The Golden Bowl is still full: More than 30,000 children meet for song festival in Riga

  • 2000-07-06
  • By Anna Pridanova
RIGA - It was the traditional Youth Song and Dance Festival that
filled Riga June 26-July 2 with thousands of cheerful young people
from all parts of Latvia and abroad, wandering around the city
center in national costumes, stage outfits or yellow caps.

The festival drew 30,000 young musicians, singers and dancers from
different Latvian cities. The youth festival supplemented the old
Latvian tradition of all-nation gatherings of the country's best
dancers and singers for summer shows with teenagers' lightness of
being and perception. Rarely did the rain become an obstacle to
children dancing, acting or singing.

Only the best

Imagine 12,500 children's voices singing in unison. On July 2, they
stood at the Mezaparka platform singing Latvian national and popular
songs, with storms of applause calling the authors to appear on the
conductor's podium and demanding encores. These were the country's
best young singers. They came for a week in Riga not only to dance,
sing and re-establish sacred and unify Latvian national traditions,
but also to make new friends and to gain new experience.

The festival is the climax of years of training for many student
dancing ensembles and school choruses.

"The song festival is the account of several years' achievement for
both teachers and pupils. The festival is a destination. It is a huge
competition. Only the best groups come to Riga, so there is a fierce
competition. From 52,000 children who applied to participate in the
festival, only 30,000 were admitted. The jury selected from more than
1,000 groups. We had to refuse some, because we cannot accept more
than the Mezapark Platform, where the final concert took place, can
technically support," said Ringolds Beinarovics, festival director.

No reason to give in

But this is not the end of the world for those who want to join their
fellows in spirit in Riga.

"We organized free stage performances in Dome Square. The groups that
failed in the competition could perform for three days in the very
center of the capital if the municipality paid the trip," said

Heavy rainfall canceled the free show for the first day, June 29.
When it became clear the next day that the weather would not improve,
the show went on in the rain, still with some pauses.

"Some dance groups refused to take floor," said the performers'
announcer, Modris Jermuhs of the Culture School.

"The holidays remain the holidays for children. They enjoy
themselves, and don't think they can get cold. But it is really a
pity to look at them - so wet through," he said.

Zane from Adazi dance group, has been dancing for 5 years, said she
was performing on the large stage for the first time. She admitted
she thought a lot about this performance and wanted to participate to
"have something to remember later in her life."

Her mother, Liga Bormane, said Zane's oldest brother Ugis, who also
came to dance at the festival, was very excited "despite the rain
during the dress rehearsal of Saturday's dance concert at the Daugava

"Here is something you can't have anywhere else. The holiday
atmosphere. Mothers take the rain and the children's wet feet much
more to heart than the children themselves," she said.

She said her son, who has danced for nine years, but was
participating in the festival for the first time, said he was
astonished by the quality of organization, especially with the head
choreographer's work, their ability to make the ornaments and arrange
the dancers.

More than 300 dancing groups participated in the dance concert. The
moving ornaments and patterns covered the Daugava Stadium. The
underlying plot of the dance performance is the course of childhood:
the characters of favorite tales, experiences and beliefs, joy and
sorrow, which are all wound into a ball and accumulated for later
life in the golden ball of chilhood memories.

Germans - the first

"The Germans developed and started this traditional choir singing and
now they come to the Baltics to admire what they dropped in the first
half of the twentieth century, said Olgerts Gravitis, music professor
at the Latvian Academy of Music.

Latvian song and dance festivals started in 1873 and since then have
occurred almost every four years.

"But the first joint singing occurred in 1864 when 120 men from the
Dikli district gathered to sing together. That seemed for Latvian
intellectuals something extraordinary, a miracle. It was hard to
believe," said Gravitis. But compared to the contemporary scale, it
was small group singing. By that time children were already taking

"It is hard to overestimate the significance of pupils' festivals. If
children could not sing, we would have no singing adults later," he

The Latvian choir-singing culture is more than 250 years old. When
the first children's education system started to develop in Kurzeme
and Vidzeme in Lutheran parishes, children sang - first in unison,
then in a choir. Children sang first the Psalms, then folk songs.

"Latvians preserved this tradition under the Soviet rule, singing one
song to Lenin, two songs to the Party and then old, national, unique
and uniting Latvian folk songs and those written by the national
composers," said Gravitis.

Since the 10th Song Festival in 1948, children's singing culture has
a new impetus. But in the 50s, because of obvious politicization of
the repertory, popular interest in participation fell. The repertory
of the festival of 1960 was tendentious as singers were forced to
learn songs in the languages of the other Soviet republics.

Seeking new ways

The festival re-establishes tradition, signifies harmony with the
historical past, unifies and reveals modern trends. This year the
repertory of the festival, organized in different blocks, voluntarily
included foreign music and dance both classical and modern, for the
first time.