The Hypertext of Estonian Song as Narrative of Nation.

Presenter: Kalli Paakspuu
Registration Number: 063
Institution: Sheridan College, Toronto, Canada
Abstract: One precondition for a self-determination movement is having a common struggle, as in asserting control over identities and localities in an everyday political process. After centuries of successive occupations by Germans, Danes, Swedes, Poles and Russians, a distinct Estonian national identity emerged in response to social justice issues in the 19th century. This presentation will use a cultural studies approach to examine Estonian lyrical texts as hypertexts of nation. Estonian-Canadian composer Roman Toi conducted male choirs in Displaced Person’s Camps and in exiled communities to sing with “fists in the air” against the Soviet occupation of their homeland. Their songs reinforced a political engagement that re-ignited Estonian nationalism through the Singing Revolution that restored Estonia’s Republic in 1991. Excerpts from the feature documentary Maestro Roman Toi Beautiful Songs I Dedicate to You will be shown during this presentation.
The song texts of a choral tradition in Estonia became a political engagement in a separatist movement from the Russian Empire. "Nationalist ideologies use cultural devices to demonstrate the process of collective self-definition, to provide feelings of pride and hope connected with symbolic forms so that these can be consciously described, developed and celebrated" (Geertz 1973:252). How we understand who we are in the contemporary world is shaped by sites of identity production, what Stuart Hall (1992) calls “narratives of nationhood,” constructed by media, the arts, and institutions like museums and galleries. Definitions of nationhood are also created from "below" as during Ärkamisaeg, the Estonian Age of Awakening in the 19th Century, when Estonians acknowledged their right to govern themselves, which culminated into the Republic of Estonia by 1918.
The inception of the first Laulupidu, Estonian Song Festival, in Tartu in the summer of 1869 was when Estonian choral performance evolved from folk song arrangements into living carriers of Estonian cultural values and national solidarity celebrating 50 years of emancipation from serfdom. "'Narratives of nationhood' are stories that an ‘imagined community’ shares and connects to what pre-existed and will outlive them” (Hall 1992, p. 293). Choral music demands connection and for singers is a self-performance of social expression. Emergent narratives are constructed throughout our daily actions to help us remember, understand, categorize and share experience (Galyean, 1995).
The song festival had an electric effect on the growth of organized music and the formation of choirs and instrumental ensembles (Puderbaugh, 30). The same time one singer is performing, another singer is listening and singing with him. Narratives emerge as products of our interactions and goals as we navigate our worlds. A story produced by a group of improvising actors emerges from the interactions among the members of the group—similar to the spontaneous expression of a choir evoking embodied memory through the sensual and somatic. A poem becomes a driving de-colonizing force, building community in a hypertext of activism and as a narrative of nation.

Photo by Sergei Kibus

Bio: Kalli Paakspuu was awarded a doctorate from the University of Toronto for her research on early indigenous use of photography in international relations. She has published widely on film and media and teaches in the animation and design programme at Sheridan College in Oakville, Canada. Her dramatic and documentary films have toured internationally. Currently she is completing the biography music documentary, Maestro Roman Toi Beautiful Songs I Dedicate to You and developing a documentary about choral music as healing therapy.