Roman Toi’s 100th Birthday Celebration

June 20, 2016

On June 18th Maestro Roman Toi, choir director, composer and keeper of Estonian culture in Canada, celebrated his 100th birthday. To celebrate this occasion a number of events took place in Toronto.

The festivities began at Tartu College on June 17th with a VEMU symposium titled The Grand Old Man of Estonian Music: Roman Toi 100. The conductor of many choirs and the artistic director of many song festivals, Hirvo Surva, the President of the Estonian Song and Dance Celebration Foundation, Aet Maatee, the active Canadian-Estonian musician and cultural figure, Andres Raudsepp and the ethnomusicologist from the Estonian Literary Museum, Triinu Ojamaa spoke of Estonia’s outstanding musical culture and Roman Toi’s achievements. Jean McKen from Toronto also told many stories about teaching Roman Toi how to use a digital sheet music program. Charles Kipper played a piano piece by Johan Aavik based on his memories of his trip to Canada, which he wrote while he was on his way back to Sweden. The Roman Toi 100 exhibition was opened, which was created in collaboration with the Estonian Theatre and Music Museum. In addition, two films were screened: an ETV interview with Roman Toi recorded in Estonia in 2014 during the last Song Festival, and Kalli Paakspuu’s short documentary filmed to celebrate Roman Toi’s birthday – Roman Toi: A Century and More. This film was a trailer of what will become a full length documentary in the near future. The Chief Archivist of VEMU, Piret Noorhani, concluded VEMU’s Collection Campaign “Music in Estonian Life.” The symposium was live streamed on Skype in Tallinn, Estonia at the Estonian Theatre and Music Museum. Roman Toi’s friends and colleagues in Estonia were all able to wish him happy birthday via Skype. The symposium participants also had many heartfelt birthday wishes for the centenarian.

The birthday celebrations continued on June 19th at the church service concert held at EELK St. Peter’s Church in Toronto. The Estonian National Opera Boys’ Choir conducted by Hirvo Surva and the organist Ene Salumäe performed as special guests. The Toronto Estonian Male Choir and the Estonia Choir sang along with soloists Avo Kittask and Kristina Agur. A number of Roman Toi’s works were performed at the concert, including the cantatas Suur on Jumal Su ramm and Te Deum laudamus. Riho Esko Maimet’s piece composed specially for Roman Toi’s birthday was also premièred at the concert. A reception followed the church service concert in the church hall, where a number of moving speeches were given and songs were sung.

The main guest for the celebrations was the Estonian National Opera Boys’ Choir, who were named the Choir of the Year in Estonia in 2015. This world renowned boys choir celebrated its 45th birthday with a tour of North America. The boys choir stayed in Toronto from June 16th-22nd and performed many times in Toronto and Niagara Falls in addition to their performance at the church service concert dedicated to Roman Toi. The Estonian National Opera Boys’ Choir gala concert took place on June 21st at Koerner Hall, one of Toronto’s most prominent concert halls. They performed pieces by Estonian composers, including R. Toi’s works. The main sponsor for this event was the Estonian Studies Centre/VEMU. The celebrations and exhibition were supported by the Ministry of Culture of Estonia, the Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Toronto Estonian Credit Union, the Estonian Foundation of Canada, Frat. Vironia, The Integration and Migration Foundation Our People (MISA), Estonian Relief Committee in Canada, Estonian Singers Federation in North America, Estonia Choir, the Toronto Estonian Male Choir, St. Peter’s Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Estonian Arts Centre, St. Peter’s Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Toronto, St Andrews Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Diocese Abroad, Canada Synod of Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Estonian Choral Association.

The Viljandi County Governor, Peep Aru and Viljandi Mayor, Ando Kiviberg, also participated in the festivities. A number of leaders in choir music in Estonia and the ETV film crew were also in attendance. On August 20th, the 25th anniversary since the restoration of independence of Estonia, ETV screened a special feature of Roman Toi’s birthday celebrations in Toronto.

Piret Noorhani