Obituary of Roman Toi
June 18, 1916 – May 7, 2018
Canadian-Estonian choir conductor, composer and organist Roman Toi died peacefully in his sleep at Ehatare Retirement & Nursing Home in Toronto and now has joined his loving wife and soulmate Vaiki. He is remembered by his son; Ants and wife Inga, granddaughter; Kristi (Toi) and Paul Greco and great-grandchildren; Peter and Holly, and grandson; Peter and Regan (Walker) and great-grandchildren; Oliver and Lilli.
Born in Kõo, district of Viljandi, Estonia to Anni (nee Puskar) and Hans Toi, he was the older brother of Harri. Developing his musical talents at Jakob Westholm School he was invited to lead the school choir by Tuudur Vettik. There he won the 100-anniversary competition for Westholm school song “One School” which is sung to this day. From 1932-1936 and 1941-1944, he studied choir direction, organ, composition and conducting at the Tallinn Conservatory. He studied at the University of Chicago, the RCM, the Institute of Advanced Studies in Montreux, Switzerland, and the University of Toronto. He obtained his PhD in 1977.
When the Soviets occupied Estonia in 1944, Roman fled with his wife and young son to Germany, where, to preserve Estonian traditions, he led choirs and organized concerts and song festivals in displaced persons (DP) camps. In 1949, he immigrated to Canada, where he first settled in Montreal before moving on to Toronto in 1951. For decades, Roman was a leading figure in the diaspora Estonian choral movement, leading many Estonian choirs, including the Toronto Estonian Male Choir, Toronto Estonian Mixed Choir and the Estonia Choir with whom he toured North America, Australia, Estonia and represented Canada in Bethlehem at Christmas.
In 1990, one year before Estonia regained independence in 1991, Roman had the great honour to join Gustav Ernesaks and Richard Ritsing to serve as honorary directors of the XXI Estonian National Song Festival in Tallinn. Roman symbolically led the Song Festival’s return to freedom following decades of Soviet occupation, conducting the opening song of the XXII Song Festival in 1994. In 2014, he celebrated his 98th birthday in Estonia and participated in the XXVI Song Festival as guest of honor.
In addition, he served as organist and music director for numerous Estonian and Canadian congregations. He was faculty member of the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto, teaching theory, conducting and composition for more than 40 years. He was President of the Ontario Choral Federation in 1973 and 1974. His compositions include over 80 choral works, many of which have become part of the standard Estonian choral repertoire.
In recognition of his work in music and for Estonians, Roman has received many accolades including lifetime Achievement awards from the EELC (Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church), being made an Honorary Citizen of Viljandi, and a named scholarship to Tartu University. He was bestowed Estonia's Order of the National Coat of Arms, Fourth Class and honorary memberships in many choirs and musical organizations.
Outside of his musical career he was very active in Estonian society including membership in Vironia fraternity, as a founding member of the Estonian Foundation in Canada, Estonian Central Council in Canada and CFO and co-owner of LC Tobias company with Ants Soots and Tommy Young.
He is sorely missed by his immediate family and his international “family” who will remember his dedication to family and principles, his accomplishments, his energy, wit, and indefatigable cheerfulness. He had the ability to see the positive side of everything and lived up to the motto he composed for the Toronto Male Choir, which begins “Alati Sinule kodumaa...” (Always for you, my homeland…).
Private funeral. Celebration of Life will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers for those who wish, donations would be appreciated to the Estonian Relief Committee in Canada (Ehatare), 40 Old Kingston Rd, Scarborough, ON, M1E 3J5 or Royal Conservatory of Music, 273 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON, M5S 1W2. Condolences, photographs and memories may be forwarded through www.humphreymilesnewbigging.com.