“It’s well known that Estonians love to sing. Quite a big percentage of Estonians sing in choirs. We have one million people here, and 33,000 are in choirs. Every four years at the song festival, we have 150,000 people there for the celebration.” The Baltic nations are marked by song. They demonstrated their desire for independence by gathering to sing the prohibited national songs, their own special form of non-violent resistance.
In the decades prior to the Singing Revolution, Estonians undertook similar protests each week in the offices and factories in which they worked. By coming together as a choir, they circumvented the laws which banned public demonstrations and political gatherings, and hid their message of discontent within the songsheets they passed around. “The company choir is something from the Soviet times, because in those days almost all factories and offices had a choir or at least an ensemble,” explains Tanner, “It was almost compulsory to join. But it was also popular. After work, people had nothing to do. There was no shopping, you couldn’t go abroad, but after work you had to do something. So it became very popular to gather in choirs.“It was one of the few possibilities for people to meet each other, because other organized meetings were suspicious. But the choir was a legal form of gathering, and it was also a kind of protest. After the required communist songs, we could sing our own songs.