How Baltimore Became a ‘Little Latvia’ for the Weekend

Latvians Online asked a few Baltimore Latvian Song Festival goers to share their thoughts on the festival. Canadian Latvians regularly attend US-Latvian song festivals. Here is one active younger-generation Canadian-Latvian’s take on the week of festivities in Baltimore.

To someone who has never been, you can’t really describe the feeling of being at a Song Festival: the feeling of being amongst thousands of other Latvians, all wanting to celebrate our beautiful culture together. It doesn’t matter if they were born here, or in Latvia; if they’ve married into the community or were born into it; if they’ve lost the language or still hold onto it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve known them for years or if you’re just meeting them for the first time. What matters in that one magical weekend is that you are all together; that we as Latvians can take over a city and call it our own.

As cheesy and trite as this may sound, that doesn’t make it any less true. Even for those coming from cities with active Latvian communities, like me, hearing Latvian all around you on the streets lifts your spirits like nothing else can. There is no greater sense of pride than walking down the streets of Baltimore (or any Festival city) in your folk costume and answering locals who ask “what’s the big event that’s happening this weekend?”. The sense of community that is felt at a Festival cannot be replicated or replaced by anything. Though the weekend may pass by in a blur you always wish there was just one more day, to go to another show, to visit the market again, or to grab lunch with friends from out of town that you haven’t seen in a long time.

I have friends who, for various reasons, come to Festivals not as participants but merely as attendees. While I am always jealous that they get to sleep in and can attend any show or concert they would like, I somehow cannot imagine being at a Festival and not participating in some way. I have been folk dancing my whole life and because of that Festivals have always included at least one day (if not three or four!) of early morning rehearsals and long days spent dancing on tired feet. One day I might decide to retire my dancing shoes, but for now I live for the rush of being onstage with hundreds of other dancers; with beaming, cheering crowds cramming every possible seat.

My favourite moment at any Festival comes just before the end of the Folk Dance Show. With all of the dancers on stage, everyone, performers and dancers, join hands and sing “Daugav’ abas malas”, an anthem of sorts for Latvians, especially in the diaspora. Since I was a child, I have not been able to get through this moment without tearing up and in some cases, full-out weeping. After this deeply emotional moment, upbeat dance music is put on and the dancers onstage take their time polka-ing off in pairs, lines, groups, or however else they’d like. This brief but wonderful moment is a chance to celebrate the culmination of all our hard work together and to relax and look forward to enjoying the remainder of the Festival.

As much fun as dancing in the New Choreography Competition and the Folk Dance Show was, I also enjoyed being able to spend my last day in Baltimore simply as a spectator. The final day of the Festival was a beatiful one – the Joint Choir Festival was magnificent, with wonderful acoustics at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, a talented accompanying orchestra, and a great selection of choral favourites and unknowns, including a celebration of East Coast composers. And the final Festival Ball was a great culmination to such a joyful, vibrant weekend. The room was packed full of festival goers of all ages, dancing to Toronto’s own Penzionāri. I even spotted Ilga Reizniece of Iļģi dancing too. During a break in between sets, Dace Melbārde, Latvia’s Minister for Culture (and a Festival participant as well!) gave Certificates of Recognition (atzinības raksti) to the Festival Organizers. These were extremely well deserved and showed the new, stronger bonds being forged between Latvians abroad and those in Latvia. Working together and supporting one another can only strengthen us as a people and a culture.

It’s been said before, but I must repeat how amazing it is that the Festival came together like it did, considering the fact that the organizers are all from different East Coast cities and that the Latvian community in Baltimore is so minimal. Never once did it feel like they did not know the city or that they hadn’t prepared everything and planned it all to the T. My hats off to all of the Organizing Committee and volunteers. As a first-time member of a Festival Organizing Committee (for the 2019 Festival in Toronto) I am beginning to see just how much blood, sweat, and tears goes into planning an event of this scale, something I think many Festival goers, through no fault of their own, simply do not realize and take for granted. It takes a lot of work to make sure things run as smoothly as they did and to ensure that all Festival participants and attendees are able to enjoy everything to the fullest.

