The singing nation

In Estonia's capital Tallinn, there is a large open-air amphitheatre where an audience of tens of thousands sit on a sloping hill in front of a vast stage. This graceful piece of Soviet-era architecture is the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. Completed in 1960, it is used to host a variety of events including Estonia’s Song Celebration or Laulupidu.

An enormous choir

The Song Celebration is a unique and long-standing tradition in Estonia. Every five years an enormous choir of some 25,000 people gathers, and is watched by an audience of around 100,000 spectators who join in with the most popular songs.

The very first event of its kind took place in Tartu in 1869 and the festivals continued sporadically until 1923, when the tradition of holding them every five years began. Even during the dark days of Soviet oppression, when the Song Celebration was filled with propaganda, Estonian’s continued to celebrate this incredible event as a symbol of national pride and identity.

The Singing Revolution

In September 1988 hundreds of thousands of people congregated on the Song Festival Grounds to sing forbidden, patriotic songs and call for independence and freedom. This event came to be known as the Singing Revolution and was followed by other demonstrations across the Baltics. On 23rd August 1989, two million people protested against Russian rule by holding hands along a 600 kilometre stretch of road between Tallinn, Riga in Latvia and Vilnius in Lithuania. In 1990 around half a million people are thought to have attended Estonia’s Song Celebration – the last major event before independence was restored in 1991.

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