Marissa Pikkat: an Australian Estonian at the Youth Song & Dance Celebration
I am an Australian Estonian, traveling around Sweden (5 days) & Estonia (7 Weeks) this summer, sharing in a range of cultural experiences, connecting with Estonians, nature, craft and an abundance of amazing experiences. A delicious recount of my travels, learnings and reflections. I enjoy sharing my unique experiences and stories of my eight weeks in Sweden an Estonia. I am excited about sharing my view on Estonia with my connection to Estonia being a passion and big focus of my life. Sharing this with who ever would like to connect with my story is an absolute pleasure and delight, something I am very much feeling vulnerable with, but if we are not courageous and sharing ourselves, then how do we grow? I am very grateful for the time you take to read my thoughts and experiences and can't wait to see what unfolds. Please read my stories and a bit more about me at www.marissapikkat.com and connect with me through my socials, found on my web site.
Where do I even begin the story of today? So many incredible experiences and each moment was as delicious as the last but to put into words the feelings from today would never be able to do it justice. The first moment which had me thinking and reflecting was when we went to the super market to get Pirukad for Laulupidu (song festival). When we arrived it was like mayhem. Everyone was doing the same as we were and getting their food for the day. There was, thankfully, an abundance of Pirukad so there was enough for everyone, but trying to get the ones you wanted, bagging and tagging them appeared to be a bit of a challenge. In the end, I sacrificed Taimi to get the ones we needed, she had a smaller bag and could move quicker! Sadly I didn't get a picture, but there is a video on my reel. We did see the most incredible fresh strawberries though! After we packed up our food for the day, we headed to the buses, ready to take us to Laulupidu.
When we got on, Taimi and I looked at each other and thought it wasn’t that bad, thankfully mum got a seat. We started moving and oh my god, we started sweating. We were packed on this bus like sardines and considered there was not much aircon happening on this bus. At one point Taimi said to me, “why are we the only ones sweating?!”. Maybe it is because we are used to air conditioning. We heard there was something on that sounded like air conditioning but when we got off the bus, mum correctly identified that they had the heaters going! This made us laugh and we thought, it could be worse! But as we were driving there, which felt like about 15 minutes I think, I said to Taimi, just imagine being taken awake and deported, forced to stand like this for days, either cold or hot, depending on the time of year. I mean, we only had to endure it for a short period but those folks had to do it for an unknown amount of time, we couldn’t even imagine what it would have been like, AND not knowing where you were going to go. We were very grateful in this moment we were going to Laulupidu and thought, it could be worse (a popular phrase from this day, to keep things in perspective and remind ourselves of how lucky we were to be there). When we arrived, we had to walk probably 1km to Lauluväljak, just following the crowd. It was a bit like a salmon stream, everyone going one direction. What was also incredible, and probably made us take more time that needed, was all the Rahvariide! Taimi and I kept pointing out all the different Rahvariide we liked, commented on them to each other and thought which ones we wanted. The colours, the patterns, the combinations, were all so incredible and it was just the beginning!
When we arrived, and got inside, I saw Lauluväljak from a perspective I had never seen before. We entered in right at the top where the stage was in the distance down the bottom. It was interesting seeing it from this perspective as we had never done that before, we have always seen it from the side and the bottom. There was already so many people up there, claiming their spots, ready to enjoy the performance. We wondered down, slowly towards our seats and I was blown away at the amount of people there were there. It was like a salmon stream, people just moving in and out to get to where they needed to go. Kids were linked in hands so they wouldn’t loose their groups and at one point we saw one group connected together with a pole. Taimi thought this was a great idea and we may need this for C group! Again, there were so many beautiful Rahvariide, so overwhelming for the senses but my gosh so much colour and joy! We decided to go in because it wasn’t too long until it started and outside the stadium, where there were lots of stalls for food and other things, was incredibly crowded. So we went in and our seats were wet from earlier rain that day, so we dried them off and sat down, enjoying some Pirukad. It got close to 2pm, the time it was meant to start, and sure enough, kids just started pouring onto the stage. It was incredible to watch this, they just knew where to go, following each other, one after the other onto the stage. It took a good 10-15 minutes to get everyone on there, ready for the opening ceremony and all the official business, not to mention singing the Estonian National Anthem, “Mu Isamaa mu õnn ja rõõm” (My fatherland, my happiness and joy). There was so much emotion felt in this moment, together with the Laulutantsupidu flame, which was brought over from Tantsupidu (dance festival) and all the important people such as composers, writers, conductors, organisers etc, were honoured in such an intentional and beautiful way. It was lovely to watch and be a part of this celebration of the Estonian Culture. I felt so much gratitude to be able to come here and connect with Estonia and possibly the most Estonian way and really took a few moments to reflect on our history and what it would have been like during the Soviet Occupation and how restrictive the Laulupidu would have been, with songs being prescribed and folks not being allowed to where their Rahvariide or fly their Estonian Flags, incredible.