Given how wonderful my experience in Baltimore was it’s such a shame that Festivals don’t happen more often. But, while the next East Coast Festival might be far away, and going to the Festival in Latvia next summer might not be possible for everyone, there is another North American Festival just around the corner. Yes, as a member of the Organizing Committee for the 2019 Festival of Song and Dance in Toronto, this is my shameless plug for everyone to join us there. It’s a chance to once again experience the friendship, community, and cultural beauty of the Latvian community here in North America and around the world.

 

Gaidīti viesi Gaŗezerā

Nule attapušies no Dziesmu svētkiem Baltimorā, Gaŗezera saime pie sevis sagaidīja Latvijas vēstnieku ASV, Andri Teikmani, ar kundzi, Ingūnu Teikmani. Vēstnieka interese par Gaŗezeru radīja vēlmi iepazīstināt Teikmaņus ar ASV lielāko latviešu skolu, Gaŗezera vasaras vidusskolu, kā arī ar Gaŗezera kvalitatīvajām mācību programmām jaunākiem skolēniem. Pusotras dienas apciemojums deva iespēju Gaŗezera programmu vadītājām satikt vēstnieku un parādīt savu vidi, savus bērnus dažādās nodarbībās. Teikmaņus iepriecināja GVV III klases sajūsma dejojot tautas dejas, Biz-Biz bērnu jautrās rotaļas, kādas nometnes dalībnieces dāvināta aproce un II klases izsmeļošie jautājumi par diplomāta pienākumiem un dzīves veidu.

Ierodoties, Andris Teikmanis stājās tautiešu priekšā uzrunājot viņus šīs vasaras pirmajos “Mūžizglītības kursos”. Klinklāvu galerijas vadītāja Līga Ejupa ik gadus rīko ceturtdienas vakara kursus vietējiem latviešiem un viesiem. Kursantus uzrunā dažādi speciālisti, kas atrodas uz vietas Gaŗezerā. Pirmo uzrunu sniedza Andris Teikmanis, kurš stāstīja par savu pieredzi diplomātiskajā dienestā daudzu gadu gaŗumā. Vēstnieks ir Latviju pārstāvējis Eiropas padomē, Vācijā, Krievijā, Lielbritānijā un tagad ASV. Andris Teikmanis bijis arī Latvijas Republikas Ārlietu ministrijas Valsts sekretārs. Klātesošie ar interesi klausījās vēstnieka pieredzi dažādajās valstīs, un uzdeva jautājumus par aktuālām tēmām. Šovasar vēl paredzēti kursi par dainām – tagadnes skatījumā, par skolotāja ceļu no Latvijas uz Gaŗezeru, un tēlniece Rita Grendze stāstīs par savu darbu, “100 raksti tiem, kas meklē gaismu”.

Piektdienas rīts sākās ar GVV rīta lūgšanu, kur vēstniekam bija iespēja sveikt 119 skolēnus un skolotājus, ar laba vēlējumiem un veltēm. Pārējais rīts pagāja sarunās ar skolēniem, apciemojot katru klasi un atbildot uz skolēnu uzdotajiem jautājumiem.

Pusdienas Teikmaņi ēda kopā ar skolotājiem no Latvijas, kas ieradušies mācīt GVV. Jau ceturto gadu Ārlietu ministrija atbalsta Latvijas skolotājus ar ceļa naudām, tālab nodrošinot Gaŗezeram lielu daļu vajadzīgo mācībspēku. Jāpiemin, ka papildus Ārlietu ministrijas atbalstam, Gaŗezera vasaras vidusskola trešo gadu saņem atbalstu no Sabiedrības integrācijas fonda. Piešķirtie  15,000 EUR sedz 80% no izdevumiem, kas saistās ar Latvijas skolotāju un audzinātāju darba vīzām.

