A country’s history is discovered in its songs.
Music mobilizes mortals. Estonia lacks military might and has always been surrounded by much larger countries with intimidating armies. Russia, Germany, and Sweden all vied for its control, creating a tug of war that lasted centuries. Tough times. Inspired by the fall of the Iron Curtain, Estonia symbolically overcame its final suppressor, the U.S.S.R., when country-wide choir jam-bands launched their Singing Revolution. A Baltic Woodstock. Here, choirs outrank sports as a national pastime—some attracting as many as 30,000 singers. Song festival fairgrounds, with their signature bandshell arches, are everywhere.
After 50 years of Soviet repression, in August, 1989, two million Baltic citizens, including people from neighboring Latvia and Lithuania, created an unbroken 350-mile human chain linking the countries in their call for freedom. The likeminded people clutched hands, and changed their destiny. Estonia, where medieval meets modern, sang itself free. The three original flags of the Baltics had been outlawed with possession punishable by prison and torture. Swiftly, these flags—hidden inside walls and ovens for decades—began waving all over the country. The keynote battle-charge song, My Fatherland is My Love, has since become an unofficial national anthem.
We’re all hooked on songs. While in Estonia, I asked several street-strolling locals to sing for me, and true to form, they obliged. One woman sang the entire unofficial anthem as we stood on an empty sidewalk. This fallout of the Baltic Singing Revolution made me wonder, what would the U.S. choose if it needed a new anthem to sing its way out of a real jam? Won’t Back Down, Born in the USA, American Woman, Highway to Hell, Don’t Stop Believin’?
Healing conflict with music, now that’s a concept. Follow your melody.
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Estonia’s national bird is the barn swallow. It’s no pin-up like the bald eagle, nor a chart-busting singer—but, aptly, an agile survivor for all seasons.
“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” —Willy Wonka