After some time, Taimi and I ventured out to the stalls, before it started raining. There was just so much food available, but lucky we had our Pirukad. There was Estonian garlic bread, potatoes on a stick and even pickles in a jar! There were so many stalls, which I suppose is a good thing as there were over 128,000 people part of the festival, either performing or watching the singing. We had a look at some lovely stalls with Estonian related clothes and items and it was here I started a conversation with Remi. Let’s just say I might be starting another little side hustle, once I can work out how it will go. We also met his partner who designs the beautiful linen dresses, with the designer name Miria. She was beautiful and when I shared with her I bought one of her dresses four years ago, she was very excited and wondered which one it was I bought. I shared with her when I wear it, it feels like a modern Estonian piece of clothing and I really like what she designs, not to mention people in Australia know of her designs and really enjoy them. We saw the most gorgeous Muhu boots but they only had size 38 left, a bit to small for me. I remember seeing them last time but again, they didn’t have my size.
We went back into Lauluväljak and watched some more beautiful performances, while it was still sunny. They had some sessions where it was the orchestra, no singing, and it sounded so beautiful. Taimi commented to me it was like out of a movie and it kind of was. It was really dramatic and when you closed your eyes you could imagine some beautiful stories being told through this music, I really enjoyed it. When they were over the kids came back on to sing and wow, it sounded incredible! It was not the whole stage but these children really looked like they were so proud to be part of something incredible and you could feel the pride radiating off them. There was a point in the day, around 4pm when the kids were flowing off the stage and there was this incredible flash of lightning, followed by a big crack of thunder and all the kids who were coming off the stage let out a big scream, it was both adorable and alarming. They would have seen the lightning, because it was behind us, it would have been just outside the festival grounds, extremely close. The kids ran off the stage, but the orchestra kept playing and THEN the heavens opened up and we had extremely heavy rain in a split second. I had on a light weight rain jacket and it did not serve me AT ALL. I was drenched. There was a small swimming pool in my shoe and my dress was like I had just jumped in a lake and came out. The rain was incredible. Taimi and I were trying to take some photos and videos but it got even to heavy to be able to have our phones functioning. We looked at each other and said “it could be worse”. The guy sitting next to Taimi clearly understood what we said and laughed at our conversation of total and utter defeat at the fact we were so soaked from the rain, we may as well just stay here now. Mum had been off to look at the shops but she didn’t get out the gate so she came back and we couldn’t help but laugh. At one point, and I couldn’t get this out with a straight face but I turned to mum and said…”Well this is rather unpleasant”. These words could not even describe the situation we found ourselves in. She responded to me “this is fucking awful”. But of course, it could be worse! During the heavy rain, the kids continued to transition off and on the stage, just as planned. Once they were back on the stage the rain had eased off a little and they were chanting either “Paike” (sun) or “Aitäh” (thank you) for staying, we assume. Nevermind, the show must go on. They started to sing again and it was beautiful.
It was about that time in the afternoon where we had to have some coffee so Taimi and I went out to get some. The line was REALLY long as I assume everyone else had the same idea. At one point we thought we spent $8.70 on coffee, which was literally black coffee with milk in it, but then we realised if you give back your cup you get some money back for it, as a way of reducing waste and recycling. When we went back in, we stayed there. I was starting to dry off, which was lovely but still not going to get dry until I got home. Something I noticed when I had gone back in and the kids were going back on stage was there was something being carried up the stairs to near the top of the stage who had their leg in cast and someone else was carrying their wheelchair up the stairs. In that moment I reflected on the commitment and honour involved in being part of this Laulupidu and people will perform, rain, hail, shine, or even broken limbs. It is something very special in our history and people will make sure they can sing in it at all costs.
During the time it was dry, in the afternoon I did something I will be forever grateful for and it took a lot for me to work up the courage to meet the people I did. We were sitting in the front area and I noticed to our right a few key people whom I admire. I questioned if I should go up to them and if I should ask for a photo, but I did it. It took me a few moments and questioning myself, wondering if it was even a possibility. But then I went for it. I walked over to Hirvo Surva, an iconic person in the Singing Revolution and Laulupidu and famous Chior Conductor. I shared with him how special I felt his film was and how a few of us had travelled from Australia to enjoy the festival. He was so lovely and really wanted to hear what I had to say. It was also his Birthday and I couldn’t even imagine having over 100,000 people singing happy birthday to you. He was so kind and you could see the pride he has and passion for Laulupidu through his eyes, it was beautiful to be part of. In and around that moment I also had the opportunity to snap a quick photo with Kersti Kaljulaid, the former President of Estonia, and first female President. She was so kind to let me take a picture with her. I really liked she was wearing her Seto Rahvariide. Seeing her in person, in a very one on one interaction, was something special. She is one of the most inspiring women in the world and an incredible leader. She has a presence about her and really something very special. Then, and this was the biggest moment of courage, but I walked up to the President of Estonia, Alar Karis, and told him I am from Australia and asked if I could take a photo. It was a very quick and rushed moment, because the performance was about to start again. He invited me to sit down next to him and take a photo. I was so grateful that he allowed this and one thing that struck me was there were no direct security people around stopping any of this. They were just like regular people, sure at the front and centre of the performance, but they were there and I was so honoured to be able to do what I did, a memory that I will hold onto forever.