Pēcpusdienā Gaŗezera pārējās mācību programmas, Sagatavošanas skola, Bērnu nometne un Bērnudārzs iepazīstināja vēstnieku ar savu darbu un skolēniem. Šogad Gaŗezera sagatavošanas skolā gaida 61 skolēnu, Bērnu nometnē pa trim posmiem būs 87 skolēni un Bērnudārzs pulcinās 47 jaunākos bērnus savās telpās. Teritorijas apskate atklāja to, cik Gaŗezers ir milzīgs un cik tajā darbojas un atpūšas latviešu. Ir gan programmu darbinieki, skolēnu vecāki, ļaudis no Ciems “Latvija”, un viesi, kas visi apgrozas dažādās vietās. Iespaidīgi bija visa trīs muzeji. Jautrs bija kantīnes apciemojums. Un ar prieku viesi “apstaigāja Latvijas robežu”. Gaŗezera vasaras vidusskola iezīmēja lielu Latvijas valsts kontūrkarti vidusskolas teritorijā – Pētersona sporta laukumā.  Karte ir izveidota 107 pēdu (32 m) platībā un godina Latvijas simtgades tuvošanos un to izmanto vēstures un ģeogrāfijas stundās. Projekta iniciātors bija GVV skolotājs Artis Inka, kas vēstniekam parādīja lielisko projektu.  Bija skaidri redzams, ka vasarā Gaŗezers kļūst par aktīvu latviešu centru, pievelkot daudz tuvus un tālus ciemiņus.

Pēc vakariņām Teikmaņa kungam ar kundzi vēl bija iespēja satikt Gaŗezera administrāciju, dažus padomes locekļus, programmu vadītājas, GVV skolotājus un audzinātājus pieņemšanā Lāču Annas paviljonā. Un no rīta, pirms došanās ceļā, Teikmaņi veltīja vairākas stundas sarunās ar Gaŗezera padomes un GVV vadību. Tika atbildēts uz vēstnieka jautājumiem par GVV programmas vēsturi, ilggadīgo devumu latviešu sabiedrībai ASV un Gaŗezera nākotnes vajadzībām.

Pateicamies vēstniekam ar kundzi par Gaŗezeram veltīto laiku un interesi. Priecājamies un pateicamies par līdzšinējo sadarbību ar Ārlietu ministriju un Latvijas vēstniecību. Gaŗezera saime turpinās strādāt par labu nākamajām latviešu paaudzēm, ar devīzi, “Dievam un Latvijai”!

 

 

Baltimore Latvian Song Festival – a resounding success

Latvians Online asked two Latvian-American song festival attendees – one a participant, the other an active community member – to share their thoughts on the Latvian Dziesmu svētki that took place in Baltimore from 29th June to 3rd July, 2017.

Kristīna Putene: Vai Baltimoras Dziesmu Svētki izdevās? Atbildēšu ar vārdiem no dziesmas “Lec, saulīte”, kas tika iekļauta Dziesmu Svētku kopkoŗa repertuārā: “Māci man dvēs’les mieru…”

Šie vārdi labi izsaka to, ko izjutu un ieguvu nule beigušos XIV Vispārējos Latviešu Dziesmu un Deju Svētkos Baltimorā ASV. Esmu pārbraukusi ne tikai ar dvēseles mieru, bet arī ar lepnumu, pacilātību un pateicību, ka piederu latviešu tautai. Šajos Dziesmu Svētkos likās, ka bijām, vairāk kā jebkad, latvieši savos svētkos. Ne trimdas vai diasporas latvieši, ne jaunatbraucēji, ne viesi no Latvijas – bet latvieši.

