ON THE ROAD WITH TOUR CHOIR #2
Saturday, April 25, 2015
Dear families and friends,
Well, we’re cruisin’ again! This time just a short float across the Gulf of Finland to Helsinki, then a bus ride northwest to Turku. We left our hotel in Tallinn quite early, with breakfast in our backpacks. We boarded the ferry, took over an area of tables and chairs, ate breakfast, and now working on journals and other assorted activities.
In my ongoing effort to catch you up on our whirlwind of activities, I will now digress to Wednesday, when we spent much of the morning at Adolf Fredriks Music School. Adolf Fredriks is another charter-like school, this one focusing on music studies, with eleven (yes, eleven!) music teachers. Each class of thirty students, ten boys/twenty girls, is its own choir. They audition over 1800 students for openings each year. The school is right in the middle of the city, seven stories high with a gated entrance into the courtyard-as-playground in the center. The music room is on the seventh floor, considerably adding to our daily step-count! But it is well-worth the climb. Big windows, wood floors and walls, perfect choir chairs, a nice-sized stage with four levels of steps, a sound system and lights, grand piano…sigh. Oh, to have a home!!
We were met on our arrival by a class of children the same ages as our Tour Choir. There was a quick meet and greet in the courtyard, then up to the music room where we spent two hours having fun singing together. They performed for us – the Real Group’s “Chili con Carne,” which was intended to be in our repertoire this season, before national anthems took over our lives – and a traditional Swedish folk hymn. We sang several things from our rep, then taught them Do Re Mi with the choreography. We had learned a Swedish folk song in advance, so we sang that together. The kids had no problem communicating, thanks to the excellent English skills of our hosts. And they sang beautifully together.
Following the singing, our kids went with their new buddies to explore the school, ending up in the cafeteria for lunch. Britta was excited to see that there were two girls in the class also named Britta. Kendall and Mary played “King”, a version of four-square, out in the courtyard. Marinda noticed that the library contained books in both Swedish and English. Parker and Rhys were impressed to find that their buddy sings in a men’s choir outside of school. Trey found the seven-story school quite interesting.
We spent the afternoon at the Skansen Open-Air Museum, and could have stayed there for another several hours. The museum is billed as “Sweden in miniature,” and lives up to the hype. Traditional buildings and farmsteads from all over Sweden create 75 acres of living history. There is a Sami (the far-north indigenous tribe) Camp complete with grazing reindeer; the town quarter with its tavern, furniture factory, glassworks workshop (where we watched them blow the glass), pottery shop, and much more. Native animals wander the grounds, both in and out of the Children’s Zoo. Thankfully there was a bit of time for shopping, as those Swedish krone were weighing heavy in our pockets and on our minds!
Thursday in Tallinn began with a guided sightseeing tour. Our local guide gave us a short history of Estonia which included, of course, the story of their very recent struggle for freedom. She spoke of being a part of the demonstrations and celebrations, just over two decades ago, as Estonia broke away from the Soviet Union. They are very proud of their independence, the only post-communist country that adopted the Euro and now successfully weathered the recent European-wide economic crisis. Tallinn has put its Soviet past behind them, and reclaimed its unique Nordic identity, with a beautifully preserved Old Town and a mostly intact medieval city wall.
Estonia is probably best-known for its Singing Revolution. Singing has long been a national form of expression in this country. Under Soviet rule, they couldn’t wave their flag or express their patriotism in any way. Russians and Ukrainians were moved in, as Estonians were shipped out in an attempt to dilute the country’s identity. As the Soviet Union finally began to crumble, the Estonians mobilized with the only weapon they had – song. In 1988, 300,000 Estonians (a third of the population) gathered regularly at the Song Festival Grounds outside Tallinn to sing patriotic songs. On August 23, 1989, the people of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia held hands to make the “Baltic Chain,” a human chain that stretched some 360 miles from Tallinn to Vilnius in Lithuania. Our local guide was so proud to tell us that she was a link in that chain. They feared retaliation, but they kept singing. Two years later, in 1991, the USSR was no more, and Estonia was free. There is a great documentary film about this stirring event, “The Singing Revolution,” that you can find at www.singingrevolution.com. It really is extraordinary.
Naturally, our tour started at the Song Festival Grounds, an open-air theater built in 1959 to resemble an oversized Hollywood Bowl. The entire nation regular gathers there to sing, and every five years they host a huge national song festival with 25,000 singers (who all fit on the enormous stage) and 100,000 spectators. We, of course, climbed to the top, inside the bowl, and offered our own singing revolution.
Back near the Old Town, we wandered along the city wall to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The Alexander Nevsky cathedral was built in 1900, and has since been beautifully renovated, both inside and out. It is small, but exquisitely ornate and stunningly beautiful. There was a funeral going on in one of the side chapels as we quietly made our way through, listening to the priest singing the liturgy. Oddly, right outside the doors, there was a brass band playing outside the city buildings as they welcomed the public for “Open Doors” day. And the band was playing one American tune after another, including a rousing rendition of “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain!” It was a jarring transition as we followed the small funeral procession out into the sunshine.
We checked into our hotel – real rooms, real beds, real bathrooms and showers, a welcome relief after our night on the ferry! Thursday evening we enjoyed a rare treat – a concert where we were not singing. We were special guests at the opening concert of the Tallinn International Choral Festival. We enjoyed the Swedish Choir who shared our hallway on the ferry, as well as choirs from Finland, Indonesia, Estonia, and Slovenia. They were excellent, each in their own way. And with world-music ringing in our ears, we slept the night away.
Friday morning was a blast! We went to Rakvere Castle, a medieval-European-Casa Bonita-sort-of-place, though it is an actual medieval European castle! We climbed more steps than any staff member cared to count, all uneven and steep. This did not seem to bother our young charges. There were roosters and goats and, of course, the castle cat, wandering freely about the grounds. There was archery, sword fighting, and a torture chamber. We made gun powder, climbed the walls, put Grace in the stockade and put Grant in a knight’s armor. Elizabeth, Zach, Jackson, Britta and Abigail were particularly adept at archery. Josef, Isabel, Charley, Lukas and Toby may have a future in sword fighting…if there is a future in sword fighting! Allie and Emily enjoyed the torture chamber, if you can actually “enjoy” a torture chamber. Lillian liked watching the gun powder being made, and Brennan and James were thrilled when the canon full of hay was successfully exploded. Adrian climbed the wall like a medieval spider, Harrison thought the tour guide was very interesting (he was!), and Abbie and Abe liked lunch in the Tavern…which was delicious, and included hibiscus tea. Which didn’t sound at all Tavern-like to the staff, but oh well!
The focal point of the Tallinn Old Town square is the 15-century Town Hall, where our concert was held Thursday evening. It was a very small hall, but a perfect space for our little troupe. The acoustics were wonderful and we sang and danced with abandon. The local audience consisted of mostly sweet, very reserved ladies and gentlemen. One woman in the front row would put her hands up during every upbeat song, clapping along quietly with the most delighted, shy smile on her face. Several of them came to me after the performance to tell me they were “moved to cry” more than a few times and would “never forget,” unable to let go of my hand as they spoke. It was very touching. These children have an undeniable and lasting impact wherever they go. They sang so beautifully that I was also “moved to cry” as we shared this extraordinary experience.
Weather beautiful; kids healthy and happy; staff extremely proud!
Debbie and all