TARTU - Song and dance festivals present a trove of experiences and memories, not only about singing and dancing. One old choir member recalls being arrested after joking around in front of KGB barracks during a pan-Baltic university student song festival in Lithuania.
Soviet rule was diminishing, and the Russian agents could do nothing but deliver a stern lecture and return the singers to their hostel by car.
"I'll never forget the day we used the KGB as a taxi service," the singer recalls with a broad grin.
Others remember the camaraderie, the drinking sessions, the fun had despite wash-out weather.
This weekend in Tartu, thousands of young people will come together to create more memories 's and, of course, to take part in a little singing and dancing on the side.
The event is called Gaudeamus, a festival celebrated by university students from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania once every few years. In a region as culturally divided as it is geographically connected, singing and dancing is one of the few pan-Baltic activities where borders are meaningless.
For outsiders, it presents an opportunity to feast on Baltic culture and breathe in the atmosphere of a city abuzz with thousands of visitors.
An estimated 7,000 visitors are expected in Tartu during the three-day festival, which begins with a grand opening ceremony in the main square June 30. A midnight torchlight procession will snake out of the city to the site of a new Gaudeamus monument.
Singers and dancers will perform in the main square on July 1, but the next day the event will shift to the much larger song festival amphitheater 's a fixture in every Estonian town 's preceded by a parade through the city.
The European Street Organ festival will run parallel, with 26 musicians from across the world performing their unique crank-powered music boxes.
Other orchestras and dance ensembles will also entertain crowds with various performances around the city in parks and churches. Bluegrass, big band, Britpop, folk and classical acts all feature on the extensive bill.
It was here in Tartu in 1956 that the first student song festival took place. It was later renamed Gaudeamus after the graduation song sung by departing students.
To mark the 50th anniversary, the local Tartu Brewery will issue a special-edition brew, the label adorned with messages of pan-Baltic unity, and organizers will release a 220-page photographic history of Gaudeamus.
The event has traveled between the Baltic states for decades, acting as a conduit for art, culture and social interaction.
Estonia's verbose Minister of Education Mailis Reps launched the event on June 19, saying the festival was for those "who do not have time to be morose".
"People who come to Gaudeamus do not need reasons to be optimistic. They are joyful regardless of circumstances because complaining would steal away precious momentsâ€¦ we don't have time for unhappiness," Reps said.
"For hundreds of years, song and dance has been a weapon in reserve, supporting Estonian existence and self-reliance. Yet for continued existence, every nationality needs to know how to get along with other nationalities."
More info: www.gaudeamus.ee