Some 22,000 people singing before an even larger audience at the choir festival this summer in Tallin, Estonia, included the choir from St. Catherine's, North Vancouver. (Sandra Falck photo)

All winter and spring of this year, St. Catherine's choir had been learning to sing Estonian songs to a level that allowed it to participate in the Estonian nationwide song celebration at Tallinn in July. We made it and, while there, were mistaken for a Canadian-Estonian choir!

The invitation to enter the Festival came from St. Catherine's choir director, Siiri Rebane, who is Estonian by origin. It was an experience that none of us will forget.

We sang with twenty-two thousand (that's right!) people in choirs from across Estonia, Europe and the world. It is the largest festival of its kind in the world and is held, every five years, in an outdoor stadium, with an audience that is many times the size of the choir.

But it wasn't the size of the event so much as the quality and emotion that packed it that left an indelible impression. The singing of the national anthem and other national songs spoke to the people's endurance and aspirations and brought many tears.

The Prime Minister of Estonia was there to address the crowd. The Song Celebration has been a key to the survival of Estonian national identity since 1869. Throughout its history the country has been occupied by one or other of the Baltic countries that surround it, the most recent being the Soviet Union. Signs of occupation remain in the city.

Throughout those years the Estonians never gave up their song, their music, and eventually they won their freedom.

It was the joyful spirit combined with the musical excellence that was so amazing. Following the concert, the conductors were tossed into the air and then garlanded with greenery and sheer exuberance - no decorum here.

Members of St. Catherine’s choir in North Vancouver who journeyed to eastern Europe this summer.

There was a power and dedication that challenged me to recognize music as soul's work. Luther said `[S]he who sings, prays twice.' I'm not sure I ever recognized that so strongly as that July day in Tallinn.

After our stay in a thirteenth century building, now a Lutheran Seminary, our journey continued on to St Petersburg, Helsinki and Stockholm. There was much to see and to learn.

In St Petersburg we experienced the `white nights.' At that time of year the sun barely touches the horizon before the new day begins, giving an exquisite light to the waterways and palaces of the city.

We had been invited to sing in a Lutheran Church in Tallinn and now also in Helsinki where we discovered that we were able to sing in Finnish too!

We prepared for each of our visits with prayer and reflection. The Hermitage at St Petersburg contains Rembrandt's depiction of the Prodigal Son, which was the focus of a preparatory meditation.

We had prepared at St Catherine's for the visits to Russian Orthodox Churches with two evenings during which we studied icons prior to our trip. And we learned from each other.

Our group of choir members and friends ranged in age from ten to eighty; there was much that each was able to contribute to the community, not least the gift of laughter. Most of all we appreciated this wonderful experience that was the gift of Siiri, our director.

We brought home much in terms of happy and stimulating memories and the many kindnesses we received