The Power of Song

Nonviolent National Culture in the Baltic Singing Revolution

Guntis Smidchens

  • Published: December 2014
  • Subject Listing: Scandinavian Studies; History / European History; Film and Media Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 416 pp., 18 illus., 1 map, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: N / A Europe
  • Series: New Directions in Scandinavian Studies
  • Contents

The Power of Song shows how the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania confronted a military superpower and achieved independence in the Baltic "Singing Revolution." When attacked by Soviet soldiers in public displays of violent force, singing Balts maintained faith in nonviolent political action. More than 110 choral, rock, and folk songs are translated and interpreted in poetic, cultural, and historical context.

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Guntis Smidchens is the Kazickas Family Endowed Professor in Baltic Studies in the Scandinavian studies department at the University of Washington.

"The Power of Song serves not only as the quintessential study of what constitutes the heart of the remarkable and inspiring movements of the Baltic people, it will stand as a distinct contribution to the study of civil resistance movements overall."
-Peter Ackerman, founding chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and co-author of Strategic Nonviolent Conflict and A Force More Powerful

"An excellent and thorough work and a significant and important addition to our understanding of the role that folklore and popular culture play in shaping political events."
-Timothy Tangherlini, UCLA, H-War

"A monumental study addressing a sorely neglected aspect of one of the last century's most dramatic geopolitical upheavals. This book will stand, for years and even decades to come, as the standard, authoritative source on its topic."
-Kevin C. Karnes, Emory University

Introduction: Three Nonviolent National Cultures

1. Balts Speak to America, July 4, 1998
2. Herder's Discovery of Baltic Songs
3. Three Singing Nations and Their Songs
4. Songs of Warrior Nations
5. Soviet Power versus Power of the Powerless
6. Living within the Truth in Choral Songs
7. Living within the Truth in Rock Songs
8. Living within the Truth in Folk Songs
9. Nonviolent National Singing Traditions

Appendix I: Index and Map of Place Names
Appendix II: Chronology
Appendix III: Song Annotations and Index
Bibliography, Discography, and Filmography

"The book features 112 songs connected to the Singing Revolution. . . . Smidchens explores the context of each song - both the events at which it was sung and the speeches that surrounded it - and delves into political science theory and music therapy to better understand how songs became powerful tools of protest."
-Perspectives Newsletter, University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences, December 2013

"This engaging, well-researched book not only offers an account of the 'singing revolution' that took place in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania at the close of the Soviet era but also addresses the issue of whether, and how, nonviolent protest can result in a secure national identity. . . . Of value not only to musicologists but also to those pursuing Soviet and post-Soviet studies, peace studies, and political science."

"An exceptional study, outstanding, and gently unconventional...The Power of Song is a true achievement. Surpassing this book will be a difficult task, not least because very few scholars are able to conduct research in Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian...Reading this book was an enjoyable experience and I would recommend it to anybody interested in the culture and history of the Baltic states, nationalism, Herder, nonviolent political movements, singing, and the folklore movement."
-Elo-Hanna Seljamaa, Journal of Folklore Research

"Combines an anthropological and ethnological approach with a refined musicological analysis of more than a hundred choral, rock, and folk songs. He also brings into his analysis findings from social well as insights from peace and conflict research concerning the use of nonviolence as an instrument of struggle against a militarily strong repressive power."
-Kristian Gerner, Slavic Review

" midchens has produced a masterful blend of historical and cultural analysis and musicology. . . . [A] unique and valuable contribution to our understanding of both the nature and the collapse of Soviet power as well as national movements and nonviolent resistance. The Power of Song will appeal to historians of many stripes and regional experts, anthropologists, musicologists, and specialists in the study of nonviolent and peace movements."
-Mark J. Conversino

"A meticulously researched and detailed account that places music at the heart of a critical period of Baltic, and European, history. . . . In addition to its obvious value to Baltic scholars and Europeanists, this book should provide essential reading for those interested in music and politics."
-Louise Wrazen, Ethnomusicology