How I became an Estofile.
In summer of 2001, I was a high school choral director. I researched youth choral competitions and tours for my choir to participate in. Through the processes of search and click, I ended up on the site for Balsis Youth Choir.
If you've already clicked on the link and you're Estonian, I know what you've just said. But, they are Latvian!
Balsis had just placed first in the International Choral Competition held in Tallinn, Estonia. I loved their look and sound sample. So, with trepidation, I clicked on the link to The Baltic Shop and ordered their CD.
Playing that CD for the first time, I wanted to stop the world and only listen and breathe - nothing else. One particular song invoked a visceral response.
I've played this song for fellow musicians. One singer pointed for me to look at her arm when the song finished. Goosebumps covered her skin. Another male singer held still while I played the song through headphones and I only noticed at the end when a tear dropped from his face that he didn't bother to wipe his eyes during the song. The song is powerful.
Not knowing the language, and half the song is "oo" anyway, the country that I connected to this whole experience was Estonia. Think me an ignorant American, if you must, but at least grant me that I'm a musical one. I remember looking on a map, whatever I found on the internet in 2001, but not grasping exactly where the Baltic countries were - somewhere in East Europe. Of the three countries: Lithuania, farthest south west, Latvia, in the middle, and Estonia, north east and bordering Russia, the name that my lyrical brain latched on to, (this is my mind I'm sharing, of which its logic is not always defensible with rhyme or reason,) was the four syllable Estonia. Estonia has no harsh consonants and flowed nicely, even when I say the word without sound. Feel your tongue? I know you just tried. Latvia has a stop after the "t" and Lithuania has five syllables and requires the cheeks to pull back on the long "a" vowel. As a singer, I also have a penchant for the "O" vowel. It is the most resonant vowel - to me.
Yes. Estonia. For the next ten years that I played that Balsis CD and especially the one song, (it has over a thousand plays on the ipod) Estonia stayed in the deep rear of my mind ... hmm, a characteristic stance of the mild-mannered Estonian who waits his time.
Represented on the CD are two famous Estonian composers: Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis. I have come to love and respect their music.
In January of 2011, a good friend became the last impetus I needed to write a book. This process is written here.
Picking characters and their characteristics is the longest process in forming a good story. I knew I wanted the book to be in first person, from the view of a female singer. Who would be her male counterpart? An Estonian, of course! I introduce you to: Tauno Järvi. Pronounced Ta-u-no Yar-vee. The O is an open sound, not the closed dipthong of American English. The ä is pronounced like A as in apple.
Because of this book and because I wanted to include Estonian characters and history, I began reading all I could. Everything I read touched me so I began attending events of the local Estonian society. I learned the personal histories of many Estonian immigrants and became part of the society.
The song? Oh, you're curious about which song has been so powerful?
Now, set the stage for yourself. It's beautiful.
This is what is written of it on The Baltic Shop site:
A secret to find out - the most beloved piece of the choir, often repeated at the end of concerts is...the sweet tune of the Latvian Lullaby, which never yet has met an indifferent audience.
Enjoy! Balsis deserves credit as my muse.
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