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The 7-Pound Box from Estonia

by Kurt McKee, R&S Chair for Multi-Cultural Music

Omckeene day when I came home from teaching, there was a box on my front doorstep—addressed to me from someone named Evi Arujärv, paid for by the government of Estonia. 

I know for some of you, something like this happens every day, but for me, this is rare.  I opened it to find a large cache of recordings and information, both cultural and historical.  It was all about Estonian music.  Everything I’d ever want to know—when the first Estonian National Song Festival was, what songs were sung there, who their best composers were/are, where to find translations, how to pronounce Estonian, where to purchase Estonian choral sheet music. 

As someone who has no Baltic heritage, I was impressed and inspired.  Every little bit of info I now possessed about Estonian choral music came about because I sent one email a few weeks ago.

There is a great resource that we, as choral directors, canmusic-center-logo rely on—Music Information Centers.  Many nations and regions have Music Information Centers whose only purpose is to propagate the understanding and appreciation for the music of their culture.  They are well-funded and usually have a staff that can speak English and direct you the help you may need. 

While in grad school, I sent a letter (yes, a letter) to every music information center I could find, asking for recordings of traditional music from their countries.  Within a month or two I received recordings from Denmark, Scotland, Finland, Norway, and TEN compact discs from Sweden.  All I did was ask. 

Atzephr that time, most Music Information Centers were located in Northern Europe.  Today, there are a few dozen more countries—most of which have a government structure that requires that they fund organizations like these (yes, we even have one here for the U.S.!) 

I have included a link here that takes you directly to the International Association of Music Information Centers members page—it includes links to every nation’s page that is a current member.

Over the past several months, I have been contacting every member country that had a Music Information Center, requesting information about their country’s choral music—how to find sheet music, recordings, etc., and where to begin if I wanted to try something with my choir. 

Within days, I was contacted by most of them with some helpful information.  As an example, I learned that there are MASSIVE national folk music libraries in all the German-speaking countries that have scanned buildings-full of scores into pdf format, much of which is public domain and could be used by your choirs today.

Here’s the problem:  most of us don’t have either the time or the linguistic abilities to be able to figure out which song would be the very best song for our non-auditioned mixed choir, children’s choir or community ensemble.  Too much information creates paralysis. 

That is where the Music Information Center staff comes in handy.  Every organization has a staff that can answer questions and direct you to composers, people and places where you can find what you need. 

Like many choral educators of my generation, I discovered the Grammy Award winning
sole mystere des voix bulgaresunds of Le Mystére des Voix Bulgares, a collection of recordings of Bulgarian Women’s Choirs that were published in three volumes (the second is my favorite).  If you have never heard these recordings, I encourage you to find them. 

There is a vibrant tradition of singing in Bulgaria, encompassing both traditional styles and modern compositions that often utilize innovative notation ideas. 

The question was, at the time, where could you purchase sheet music if you were interested in singing Bulgarian music.  Now that Bulgaria as a nation is open to the world, it is easier to find information about their music. 

But, unless you have a translator and a connection to the choirs and composers within Bulgaria, you will have trouble finding what you want. 

That is where Voxbulgarica comes in.  About twelve or thirteen years ago, I discovered this company, based in the area around Vancouver, B.C.  The gentleman who began the publishing house and website saw the need for Bulgarian published sheet music.  I spoke with him over the phone.  He had a family member (wife, I believe) that was a Bulgarian musician and had connections to many of the choirs, directors and composers of these great choral pieces. 

At the time, the number of published works was limited, but I was able to request a piece and it became available within a few years.  As I recall, many of the pieces heard on the Grammy recordings of the late 1980’s were only in manuscript form, sitting in the basement of some cathedral somewhere in Bulgaria.  His business began with making contact to the appropriate people in Bulgaria and publishing a fresh edition. 

Today, they have a website that is exceptionally helpful if you want to try out a Bulgarian piece.  Here’s the link:

There is a broad sheet music library, translation and pronunciation services, instrumental information, video of Bulgarian choirs singing some of the music, compact discs, information about Bulgarian composers, books and other resources on Bulgarian culture and performance practice. 

Most of the music is digitally downloaded after payment—Paypal even works here.  The staff is friendly and helpful.  Why don’t you check it out and see if this type of music could fit in a program of yours this next year?

While we are on the topic of sheet music that is available in digital form directly from the publisher online, anunaI need to bring up Michael McGlynn.  Although many of us have heard his music in some form or another, I am not sure if you have ever visited his website:

Even if you are not interested in performing his music, let your singers know about the website.  Student singers and directors alike can learn a lot and be inspired by the performance videos and information available. 

Anuna, a great Irish choral group, is the main venue through which his compositions come to life.  There are several clips of Anuna singing his music and various other professional, collegiate and a cappella groups singing his music. 

His music is secular and sacred, English and Gaelic, charming and haunting. 

Our choral colleagues from around the division and country are often our greatest source of literature ideas. 

Some of you know that I have been directing a Swiss Choir for about six years.  Since I began working with these men, I have learned about Swiss Folk music, its prominence in Swiss culture, regional dialects, what the four national languages are, Swiss national singing competitions (you are a rock star in Switzerland if your town’s yodeling group wins), and what the three main pillars of Swiss culture are (Singen, Schützen, u Schwingen—Singing, Shooting and Swiss Wrestling). 

At this point, if any of you wanted to find a piece for any choir you work with, I could help.  I can help find translations, background information and pronunciation help and recordings.  This is just where I happened to end up. 

Knowing that I can have a very small area of expertise in the choral world, there must be others out there, here in our Northwest Division, who can act as a source of information and support for those of us that want to engage in another culture’s music. 

Is there anyone out there who directs (or knows of someone who directs) a choir that would be considered culturally driven at it’s core?  My choir self-identifies as a Swiss choir. 

Is there an Indian or Inuit reservation in your state that has a singing group for their tribal nation? 

Is there a Samoan dance troupe in your metro area? 

Does someone you know sing in a Swedish choir? 

Do you know of a Serbian community in your state that may have someone who could be a source of support for people like us who would like to try to program some Serbian music? 

Please let me know if you are aware of people who may be willing help our membership explore the music of their culture.  If you are a person of specific cultural expertise, please email me and let me know what your interests and abilities are.  My email address is:     I’d like to share this information with our membership.

Why not take your choir on a musical journey to another country, another time, another culture?  I encourage you to invest a little time into one of the links above.  Maybe some day soon you’ll come home to find a box of choral music on your doorstep.