Fans brave Baltic weather to soak in Estonian culture

From left, Liisi Eglit, Michael Keller and Kadri Viires

The first downpour of the season did not deter more than 100 hearty souls from across campus and the Bay Area from enjoying a dose of Estonian culture on Tuesday night. Planners expected a slightly bigger crowd but for the Baltic guests used to colder climes, a rare California rainstorm added a homey touch. Sponsored by Stanford University Libraries, the “Estonian Cultural Evening” in Cubberley Auditorium featured two documentaries and an overview of the growing Estonian and Baltic collections program led by Assistant Curator LIISI EGLIT.

University Librarian MICHAEL KELLER paid a special tribute to Stanford philanthropist OLGA KISTLER-RITSO, the tenacious subject of the first film, The Woman Who Gave Estonia a Gift of a Museum. Kistler-Ritso, 93, died in Redmond, Wash., on Nov. 18. “Olga really was an Estonian patriot,” Keller said.

A gift from the Kistler family recently established the Estonian and Baltic curatorship at Stanford and launched a collaboration between the library and the Museum of Occupations in Estonia, which the Kistler-Ritso Foundation built a decade ago. Museum Director KADRI VIIRES, visiting from Estonia, talked about her efforts to engage local visitors, many of whom do not want to dwell on their nation’s difficult Soviet and Nazi past, she said.

Filmmakers JIM and MAUREEN TUSTY, who share a long relationship with the Kistlers through their early support of the 2006 film The Singing Revolution, were also on hand to screen To Breathe as One. This new documentary, which will be broadcast on U.S. public television in spring 2014, tells the story of Estonia’s 150-year-old Song Festival, or Laulupidu. For two days every five years, 30,000 choral singers join an audience of 100,000 to form the largest choir in the world. More than a music festival, the Laulupidu helped unite Estonia and preserve its cultural identity during the 50-year Soviet occupation. The film tells the story of the Laulupidu from the perspective of the Bay Area Piedmont Children’s Choir, one of the few international groups invited to participate in the 2009 festival. After the screening, former Piedmont Choir member ALEX BROWNE, a senior at Head-Royce School in Oakland, told the audience that singing in Estonia taught him about the power of music. “I didn’t just sing the music, I felt the music,” he said. “It gave me vocal proof that it is possible to have a singing revolution, a peaceful revolution.” Estonia peacefully regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The next Laulupidu will be held in Tallinn, Estonia, July 4-6, 2014.

—LISA TREI, School of Humanities and Sciences