The Sound of Music

  • 2005-06-29
You may have noticed that there are more young people in Riga than usual this week. There are 35,000 more, in fact. They are singers, dancers, and artists from all corners of the country who have come to Riga to participate in the 9th Youth Song and Dance Festival that started June 27 and will continue through July 3rd. And in a country that takes its cultural traditions seriously and on a grand scale, these youth are the best of the best.

What makes this festival special is the enthusiasm and talent that encompasses it. These young people have trained for a long time to be here and have won competitions in their own regions to qualify. The event this week is the culmination of hard work and dedication. For the next four days, performances and festivities will take place all over the city culminating in a final concert 's 15,000 strong- in Mezaparks on the 3rd at 8:30pm. But don't miss the activities that are set to take place before then - there really will be something for everyone. As the festival organizers say, "Nac gavilet!" (Come rejoice!)

Speleju, dancoju (I Played, I Danced)

The historic material that is the basis for this theatrical work comes from a play by the great Latvian poet Rainis. Musical group Ilgi uses the play as a starting point for a creative and masterful rendition. 900 children of all ages will dance in a performance which features traditional folk, dark Gothic jazz, pyrotechnic displays and energy beyond what we can imagine.

Kipsala Hall

Sacred Music Concert

This concert, featuring 400 of the best Latvian secondary school and music school choirs, soloists and musicians, is meant to provide a venue for young people to present traditional sacred music. With the splendid backdrop of Dome Cathedral's garden, this delightful concert's aim will be to have each of us ask ourselves what spirituality means in the modern world.

Dome Cathedral Garden June 30, 9:00 p.m.

Brass Band Tattoo

Included in the school youth song and dance festival for the first time, this event at the Freedom Monument will feature a range of brass band music played by participants from Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Poland, Estonia and Norway.

Freedom Monument, July 1, 5:00 p.m.

Grand Dance Concert

This huge event involves the work of 26 choreographers and 14,667 dancers. Latvian a capella sensations Cosmo will also be on hand to make this dazzling spectacle even more special for the kids involved. Symbolic in nature, the dances will reflect the relationships between people and the surrounding world. Seasons mark the passing of time and people recount the experiences of the previous generations. The four concert sections feature 19 dances, which honor nature, work, wisdom and happiness.

Closing Ceremonies and Final Concert

This final celebration will feature 15,000 voices in unison to celebrate the end of another four years and a job well done. This is the uncontested highlight of the entire week and should not be missed.

Mezapark Open Air Theatre

July 3, 8:30 p.m.

Arts Day

In activities that range from applied art demonstrations to dance and song, Dome Square will once again be a hub of activity from morning until the "paper fireworks" at midnight.

Dome Square

July 2, from 10:30 a.m.

Crafts Day

This free and interactive event featuring games, dancing and food showcases the skills of Latvian youth. Pottery, textiles, metalwork, woodwork, cooking, handiwork 's it seems there is nothing these kids can't do.

Dome Square, July 1, from 10:00 a.m.

Modern Dance Concert

If you aren't a traditionalist, this is the event for you. This concert will highlight modern dance styles ranging from tap and jazz to hip hop and break dancing. Unlike other events in the festival where the choreography is predetermined so the groups can dance together, this event features original dances created by the individual groups themselves.

Riga Congress Hall

July 2, 1:00 p.m.

and 7:00 p.m.

Making their mark

In addition to being an amazing feat of organization and planning, the 9th Youth Song and Dance Festival also makes history with its web site - one of the first to utilize Latvian diacritic marks in its URL. Until now, Latvian companies with names that included diacritical marks had to utilize only non-diacritical versions of their names for web addresses 's now the diacritical marks can be included on select addresses. The song festival organizers felt that making their site available with and without diacritics was important and jumped at the chance to be one of the trailblazers. But as Inta Sorina, public relations coordinator at the Festival admits, "Latvians are accustomed to ignoring these marks when using our language on an international level so this may be a surprise to many." So is this is a necessary development if Latvians themselves are in the habit of writing without these marks? Sorina is emphatic in her response, "Youth should know that they don't have to ignore correct writing. We can really be Latvian and write our language correctly. That is fundamentally important." Whether or not Latvian youth choose to surf with or without the diacritical marks, it is nice to know they can if they want.

Youth festival perpetuates cultural legacy

In 2003, The Baltic Song and Dance Celebrations were placed on the UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity list. As defined by UNESCO, intangible practices are "practices, representations and expressions, and knowledge and skills which are transmitted from generation to generation and which provide communities and groups with a sense of identity and continuity. " This special list consists of 47 relevant intangible cultural and practices which, if not safeguarded, could be lost or compromised over time. With this designation come recognition and a limited amount of funding in addition to an expectation that the state governments will do all they can to ensure the continuation of this unique tradition. An action plan spells out the steps needed to preserve the song and dance celebrations for future generations. One of the aspects of this action plan is to get young people more actively involved in traditional music and dance therefore instilling in them a love for and knowledge of their own cultural heritage. Thus a legacy is continued. The 9th Youth Song and Dance Festival in Riga this week seems to be right on target with the UNESCO decree. The youth that participate in this event are actively fulfilling the goals of the proclamation by continuing to develop their knowledge of and involvement in traditional song and dance celebrations. With 35,000 participants from Latvia and abroad, this year's event is larger than it has ever been and doesn't look to be running out of steam any time soon.

The start of something good

The Youth Song and Dance Festival will celebrate its 45th anniversary this year and while today's event is quite grand, its beginnings were perhaps a little less auspicious. During the summer of 1960, Riga played host to the 13th Song and Dance Festival (at that time known as the 4th Song Celebration of Soviet Latvia) and while children and youth had always played a large role in the festivals, they never had their own celebration. For that reason, the first Youth Song and Dance Festival was held in June of that same year to great success. Approximately 8500 young people from 178 schools in Latvia eagerly joined in the celebration. Owing to the circumstances of the time and differing from today's festival, the performances back then consisted mainly of Russian folk songs.

This year's celebration will be the third Youth Song and Dance Festival held in independent Latvia and the celebration is bigger than ever. This is a celebration of tradition, culture and country. But while the festival grows and changes to adapt to a changing Latvia, one thing has stayed the same since the first time- the spirit and enthusiasm of the youth who come together from all corners of the country to take part.