‘The Power of Song’ permanent exhibition depicts the very first song festival as the first nationwide protest – it is all about the formation of a nation. It tells a story of the survival of a nation despite several occupations and of liberation from oppression, with the spotlight on the so-called Singing Revolution. The exhibition centres on the first and second song festivals, the centennial celebrations of the tradition in 1969 and the beginning of the tradition of song festivals of students (1956) and boys’ choirs (1976) in Tartu. A quote from J. V. Jannsen, a literary figure and initiator of the tradition of song festivals, serves as the motto for the exhibition: “Estonian men! Stay forever true to yourself as an Estonian man in any clothing and under any name – by doing so you will be an honourable man in the eyes of your people.” In addition to the permanent exhibition, the museum also features temporary exhibitions from time to time.
The halls on the second floor play host to the second part of the permanent exhibition: ‘A Man in an Imperial Coat’ on the beginnings of Estonian theatre. The roots of Estonian theatre lie deep in choral and orchestral societies, with the Vanemuine Society playing a major role in the process. 24 (12) June 1870 marked the birth of Estonian theatre: it was then that a play by Lydia Koidula, Saaremaa onupoeg, was performed in the building of the Vanemuine Society at 14 Jaama Street in the Ülejõe neighbourhood. Prompted by a very positive response from the audience, Koidula decided to stage two more plays at the Vanemuine, namely Kosjakased ehk Maret ja Miina and Säärane mulk ehk Sada vakka tangusoola. In 1873, Koidula left for Kronstadt in Russia. New leaders were needed to carry on the tradition of performing plays at the society’s gatherings, which also featured educational talks. So Reinhold Sachker, a photographer by profession, and later August Wiera, a maker of quality cabinets and also the founder of semi-professional theatre in Estonia, continued where Koidula had left off and got involved in theatre-making. Until 1906, the Vanemuine theatre group included only amateur actors. The same is true of the majority of producers and stage directors. In addition to the history of theatre, the exhibition sheds light on the professions of well-known amateur actors from the late 19 th century who held such regular jobs as tailor, bookbinder, shoemaker and typesetter.