Was Singing Necessary?: A New Estonian National Epic

Guntis Šmidchens (University of Washington)

On Estonia’s 90th birthday, 650 Estonians wrote 6,500 lines of poetry as a
gift to their country.  Out of this corpus,  folklorists created “Viru
regi,” a 373-line poem whose metrical form stems as much from the literary
national epic, Kalevipoeg, as from oral regilaul. This “written oral poem”
(J.M. Foley’s terminology) became a “voiced text” when it was sung for the
first time on February 24, 2008.  Its genre is not difficult to determine.
It is a long song (40 minutes!).  It tells a heroic national history.  It
presents beliefs and worldview (a singer commented, “if you need to pass
the citizenship exam, read this song– It’s all there”).  It is an epic
song.  As a new national epic, it may be more effective than Kalevipoeg.
Performers note that the “power” of this song comes from both content and
sung form.  Its roots in oral poetry and folk creativity entail an open
ended text that may change in performance.  The song’s effect on future
Estonian national culture remains to be determined.

Keyword: Smidchens

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