Choral music in its various forms enjoys a huge popularity among the public at the moment, performers and listeners alike. In particular, Estonian choirs and concerts featuring music by Estonian composers have captured the imagination of the wider public.

Arvo Pärt © Isabelle Françaix
Arvo Pärt
© Isabelle Françaix

In Bachtrack’s annual statistics, Estonian composer Arvo Pärt was revealed as the most performed contemporary composer, based on our concert listings. Choral composers such as James MacMillan and John Rutter also featured strongly. We wondered why choral music is so popular with audiences at the moment and were delighted to elicit a response from the composer:

Arvo Pärt: I am very pleased to hear this. However, I do not see myself as a “choral” composer, though I have written quite a lot for choir. To the question, why choral music is so popular with audiences at the moment, I have – of course – no real reply. As far as I am concerned, the human voice, and I mean by that the human in the voice, meets a very specific need in me. People tend to search for themselves in other people, and the human voice is the most direct way to achieve this. This has been like that for ever, of course, but I observe more of this kind of nostalgia with the audience these past years. And maybe it is also the clarity of the order that we all notice consciously or unconsciously, so that it creates in us vibrations, a kind of resonance. Isn’t that the mystery of music, of all kind of music?  

We’ve also put some questions to Maris Hellrand, Head of International Communications for the Estonian Song and Dance Celebration 2014.

In the UK, choral singing is enjoying a huge renaissance at the moment. What is happening in your country? Can you give us any examples?

In Estonia, choral singing has a 150+ year old tradition, not to mention an oral heritage tradition reaching back many thousands of years. The tradition of the Song Celebrations held every two and three years since 1869 has kept the singing alive and strong. About 25,000 choir singers can participate at the big event and this is a great motivation for people to join choirs.

Estonian Song and Dance Celebration © Endel Grensmann
Estonian Song and Dance Celebration
© Endel Grensmann

The Song Celebration attracts an audience of up to 100,000 people who join in with the choirs for many songs. This event creates an incredibly strong positive energy and a sort of “addiction” in a positive way. It also applies to the young generation. The choirs practise the repertoire for two years and, in the last six months, the general selection rehearsals decide which choirs will qualify to take part (so not everyone who wants to is able to participate).

Also the professional choirs are world class and have won many awards like Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir or Grammy winner Vox Clamantis. There are many semi-professional prestigious children's and girls choirs like Ellerhein, Musamari or the Estonian Television Girls Choir.

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir © Kaupo Kikkas
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
© Kaupo Kikkas

Which styles of choral writing do you think are engaging audiences (and performers) the most?

There are a lot new choral pieces commissioned in Estonia, for the coming Song Celebration in July 2014 in particular, but also throughout the year. The performers and audiences appreciate modern music language and engaging lyrics, also adaptions of rock and pop music.

What is the usual route for singers in your country into choral singing? How far does the education system go into training young voices? 

The usual route is through the school choirs. All schools have at least one choir, most have many. As explained above, it is a prestigious aim to participate at the big Song Celebrations and that’s why young children are keen on choir music as well. There is a lot of repertoire that is fresh, young and relevant to the younger generations, addressing topics that touch them. Music is also used to teach history and values.

Who are the other new, exciting choral composers emerging in Estonia?

Among the young generation of choral composers are Tõnu Kõrvits, Tauno Aints, Pärt Uusberg, Priit Pajusaar and Kadri Hunt.


Many thanks to Maris Hellrand and Arvo Pärt for their responses.