The Estonian national awakening was already in process, when conductor Juhan Simm first started to work with Tartu Academic Male Choir. The time was ripe, because singing patriotic songs together with adherents seemed more powerful and progressive than any other activity. Singing together was encouraging and the music sounded not only louder, but also more beautiful. The latter was based on the synergy of strong will and skills.
Juhan was a student and differently from many other fellow students, for whom humming together with fraternity brothers was the end of musical aspirations, his desire was to make beautiful choral music. As a future mathematician, he understood the combination of factors needed to get a combination of pleasant harmony and united singing. Despite the opposition of many students and student associations, a male choir was established in the beginning of 1912 with sufficient number of singers from several student organisations. Success came fast â€“ a complicated repertoire was performed in the first concert some months laterâ€¦ From this point on, a lack of singers was never a problem.
Conductor Simm eventually run out of energy, which he needed to devote to Vanemuise orchestra and conducting several choirs. Therefore, in 1924 a professional singing pedagogue Leenart Neuman took over the conducting of the choir with its almost 100 members. The fact that Neumanâ€™s favourite composer was Mart Saar was well reflected in the choirâ€™s repertoire. The choir made its first foreign trip to Austria-Hungary in 1926 and to Riga in 1932. Although Leenart had not achieved many desired aims with the choir, the faith left his project unfinished. A new conductor needed to be found in 1933.
Richard Ritsing started his job very enthusiastically, resulting in the longest concert tour ever made â€“ the choir visited 6 European countries and gave concerts in 8 cities. In spite of some low periods, the development of the choir was continuous and successful. The number of choir members reached to more than 100. Although the choir concert tours were for decades, characteristically to the Soviet era, made to the Soviet Socialist Republics, the main repertoire consisted of Estonian national choral music. This is why Tartu Academic Male Choir (initially named as Joint Male Choir of the Students of Tartu, thereafter Tartu Studentsâ€™ Male Choir and starting from 1965. Tartu Academic Male Choir aka TAM) considers the Estonian songs, sometimes filled with hidden meanings, speaking about home, fatherland, love and freedom, the best and inevitable part of its repertoire at any time and occasion. Alo Ritsing obtained the position of chief conductor from his father Richard, having already worked with the choir since 1963.
Richard Ritsing composed many songs to male choirs, some of which are liked and sung till the present day. The same is true about Alo Ritsing, the chief conductor since 1974, who has been equally fruitful when composing choir music and shaping the vocal quality of the choir. In the last decades, the choir has included some songs composed by Alo in every concert program. His most popular choir music is sung by many other choirs in Estonia and abroad. Similarly to the awards of TAM in choir competitions, Aloâ€™s composition has won remarkable prizes in choral music competitions. The fact that Aloâ€™s teacher in the conservatoire was Gustav Ernesaks has influenced his choir music. The singers think highly of the choral music composed by both men.
Which songs do the singers of TAM love to perform? It seems that when singing the softer side of otherwise tough men is revealed. Men love to sing about the sea, storm, pirates and gunmen, but at the same time they are dissatisfied when songs about fatherland and mother tongue are not included in the repertoire. And although not all men have passed philosophy courses at the university, they can nevertheless perform music tackling the eternal themes in Golden Beach, A Song Unsung, and The Singerâ€™s Winter Solitude in an inspiring mannerâ€¦ The songs which are loved throughout times speak about home and fatherland, looking for and finding, love, children, fathers, mothers and ancestors.
In addition, men love to perform songs, which are not only well composed but also well conducted. Tartu Academic Male Choir has been very lucky with its conductors.