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Seattle choir boasts Estonian name, all-Baltic repertoire

The Mägi Ensemble.
The Mägi Ensemble. Source: Mägi Ensemble/Facebook

The Mägi Ensemble is currently in Estonia, performing concerts in Tallinn and Tartu. The Seattle, Washington-based choir's name is a nod to Estonian composer Ester Mägi, and despite not consisting of members of their diaspora communities, its repertoire is focused entirely on Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian works.

The choir's founding members are University of Washington Chamber Singers alumni that started performing and recording works by Ester Mägi. The ensemble has since evolved to include 16 professional singers dedicated primarily to Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian choir music.

According to founder and artistic director Heather MacLaughlin Garbes, the Mägi Ensemble prefers to perform music by living composers and woman composers – which guides how the program for each concert comes together.

"American culture is so many different cultures together, and we have really fallen in love with the music of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania because it has been such a vehicle for your cultures," explained associate conductor Julie Parsons. "To have – we of course watched the movie 'The Singing Revolution,' and we know the history of the song festivals, and that's been really meaningful for us."

All works in the Mägi Ensemble are performed in their original languages.

"We also have really supportive Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian communities in Seattle, and they have come into listen to us and say, you know, 'This vowel is maybe a little different,' or 'This is how you might have to sing a longer note with these two vowels,'" MacLaughlin Garbes described. "I was able to study Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian at the University of Washington, but at a very, very basic level. And so I start off with the foundation, and then we bring in speakers from those languages many times to have them listen and make sure we're on the right path."

The Mägi Ensemble is performing at St. Mary's Cathedral in Tallinn on Tuesday night, where it will be joined by the local Tallinn women's choir Kevad.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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