Kaja Weeks: Estonian singing voices in a poem

“Voices” is a poem by Kaja Weeks, an American of Estonian heritage, that celebrates Estonia’s ancestral rhythms, melodies and spirit in the context of Laulupidu, Estonia’s song festival.

Born in the United States as the child of the Second World War refugees from Estonia, Kaja Weeks is the daughter of Salme Parming (1919-2013), a noted Estonian-born rhythmic gymnast/trainer, photographer and Estonian-American activist.

She grew up in New York City’s Estonian diaspora which was culturally very active. “Old Estonian vocal music really appealed to me early on. In the 1970’s I was able to research and hear Finno-Ugric music in oral history archives in Helsinki, and I founded “Kannel” (Zither), a youth vocal ensemble that performed traditional Estonian music in the northeastern United States and Canada,” Weeks told Estonian World.

Today, her career as a classically trained singer and music educator who specialises in early developmental intervention is founded on the healing powers of the singing voice.

In the last decade, her Estonian roots have found their way into writing. Essays and other lyric poems, such as Mouth Quill (from the term “Suudesulg,” found in runic verses and signifying a singer’s magical tool) and the Coastal Meadows (Southwest Estonia), have been published in various literary venues. Weeks cites “Voices” as being directly inspired by Estonia’s 2014 Song Festival and the rich indigenous traditions of the Estonian people.


Voices (Song Festival, Tallinn, Estonia)

Song-Mother’s voices,

sounds of ancestors once slipped from tongue to air—

ribbon-like, still unfurling.


On the edge of the sea

a silver shell holds thousands, singers who face

thousands more on a grassy gentle rise. All inhale.


Though the hour nears midnight

sun skims waters of the Baltic Sea,

flames in the tower-torch leap high.


The singing will not stop,

Lee—  lee— lo, the sounds form Leelo!

Each ancient syllable earned with sweat and love.


A conductor, peering from within a laurel wreath

clasps his chest, lowers his head,

bows to the choir who has honored song.


The watchers become the singers,

the standing levitate,

the air is alive.


Swirling round, melodies rustle, loosen hair,

saying: we are a living sound—sing us speak us hear us.

Song-Mother’s voices—Hääli imedänne!


– Hääli imedänne – Magical voices in old Estonian

    –  Leelo – The old Estonian word for song and title of an actual song

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