Photo: Marissa Pikkat and President Karis
The concert continued, the rain held off for the most part, until right near the end. It is customary that close to the end, before the iconic songs are sung, that all the key players, conductors, organisers etc are given big wreathes to wear around their necks as a sign of honour. But before we got to that part, and ALL the choirs were on stage, all the choir teachers were invited onto the stage and received bunches of flowers, there must have been over 100 of them, from each side, joining all the kids on stage to perform the last songs. The other thing I noticed, and this is usual for Laulupidu but something I didn’t get clarified until yesterday, was after each song they invite the song writer and composer up onto the podium and oh my, the performers just cheer them so loudly and with so much pride, it is incredible. One of the things I found that brought so much joy, throughout the day, was watching the conductors. They have so much passion and energy for what they do and the move their whole bodies to conduct the choir of 28,000 youth singers. It was wonderful and a pleasure to watch.
Once the key players had been honoured, they preceded to sing some of the iconic songs, first of all being Ta Lendab Mesipuu Poole. Well this is when the tears started. There is so much emotion and significance of this song, in our history. It is about the honey bees and apple trees, related to the monument we visited a few days earlier. It talks about people who are being deported and coming home to the apple trees, much like the honey bees. To watch the performance, click this link. It was incredible and the singers demanded to sing it twice. What I loved was how, and it was getting darker so the effect was incredible, they just took out their phones and had their lights on and it looked like little fairies dancing around the stage. It was an incredible moment and I adored how they wanted to do it a second time. For a moment it looked like the Conductor was not going to do it because he was soaked, not wearing a poncho or hat, he had glasses and I know the struggles, but HE DID! They were all so proud to sing it a second time and the Conductor was encouraging everyone in the crowed to sing this song. Over 128,000 people singing this song, I could only imagine what the folks from the time of Soviet Occupation would have felt in this moment, it would be absolutely incomprehensible given its significance and meaning, words can’t even describe the experience and I think doubled with the rain, it made it even more special. It shows how important this event is for Estonian’s, young, old and everyone in between. One of the most incredible moments of my life and one I will never forget and so grateful to having being part of. They then preceded to sing “Mu Isamaa on Minu Arm” (My fatherland, my love). This again, was beautiful and full of emotions. This was somewhat the unofficial anthem during Soviet Occupation, because back then it was illegal to sing the national anthem and all these songs we enjoy today. If you want to know more on how the singing revolution impacted our history, click here for the trailer to the movie. I have a copy of it but only in DVD form, it is a challenging movie to come by. They didn’t sing a lot of the classics, but I suspect if it was a sunny day they would have sung more. As the festival was ending the singers were chanting “Tuljak, Tuljak” which they clearly wanted to sing, but because of the rain I suspect they didn’t. Usually the festival will go for hours more than it is meant to because they keep singing songs over and over and ones not on the program, but unfortunately not this year. There was a moment during close to the end of the festival before it started raining again where they were singing a song “Tuuline eleegia” (Windy) and on stage, they had a beautiful dance to go with it, while standing in place. This song was specifically written for this year and was really something special. They wanted to sing this song again, and during the second performance, there was a dance group, down the front who were doing the dance associated to this song. That is something I really like about the Estonian culture and things like the song and dance festival, sure there are programs and things need to stick to time, BUT there is also a relaxed attitude and allowing people to experience things in such a way that it isn’t rushed but rather celebrated when it comes to expressing yourself through song and dance. It was a really special moment to witness this and again, I am grateful, because at this point, with so many people leaving, we managed to get front row seats and it was incredible. On the way out, I couldn’t believe it, we were up close and personal with Valter Soosalu! One of the amazing Conductors who I really enjoy watching, for obvious reasons. Taimi was kind enough to snap the pic. When we told him we were from Australia, he was so impressed we had come all this way just to enjoy the performance. We were somewhat in a hurry because at this point we had lost mum in the crowed but thankfully we found her again.
After the performance, we made our way back to Vanalinn, slowly, walking about 1.6km to Kadriorg Palace where the trams were running because the roads were closed for a while longer. When we got back, everything was soaked and our shoes are still! It was different experiencing Laulupidu in torrential rain, but it didn’t make me sad, upset, frustrated or anything. Instead, I was incredibly grateful to be able to be part of it and just enjoyed the experiences I had for what they were, which would make for some great stories one day. I can’t wait for 2025!