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Episode 105: Ethnic Music and the Life of Faith (encore)

Release Date January 19, 2015


Dr. Steven Pierson tells how the Estonians' love of ethnic and Christian music helped them to become free of Soviet rule. Profound insights into culture and music provide insight for the church in the West.

Arts: A Nation That Sang Itself Free

by Steven Pierson

Our songs have been our weapons, Song Festivals our victories," stated Estonian president Lennart Meri in his opening remarks for the twenty-third National Estonian Song Festival this past July, reinvigorating a tradition that began in 1869. Surveying an audience that by all estimates exceeded 100,000, the elder statesman was prompted to chide critics who claim the festival is outdated.

Estonian history reveals an incessant struggle for independence over the last 700 years amidst foreign domination and cultural repression. After centuries of feudalism and paganism, Moravian missionaries sparked a revival in the eighteenth century; musicologists agree it spread through choral singing more than by preaching. Estonian Evangelical Fellowship President Meego Remmel confirms that the methodology has not changed. One choral conductor noted, "Music is the first pulpit here in Estonia—the sermon is the second."

Soviet occupation in 1940 under the brutal Stalin regime led to a mass exodus of Estonia's best and brightest. The russification schemes of the 1970s also threatened the country's ties to its culturally Christian past. But the more Soviet leaders believed that russification would eventually smother local characteristics that were considered "non-Russian" and "anti-Soviet," the more Estonians determined to resist. The singing culture celebrated especially through Song Festivals provided a means for a peaceful, yet effective resistance, nurturing a renewed national community. One choral conductor noted: "We sang ourselves free."

Read the full article at


For This Cross I'll Kill You by Bruce Olson

All the World is Singing by Frank Fortunato, Paul Neeley, and Carol Brinneman

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In This Episode

Steven Pierson

Steven Pierson
Steven Pierson is a professor of Music Education at Wheaton College and a professor of Arts and Humanities at DuPage University. His greatest desire is to serve the international church by facilitating Christian growth and learning through culturally appropriate academic, experimental and artistic means.


Melinda Schmidt

Melinda Schmidt
Melinda appreciates observing how the complexities of culture and faith influence one another. Her core words are freedom, orderliness, twirling, beauty and seed-planting. She enjoys this cozy time of year the in the Midwest which includes comfort food, imbibed while she makes her way through challenging classwork for her Grad degree at Wheaton College. She lives with her husband, Dave, and their little blessing named Pippa – a long-haired Chihuahua/Min Pin – you'd love 'er!