Estonian Choral Tradition


The area of Estonia is a bit bigger than Holland, but the population is less than one and a half million people. Around 30 thousand people sing in different choirs the number of which is more than 1000. In every five years the people gather in Tallinn to participate in All-Estonian Song Celebration where alongside the mixed, male, female and children’s choirs also the joint choir consisting of 24 thousand singers performs

Estonian Choral Association (Eesti Kooriühing) was founded in 1982 and is the umbrella organisation for all Estonian choirs, brass bands, conductors and music teachers ( about 30 000 members altogether).

Estonian Choral Association co-ordinates the activities of Estonian amateur choirs. Our goals are to foster the choral and wind music tradition, to find and spread repertoire, to create new contacts, to organize national and international choral festivals, concerts, educational programs, workshops, one-day choral singing events and other occasions for choirs, singers, conductors and music teachers.

ECA comprises:

  • Estonian Mixed Choirs’ Union
  • Estonian Female Song Society
  • Estonian Male Choirs Association
  • Estonian Chamber Choirs Union
  • Estonian Society for Music Education
  • Estonian Choral Conductors Association
  • Estonian Wind Orchestras’ Union

So each category has its own curators who organize festivals, contests, singing days, song festivals and joint concerts. The calendar is quite tight and the number of participants quite big as chorus singing is a part of Estonian lifestyle.

The international events in Estonian choral life are International Choir Festival “Tallinn…” (biannual, in April 2005, 2007, 2009 etc) and Pärnu International Choir Festival (biannual, in 2006, 2008, 2010 etc). Foreign choirs are also invited to All-Estonian Song Celebrations.


The rise of popularity of multi-part choral singing among Estonians began in the 19th century, together with the national awakening movement, and the two phenomena supported one another. Choirs, wind orchestras and singing societies sprang up all over the country.

First singers’ organisations were founded in 1865: Vanemuine Society in Tartu and Estonia Society in Tallinn.

Brass bands (Posaunenchöre) were connected with Moravian brothers at very beginning. One of the most remarkable was Estonian brass band (founded in 1818) with 14-18 players: Adam Jakobson and Taavet Wirkhaus from this orchestra founded next (and excellent!) orchestras in their places later.

In the summer of 1869, the first all-Estonian song celebration took place in Tartu, bringing together over 800 singers and wind players. Song celebrations became a national symbol for Estonians, awakening their sense of unity.


Estonian nation and national song celebrations have been inseparably connected for about 130 years already. At that time (in the19th century) Estonia was a province of Russian Empire where Estonian peasants were ruled by German aristocracy. 

Since the beginning of the 13th century when Estonian territory was occupied mainly by German troops and converted into colony, local power had belonged to German aristocracy. Since this time several states (such as Denmark, Sweden and Russia) had fought for ownership of Estonia. The territory was re-divided several times between these states, but aristocracy of German origin maintained his power on the local level even after the final occupation of the Baltic by Russia in the beginning of the 18th century. In this connection, the development of Estonian national culture and education was mainly influenced by the Baltic-German culture and it concerns also beginning of the tradition of Estonian song celebrations. In the 19th century several local Baltic-German song festivals took place in Estonia and were set an example to the first Estonian song celebration in 1869. But Estonian national song celebrations became quickly much more popular among Estonian population as they symbolized national solidarity of Estonians and their striving to national liberalization.

By common conception of the old times Baltic-Germans were considered civilized nation and Estonians peasantry. Nevertheless the first Estonian choirs and brass bands were founded in 18th century already – thanks to active acting of Moravian Brothers. But at first Estonian choirs had mainly German songs in their repertoire.

The so-called “national awakening” on the 1860s culminated in 1869 in the first national song celebration in Tartu. It involved 845 participants and audience of between 10 and 15 thousand people. Thereby only brass bands and male choirs were accepted to perform, in the 4th song celebration in 1891 the mixed choirs were invited to participate for the first time.

National song celebrations were held every five years beginning in 1923. The number of participants ranged from about 12,000 in 1923 to some 17,500 in 1938. At the latter celebration the size of the audience rose to nearly 100,000 people.

The first national song celebration after World War II was held in 1947. It was also the first Song and Dance Celebration. Since that time Song and Dance Celebrations have remained connected, although a couple of times they have been held separately. The five-year cycle of arranging the celebrations has been kept up until today. Still there have been some exceptions: in 1969 the Jubilee Song Celebration was organized to celebrate 100th anniversary of song celebration.

Since 1962 Youth Song and Dance Celebrations have been organized also every five years. As there were so many of children and boys’ choirs, it was impossible to place them to Song Stage with mixed, male and female choirs. The repertory is also a little bit different from big song celebrations. Youth Song and Dance Celebration plays important role in cultural educating of our children and young people.

We are glad that our song celebrations have their rising generation – 60 % of participants of the last All-Estonian Song Celebration were pupils and students.

Special large open-air stage for song celebrations was built in Tallinn Song Square in 1960 (the same project was also used in Vilnius). The biggest number of joint choir in the stage has extended to 24 500 in Jubilee Song Celebration in 1969.Usually there are about 18 000 singers in joint choir and 25 000 all together. All choir categories are represented: male, female, mixed, children and boys’ choirs. Since the 1st Song Celebration brass bands have performed with the choirs, but folk instrumental ensembles, symphony orchestras and string orchestras have also participated in song celebrations. The size of the audience has usually been 100,000 – 110,000 people, all-time record was 150,000 people in Jubilee Song Celebration in 1969.

In Estonian national consciousness there has always been two convictions connected with song celebrations. In the year 1869 pagan people sang themselves to civilized nation and at the end of last century Estonians’ singing made us re-independent nation. The expression “singing nation” has always belonged to Estonians’ identity and has connected the nation in the fight for independence.


In 1921, the male choir of the Tallinn Male Song Society founded all-Estonian union of singing societies, calling it the Estonian Singers’ Union. The Union worked with finding new repertory for the choirs, organizing different concerts and also song celebrations.

On March 28, 1982 the Estonian Choral Society was founded.

An Estonian sings much, often and everywhere and takes a great interest in music life near and far. Those interested in music are always welcome here!