Piedalījos Dziesmu Svētkos kā koriste un no tāda redzes punkta uzskatu, ka Dziesmu Svētki izdevās pirmklasīgi. Viss, kas saistīts ar gatavošanos kopkoŗa koncertam, bija apdomāts un izdomāts. Sākot ar visādā ziņā rūpīgi izmeklēto dziesmu repertuāru, kas bija gana skaists un piemērots diasporas koru spējām, līdz mēģinājumiem pašos Dziesmu Svētkos, varu teikt tikai labus vārdus par mūzikas nozares vadītājas, Krisītes Skares, darbu. Ļoti drīz pēc ziņojuma, ka Dziesmu Svētki notiks Baltimorā un, ka rīcības komiteja izveidota, svētku mājas lapā bija pieejami viesu koŗa, Sōla, audio ieraksti katrai balsij, katrai dziesmai. Tie palīdzēja visiem koristiem, it sevišķi, atsevišķi dzīvojošiem koristiem, iepazīties ar dziesmām un sagatavoties. Arī svētkiem tuvojoties, saņēmām ziņas par to, kas sagaidāms mēģinājumos, kāda būs norise koncerta dienā. Pēc svētku atklāšanas katru rītu notika koŗa mēģinājumi. Tajos valdīja minētais dvēseles miers – diriģenti skaidri zināja cik laika katram paredzēts izmēģināt “savas” dziesmas un tā mēģinājumi ritēja gludi, bez saspīlējuma un, vismaz kā koriste, jutos gatava koncertam. Arī pašā koncerta dienas ģenērālmēģinājumā, atklājās, ka lielā pieprasījuma dēļ, koristu mantām un pusdienu paēšanai paredzētās vietas visaugstākajos balkonos nolēma pārdot. Rīcības komitejai apbrīnojami veikli izdevās atrast piemērotas telpas ēkā pāri ielai no zāles. Bez satraukuma, vienkārši un skaidri, Krisīte šo maiņu paziņoja un atkal – dvēseles miers. Par koncertu pašu labāk meklēt atsauksmes no kāda klausītāja, toties Meyerhoff zāles akustika man padarīja dziedāšanu vieglāku kā parasti, jo jutos, ka visu labi dzirdu. Koncerts bija laiks, kad manī dvēseles miers mijās ar lepnumu, pacilātību un pateicību.

Bez dziedāšanas kopkorī, Dziesmu Svētkos arī izjutu prieku un laimi satikt radus un draugus, ko ALA priekšsēdis, Pēteris Blumbergs, pieminēja savā apsveikumā svētku atklāšanā. Dziesmu svētku koncerti, sarīkojumi un balles bija kā krāšņs, prātam un sirdij bagāts fons uz kuŗa pulsē visi atbraukušie cilvēki– ģimenes un vieninieki, radi un draugi – bet visi kaut kādā veidā saistīti ar Latviju un latviešiem. Svētku dienu laikā katrs satiktais cilvēks, katrs izmainītais vārds, pat saskatīšanās un sasmaidīšanās, veido milzīgu latvisko dvēseļu tīklu. Jutos, ka ar katru šo saskarsmi ar pazīstamu, mīļu cilvēku manī ieplūst jauns spēks un nostiprinās saite ar to, kas es esmu – latviete.

Anita Bataraga: 14. Vispārējie Dziesmu un Deju Svētki ASV – The 14th Latvian Song and Dance Festival in the US – four sultry July days in the Baltimore Inner Harbor area immersed in a wave of upwards of thirty two hundred Latvians from the US, Canada, Latvia, Ireland, Venezuela, France, and most likely other nations as well. These days on the eve of Latvia’s Centennial, were defined by goodwill, enthusiasm and a collective happiness that seemed to transcend borders and generations, and unified singers, dancers and spectators from all age groups and nations.

