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Social distancing boosts online culture in Estonia

Estonian online culture

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Cultural life is alive and busy in Estonia despite social distancing and all public venues being closed. In fact, the culture section of major daily newspaper Postimees now hosts a special section on their portal – the online-events calendar. The coming weekend, for example, features 6-7 events daily. The majority of events are concerts with music genres ranging from heavy metal to opera, but among them are theatre performances, curated museum visits and even an online singing protest rally. Are they here to stay?

Getting creative with online concerts 

One of the first artists to host a concert in his living room was Jaan Pehk, a popular singer-songwriter. Immediately after social distancing was enforced in Estonia, he held a three-hour-long concert that was constantly viewed by more than 3000 people. Besides singing, Mr Pehk held a raffle and gave listeners prizes such as poetry books and most notably, jars of his famous kimchi-salad.

“I enjoyed performing at home,” Mr. Pehk commented. “I could go and give my wife a hug during the break. The only real worry I had was that the technology would fail. If you are doing a regular live you could just invite people closer and continue singing. If you lose power during an online-show the event is done with.”

Nevertheless Mr. Pehk is convinced that these kinds of concerts would continue also after the social distancing. “They existed actually already before the coronavirus. Only people didn’t pay attention to them much. Now they have given a new start and I think this momentum will hold,” he says.

Connecting people through Estonian regilaul

In addition to spectator-events, Anna Hints, film director and singer of traditional call-and-response genre regilaul, found a way to connect people in an extraordinary way.

“We were actually supposed to host a demonstration to protest against intensive forest cutting. But naturally, due to the antiviral measures we had to cancel his. Before that, I had a dream about my grandmother who was very worried about the forests being destroyed and, in that dream, she gave me a song that I was supposed to perform at the event. When the event got cancelled I decided to sing together with like-minded people no matter what.”

So Ms. Hints invited people to join her online and follow her lead in singing the song in traditional Estonian genre. On March 21, more than a dozen joined.

“Regilaul is beautiful because everyone sings it in a slightly different way. So it is not polished as in a “normal” choir in videos you might have online. Actually, in those, all singers are recorded separately. What we did was really alive. Inevitably there is some lag when you sing together online, but this was… well, raw. Just like our times. This crisis makes us realise how fragile is life and how easily our world can be turned upside down,” Ms. Hints said. “And singing these traditional songs gives participants power to survive.”

Ms Hints plans to hold regular online-regilaul-sing-alongs. The first one will be held next week. Stay tuned!

Written by
Peeter Vihma

sociologist, filmmaker & author

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