Sünteri Sass, Friend and Colleague to BaltHerNet has Died

February 7, 2014

Aleksander Sünter or Sünteri Sass died on January 26th in Orissaare Parish, in Kindu Village. Sass celebrated his 42nd birthday on December 30th.

Aleksander Sünter was born in Kärla Parish, in Sõmera Village on the island of Saaremaa. He graduated from Orissaare Secondary School and the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy, and studied semiotics at the University of Tartu. He worked as an instrumental music teacher at the Orissaare Music School, and as a folk culture specialist and project manager at the Tartu Tiigi Seltsimaja. He led the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy folk music chair, teaching introductory folk music history courses: Estonian folk music, and folk instruments and music.

Sünteri Sass was known in Estonia as a folk musician, and band leader and singer of Oort. The band’s homepage states :“Oort grabs the bull by the horns and digs deep into the grooves of the runo rock field. Mythical experiences are brought from millennia to you, creating song for our nation’s future.” Oort brought runo song back into our everyday lives, so that it would not just be mere entertainment or a piece in a museum. Sünteri Sass was the soul of Oort; inside Sass was a mysterious force that invariably grabbed people. This force was evident in soft-spoken Sass, especially when he was making music.

Sass has been with BaltHerNet since its beginning. On the evening of the last night of the 2007 BaltHerNet archival summer school in Koke he played lõõtspill, the traditional Estonian concertina and sang. Participants from the world over became so carried away with singing that the party did not finish until morning. A tradition was born: from that moment, no BaltHerNet summer school or conference would end without Sass and his powerful singing. These were always very anticipated evenings: white nights in the middle of summer, which started quickly, but in the end were filled with nostalgia and melancholy. By morning, Sass was left with a small group of sleepless companions who did not want to leave and were ready to listen as long as Sass was willing to play and sing. These were very special moments of togetherness, which brought BaltHerNet members together into a friendly family. These moments were both therapeutic and meditative; one can only speculate as to what took place in the souls of those who fell under the spell of Sass and his music. The way he played the Ukuaru Waltz was so beautiful that it tore at the soul…

The 2010 summer school took place at the Traditional Music Centre in Viljandi where Sass was head of the Information Centre. At that time, the Traditional Music Centre was also an institutional member of BaltHerNet and Sass was the contact person and helped with the organization of the Viljandi summer school.

In the summers of 2011 and 2012, Sass came with his own family ensemble, about which he has said: they would not have come together if he had not been ill. Sass was diagnosed in 2006 with a stage II brain tumour. In 2011, his illness reached the aggressive stage IV. He went for surgery and he recovered from his surgery. At the 2011 summer school in Kääriku he was much better and playing again. It was both beautiful and painful – Sass told us about his illness. The next morning he had to go to a regular post operative screening. Before he left, many hugs and warm wishes were exchanged. Sass really needed them, and we did too – we were all very worried. On the bus back to Tartu, we were very happy to hear the good news: Sass’s condition had stabilised.

In the summer of 2013, Sass did not attend the summer school. We sent greetings to his home in Saaremaa, but we felt that something very important was missing…Sass’s charm was not there.

Dear Sass, we are thankful for the unique moments that you have shared with us, for your warm and open mind, and for your music! You have now set off on your own path. What has been left behind? Gold has been left behind. We hold that in our hearts and when we come together, we will sing again – in your memory.


Aleksander Sünter