In Estonia, keeping our cultural inheritance alive, thriving and in constant development is a matter we do not take lightly. To some, an unprecedented situation where cultural gatherings are deemed a health hazard and life seems to be put to a halt may appear like a complex, perhaps even an existential challenge. But for Estonians, complexity tends to inspire bold action and challenges are always tackled head on. We tend to do this by leveraging the resources we have and thinking outside the box. For us, the first reaction is to go digital.
For the first time in history, more than 2500 Estonian choir singers united for a virtual concert on the historic Tallinn Song Festival Grounds on May 17, 2020. The unique technological solution, installed under laulukaar (the arch of the Song Festival Grounds), brought together the legendary singer Ivo Linna, his band, choirs from across the country, and of course, the audience that attended the concert from their cars on the festival grounds. This was led by renowned conductor, Aarne Saluveer.
Such an undertaking is ambitious and seemingly impossible in a myriad of ways, many of those technical. Especially, when pulling it off – from idea to execution – in a matter of six days. Magnus Müürsepp, the technical producer behind the virtual concert says that the greatest challenge was achieving perfect sync during the live broadcast. Combining multiple pre-recorded clips into beautiful pieces is a tried and tested practice. The true challenge presents itself when information has to travel from the conductor to the singers, back to the screens on the Festival Grounds and ultimately presented as one shared moment on the main screen under the laulukaar.
“We achieved this by simultaneously using three ‘time machines’,” Müürsepp discloses. Tweaking the moments that the singers receive the music and the time that the singing reaches the Festival Grounds, the final broadcast was designed to result in close to perfect synchrony. The technical heart of the concert was the ultrafast internet connection on the Festival Grounds and the 20 computers behind it. The technical execution also required connecting 14 cameras for the live TV broadcast, various screens on the festival grounds, the online broadcast, 1000 tablets under laulukaar and, of course, the TVs, computers and phones of the singers at home – all in one moment of time, all through mutual effort in order to share a common experience.
According to Lehari Kaustel, the author and initiator behind the idea, this is the largest virtual concert of its kind in the world to date. “Everyone has worked very hard together, as a society, during the past months. All our daily private and work-related matters have been dealt with to the best of our abilities,” Kaustel noted before the event. “What will be taking place on Sunday is a very special moment. We will put our digital competence truly to the test and see if we can come together and do what we have always done – sing. It is going to be an interesting experiment, where singers will use their phones to unite from their homes and sing together under laulukaar.”
And the experiment was a success. This unique moment of togetherness once again proved that innovative digital solutions can combat even the most unprecedented challenges and unite us in extraordinary ways even while we must remain physically distant.
Witness the moment for yourself:
The event was made possible thanks to the collaboration of the public and private sector. The concert is supported by Estonian Public Broadcasting, Telia, Estonian Choral Association, Tallinna Lauluväljak, Valge Klaar, Eventech, ProLab, Miltton, Royal Experience, Apollo Cinema.