by John Kusiak, Composer

When James Tusty, producer of The Singing Revolution, asked me if I would consider signing on as composer for the film, I had to admit my minimal knowledge of Estonia. Outside of a vague sense of Estonia being on the Baltic Sea, I knew nothing of the Estonian people’s non-violent struggle for freedom from the Soviet Union. That was to change.

As I prepared to develop musical themes by reviewing many hours of footage and rough cuts, I became engrossed in Estonia’s story, and began to form a deep respect for the people I “met” in the film. My empathetic response to the events depicted provided the foundation for my work process, and helped me to create music that would move the audience emotionally and support the meaning of the story.

Jim expressed a desire to have an epic, cinematic score that would reflect the historic significance of the revolution. He initially suggested that I use an orchestra, and although the idea was appealing, budgetary limitations prevailed; I was tasked with creating an orchestral sound by more modest means. I accomplished this by mixing the sound of a real string quartet (multi-tracked) with some sophisticated samples of string ensembles. I also recorded a real French horn, clarinet, and percussion to augment other groups in my “virtual orchestra.” The musicians were from the Boston Symphony Orchestra and other professional ensembles.

I also had to decide how to incorporate the many beautiful and stirring choral works, sung by massive choirs, that are featured in the film. Jim wisely instructed me not to use the thematic material from the choral compositions themselves, both for copyright reasons and to avoid detracting from their power. They were to stand by themselves.

My solution was to compose the score entirely as instrumental music that would complement the existing choral pieces.

I designed my score to create a sense of drama and to heighten the emotional intensity of the protests and other historical events depicted in the film. The cue entitled “Toompea” is one example of this. In it I use odd metrical units (11/8 alternating with 10/8) to enhance the chaos and tension of the attempted coup. The cue that follows, “Calm,” uses a theme that I called the “Hope Theme.” Orchestrated with piano, strings, and horn, it is intended to mirror the emotional release that participants must have felt in the aftermath of the coup attempt.

Click here to listen to the music (MP3)

Calm : Hope Theme
Click here to listen to the music (MP3)

One of my favorite cues is “Heritage,” a reworking of the “Hope Theme” that ebbs and flows as it underscores the moving scene of hundreds of thousands of people participating in a freedom rally. My main concern was to convey the power of hope, and with that in mind I gave the music a driving rhythm that helps propel the story forward.

Heritage : Hope Theme Revisited
Click here to listen to the music (MP3)

I am honored to have been a part of this project and hope that it will educate and inspire others about this important but little known historic event. I was greatly assisted in my work by the enthusiasm and perseverance of Jim and Maureen Tusty, the astute direction of film editor Mike Majoros, and the creative contributions of my associate Andrew Willis.

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PBS Broadcasts for "To Breathe as One" Begin Again on May 7th, 2014!