of the semantic system at an early age, it will be very difficult for the person to obtain later in life. A child living in Saaremaa who never hears the "õ" sound in Estonian will find it very difficult to pronounce later. It will be very difficult for a person to compose Estonian music if they have grown up without it. We have, unbeknownst to ourselves, sawn off one of the legs of the chair on which our national culture rests.
2020 is the year of digital culture. One of the greatest goals we have set for ourselves is to help develop children's digital creativity. So that the generations that follow us would not be mere digital consumers but also digital creators. Digital creation, just like any other, consists of innovative development, remix, recycling and complementing of existing knowledge and experience. In a situation where the core of our musical heritage remains largely inaccessible, it cannot be added to, remixed or reused. Our children will have to start from scratch, whereas that starting point will not lie in Estonian culture. It will very likely be an English product manufactured by corporations.
Estonian pop group Apelsin released its second album in 1981 that might very well be one of the widest spread recordings of Estonian music. Tõnu Aare, who helped write most of the album's tracks, wasn't sure whether the album sold a million copies or more. Apelsin received a total of 26 rubles for the album. In 2015, Daniel Levi Viinalass and Cartoon released a track called "On and On" that has over 375 million hits on YouTube or several dozen times more than the Apelsin album ever sold. There is no clearer proof of the fact that if out musical heritage fails to reach streaming services, it will not even exist in the future.
Therefore, what I suggest we do is this – let us invest a little money, time and energy in sorting and attaching metadata to our grand musical repositories that hold a big part of Estonia's musical heritage. Let us invest in making it widely available, being just a few clicks away on streaming services. Making a few hundred thousand recorded pieces of Estonian music available would cost under €1 million. Let us give our authors and performers the chance to receive worthy pay for their work. Let us make this investment so that our children could grow into digital creators and not just consumers.
Editor: Marcus Turovski