I was born in Toronto of Slovenian heritage. My parents met shortly after they immigrated into Canada. Each had spent several years in DP camps in Austria at the end of World War II.
Our Slovenian community in Toronto was closely knit. We attended Slovenian language school. We sang with multiple choirs - church choirs, children’s, youth, women’s, men’s, and mixed choirs. We were trained in folk dancing. We had many opportunities to participate in theatre and music theatre productions, concerts and recitals, and cultural festivals.
But then...I married into an Estonian family in Toronto. I found it interesting and endearing that my husband’s upbringing closely paralleled my own. The Slovenian language belongs to the Slavic family of languages, Estonian to the Finno-Ugric. They each have complicated grammatical rules, but no language similarities to each other. However, my husband and I have shared another language - music. Most notably, choral music.
For example, we have enjoyed participation in Estonia Koor for well over a decade. My mastery of Estonian diction is improving, my vocabulary base gradually increasing. We attended our first Laulupidu in 2009, an overwhelming experience. The trip was my husband’s first visit to Estonia. As a non-Estonian, wearing not a Slovenian, but Estonian rahvariided, I was completely caught up in the emotional song and cry of a people fiercely proclaiming and celebrating their beloved nation. I could relate, having grown up with a similar love and identity in the Slovenian community. In 2009, my husband and I visited his relatives in Estonia, and mine in Slovenia.
As the 2018-19 Estonia Koor season approached, we encouraged our children to join us with the goal of attending the 2019 Laulupidu together. Two of our children were able to participate. Our daughters joined us for Thursday night rehearsals, which involved not only choral singing, but also an introduction to Estonian language and culture, and - dare I say - culinary delights. As a family we attended the choral workshop Lalala in January, an invaluable weekend of focussed rehearsing.
July 2019 finally arrived. Our family travelled first to Slovenia to visit with our cousins and relatives. We hiked in the mountains, explored Slovenia’s natural wonders and historical sites, and deepened ties of kinship. We drove from Slovenia through a mountain pass into Austria, retracing the exodus of thousands of Slovenians in 1945. The geography remains, but there are no more barracks, no camps… As we drove, we read a translated version of my mother’s diary from that difficult time.
As a family we were discovering unknown links in our family’s history.
Laulupidu was our next destination. Estonians and Estophiles from many countries gathered to acclaim the nation of Estonia in song. It was an unforgettable experience. The first two days involved rehearsals at the Lauluvaljak. There is nothing quite like singing in the rain with thousands of other singers, some partly sheltered by the shell over the platform - laulukaar; others protected from the pouring rain only by plastic ponchos. It didn’t matter. Under the baton of the equally drenched conductors, we raised our voices together, the song and heart of a people grateful for their nation. The parade and concerts which followed in the next days of Laulupidu marked a monumental celebration: 35,000 singers and 65,000 spectators singing and sending waves of solidarity back and forth. For us and for our daughters, it was another lesson in family history, my husband’s side. We were warmly greeted by family again in Estonia, just as we had felt welcomed by our Slovenian kin.
Through this trip, the tapestry of our multi-ethnic heritage is being woven; the older pieces made more vibrant, the threads continuing to stitch new patterns into the beautiful patchwork quilt of our history. We are now looking forward to another exciting season with Estonia Koor.
Barbara Medri, Toronto