Study: Low wages for instructors threaten future of Song and Dance Festival

The XXVII Song Festival
The XXVII Song Festival "My Fatherland is My Love." July 2019. from the air Source: Margus Vilisoo/Song and Dance Festival

Low wages and heavy workloads for choirmasters, and song and dance instructors means the future of the Song and Dance festival cannot be taken for granted, the results of a new study presented on Monday show.

A report by Praxis think tank presented by the Ministry of Culture shows the situation of choirs, folk dance groups and music groups participating in the Song and Dance Festival and their instructors. 

The results showed that young people do not want to become professional singing or dancing mentors because salaries are low and folk groups do not make ends meet.

The study found that over a third of all tutors are 54 or older. This means that a critical number of conductors and dancers could retire in the coming years and the continuation of the song and dance tradition may not be taken for granted because there could be no-one to teach singing or dancing.

There are 70,000 enthusiasts on the Song and Dance Festival registry, the study found, but there are only a few thousand professional instructors to lead the choirs and dance groups. Around 35 percent of them are middle-aged or older, and young people are scarce. Only around 15% of tutors are under 35 years of age.

"Many of us run multiple teams under these circumstances, and often a highly educated supervisor does this job as a hobby. If this continues, our music culture, including the song festival movement, will not evolve, but will barely stay at its current level," said conductor Rasmus Puur.

"When it comes to growing up, it is especially important for a child to come into contact with a music teacher, choir or dance director who will light a spark. Unfortunately, the flowers and the candy box alone do not lead us to our goal," Puur added.

The survey proved that participating in song and dance festival preparation is more of a hobby or part-time job for instructors, and that 77 percent feel their workload is not in line with the remuneration they receive. 

Often several groups are supervised at the same time, and the average pay for managing one group is not much higher than €100. Budgets are also modest and costs often exceed revenues. Fixed-term and temporary contracts do not provide social guarantees such as holiday, pension or child support to choir, dance, and orchestra directors.

An additional request for the budget is scheduled to be discussed in the spring of 2020 to ensure that folk group managers will be paid better in the future and will get all social guarantees. 

"The song and dance celebration is an expression of our identity. We have to keep it up. Without giving extra money to the leaders of the groups involved in the festival preparation, the 150-year-old ritual will simply fall apart at one point," Minister of Culture Tõnis Lukas said.

The Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian song and dance festivals have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

The Praxis study was funded by the Ministry of Culture and commissioned by the Estonian Folk Dance and Folk Music Society in cooperation with the Estonian Choral Association and the Estonian Song and Dance Celebration Foundation.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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