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Time Machine: Toronto Eesti Meeskoor’s Canadian Musical Memories


Toronto Eesti Meeskoor (TEM, or Toronto Estonian Male Choir) is a choir that needs no introduction. Founded in the year 1950, its accomplishments are well established on a global Estonian community level. As TEM declares, they are “the only expatriate Estonian [male choir] still active outside Estonia.” The current reduced array of perhaps 25 to 35 voices is among the persevering force of Estonian culture in the Canadian cultural scene.
Toronto Estonian Male Choir at Massey Hall in 1965, on the 15th anniversary of its founding. Photo by Uno Kabal

Toronto Eesti Meeskoor (TEM, or Toronto Estonian Male Choir) is a choir that needs no introduction. Founded in the year 1950, its accomplishments are well established on a global Estonian community level. As TEM declares, they are “the only expatriate Estonian [male choir] still active outside Estonia.” The current reduced array of perhaps 25 to 35 voices is among the persevering force of Estonian culture in the Canadian cultural scene.

Historically, one of the choir's most famous concerts, on the occasion of their 50th concert, was at Massey Hall on April 19th, 1964. Imagine that, Estonian songs filling the rafters of the Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street! Nearly seven years later, Neil Young would play there, taped for the classic album Live at Massey Hall 1971.

There's plenty more proof of the respect this choir built for itself in Canada, though. Between 1952 and 1973, the period in which TEM was conducted by Roman Toi, two shows in particular stand out.

The first was in Stratford, Ontario, for the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada (now known simply as the Stratford Festival). It was Sunday July 15th, 1956, which places the show three years after the festival's founding.

Parks Canada states that the festival had developed “an international reputation for excellence in the classics… attracting outstanding talent from across the country.” Aligning with this account is the first TEM album (covering the years 1950 to 1970) which describes how TEM performed to a “particularly demanding international audience.” It was a momentous time for Toi, who also became a Canadian citizen around this time.

(Read more: Estonian Life No. 27 2022 paber- and PDF/digi)

Written by Vincent Teetsov, Toronto


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