Friday, 05 February 2021 19:00
Estonian Life No. 5 2021 - Vincent Teetsov
For Estonians of the diaspora, the concept of “home”, what that word means and where it is assigned, can be a complicated thing to express to others or come to terms with individually. You may be Canadian or American, but your culture, family traditions, and even passports are enough to distinguish your sense of home from others. Music, however, has the power to define a home and restore us to that precious place.
At 8:00 PM on Thursday February 25th, Estonian Music Week is bringing us the first performance of its new online concert series, called “Memories of Home,” in which musicians express what home means to them. You can watch the concert on the VEMU YouTube channel (https://youtube.com/user/VEMUESC
) or on Estonian Music Week's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/EstonianMusicWeek
The first performance, on the evening of the 25th, will feature accordionists Tuulikki Bartosik and Tiina Kiik, and Canadian dancer and choreographer Julia Aplin. The night will form a digital bridge between Estonia and Toronto.
For Bartosik and Kiik, who both play the free bass accordion, playing music brings about the feeling of home. Bartosik says, “I'm always home in music. It doesn't matter if I'm touring or if I'm moving.” That safe place, whether performing or recording, brings Bartosik back to age one to three, when she spent most of her time in southern Estonia with her Võro language-speaking grandmother, who sang a lot.
Readers were able to enjoy a glimpse into that place in Bartosik's live stream from the forests of Võrumaa last year. It's a place that stirs up ideas musically through its distinct culture and hilly topography. She says, “My soul isn't longing for something else when I'm there.”
Tiina Kiik also has very early associations between music and home. “I always think of home when I play to this day, as I had my first accordion lesson two days after my brother was born. So I remember his birth, my ema and isa, my tädi and onu, and all of our friends!” Of her program in the next EMW show, Kiik says “Each piece in my program is from a different time in my accordion journey.”
Speaking to both Bartosik and Kiik, it's clear that music is something that connects their present day with the past, as it follows them through the moments of their lives.
Bartosik remembered one particularly poignant instance of this. “I had this really strange vision in London in September 2019 when I was touring with Timo Alakotila, a Finnish pianist. We had a concert at Heath Street Baptist Church... I suddenly felt that both of my grandmothers were sitting and watching me. I don't know why, or where that came from, but I felt that they were really satisfied because they both really loved music, especially the one from Võrumaa, who had sung in the church choir. There's a lot of music in her side of relatives. They're kind of like guardian angels.”
Beyond physical places, artists need to feel at home with those they perform with. Part of any great show is chemistry and respect, and between all of these artists there is an abundance of that. Speaking excitedly about Tiina Kiik, with whom she will be performing a pre-recorded, improvisational duet, Tuulikki Bartosik said “Tiina is a legend. There aren't so many females playing free bass accordion, so I think Tiina has a very important place in accordion history, but also music history.”
Instruments may also tie us to places we call home. In Bartosik's mind, instruments are living creatures, with different characteristics, moods, and the ability to remind her of different pivotal moments of her life. When Bartosik started to learn the accordion at eight years old, and then discovered the free bass accordion, she was magnetized to the instrument. It all happened around the time when Estonia had regained its independence, when it was difficult to get hold of an accordion of this type.
Her latest accordion, the signature of her musical sound and the biggest one of all, is a Pigini from Italy, a brand that has been making these instruments since 1946. “I took it to Italy two summers ago when it was over 40 degrees Celsius in Milan. I was just horrified to play a solo concert outside. It was a covered venue but still very warm. For me, it was too hot. But the accordion loved it! It sounded like it had never sounded before. I thought 'It's the homeland of the accordion, of course it will sound perfect!'” Even instruments have their homes.
The accordion is a universally celebrated instrument across cultures from Europe to Latin America. As Tiina Kiik explained, the instrument has allowed her to explore “classical work transcriptions, contemporary music, improvised music, tangos, folk...and so on.” Incidentally, regarding one of the pieces Kiik will play, composer Daniel Foley has said “Rändaja laulud
is a 20 minute, seven movement major work... about Tiina’s trip through the stylistic world.” Kiik will be playing and singing the first movement.
On this stylistic trip, Kiik met Julia Aplin, an expert of dance and movement who has a multidimensional way of communicating different concepts through her art form. Audiences can expect vigorous dancing and unrestricted expression across the board.
The upcoming EMW show won't be the first time that Bartosik has played alongside a Canadian. After meeting in Estonia in 2016 and deepening a transnational musical collaboration over two years, Bartosik and Canadian electroacoustic composer, Vanessa Massera, ended up performing together in Moscow in the Ostankino Television Tower. This goes to show how far well-paired creative minds, no matter the circumstances, can connect and make something great.
Kiik and Aplin's performance will be filmed in Toronto, while Bartosik's will be filmed at St. Catherine's Monastery, founded in Tallinn by Dominican friars as early as the 13th century. What initially drew Bartosik to this place in particular was an installation that was inside, called the “Invisible Christmas Tree.” Her hope is to try to connect to this place as a point of inspiration while playing. More than anything, she is excited to reach an audience all over the world, no matter where we call home.
Tune in at the end of this month to watch these artists perform with sensitivity and connection. It'll enrich us with all of the warm feelings and dreams that a home can give us — in Estonia or abroad.
Written by Vincent Teetsov