I came as a spectator, yet felt deeply vested in the players: the “Rīcības komiteja” (RK) – the Organizers – that made this show possible. The initiators and organizers were a group of Latvians from the Washington, DC area, average age in the low 30’os, who belonged to both the post-war and late 1990’s immigration periods. Many of them first came on the Latvian East Coast scene as “Īkšķīši” and campers at the Latvian camp in the Catskills, where I first knew them and saw them grow up. Most of them inexperienced in this depth of organizational work and financial risk, they bonded together under Marisa Gudrā, and gathered the foremost talents from the music, dance and culture genres to establish a rich, professional and varied program. Included in the program were all of the vital signature events of Dziesmu Svētki, but also many new and interesting nuances such as the open-mike soundstage in the central hotel featuring musical performances ranging from the folklore ensemble “Sudrabavots” to the tween rock band “Nemiers”. Also unique to this Song Festival: the gala banquet featuring a spread of Latvian cuisine including Riga sprat hors d’oeuvres and a Latvian rye bread trifle for dessert brought to us by a master chef from Riga working from the hotel kitchen.

With a well-devised communications system that included information in “Laiks” and online/social media, as well as the Festival information booth, and with volunteers that came on board beckoned by Sign-up genius, the RK worked tirelessly, presenting us with a dynamic, well-structured and – for the spectator, at least – glitchless program.

I met Marisa on the last morning, while she was attempting to put her thoughts to words to sign the Centennial guest book brought by the Culture Ministry of Latvia before they returned to Rīga. Marisa, ever-humble, asked whether I thought Dziesmu Svētki “izdevās”– whether the Song Festival was a success. It was that moment that brought a new rush of exuberance – yes! Dziesmu Svētki “izdevās”, and not only did their endeavor work, it worked on a grand scale, because the four days carried a jubilant ambience that can not be created, only felt when, magically, it is present. One can only guess at the concoction of vital ingredients needed to create that ambience, but for my part I think I recognize two or three that were present here: one is the conviction and energy exhibited by the RK, as they dared to assume an endeavor on this scale, and made their mark on the future of Latvian Song Festivals in the USA.

The other ingredients stem from where we as Latvians in the US stand socially and culturally. One social-demographic element we witnessed here has at long last become wonderfully natural: the intermingling of the two immigration waves as they cooperatively planned, worked, sang, danced and celebrated together with a unified purpose.

Culturally, the landmark role of Dziesmu Svetki in the US was reconfirmed, when dancing with 776 other folk dancers predominantly from the US, we also saw the Latvian Ambassador to the UN and spouse, as well as dance troupes from Latvia, and a group of little Latvian dancers from Ireland. The landmark role of Dziesmu Svētki was reconfirmed when the “Kopkoru” gala concert, that by the way, the non-Latvian spouse of a singer afterwards termed as “magnificent”, featured not only choirs from all of North America, but also among the singers: the premiere Latvian choir Sōla”, the Latvian Ambassador to the US, and spouse, and the Minister of Culture from Latvia.

Certainly, a nostalgia could be sensed for one missing element – the traditional “Čikāgas piecīši” concert. But what was also evident was the sheer enjoyment with which the audiences accepted the mix of today’s artists, as seen at the Chamber Music Concert, with musicians from Latvia performing with the semi-professional musicians of the diaspora; with “Iļģi” as the energizing component of two evening programs – concert and harbor cruise. Added to these were the very diverse musical offerings of “Sōla”, and the Daumants Kalniņš Quintet – also from Latvia – and we had a fresh breadth of musical genres and quality performances that we here in North America could not achieve without the heightened cultural exchange between Latvia and the diaspora.

Not to be overlooked were the Literary gathering, a fine combination of humor and appreciation for our literary figures and heritage in the diaspora, and the two theater productions, one staged by the National Theater of Latvia, the other by the San Francisco Latvian theater group.

Add to this the ironic advantage brought on by working with audiences smaller than those of the Song Festivals of thirty years ago: we have been able to move our major venues to acoustically superior settings; the gala choir concert no longer took place in a sports arena, but at the Baltimore Symphony Hall. Indeed, the assembled program and performances spanned a broad cultural spectrum that addressed the interests and resonated with the soul of every participant.

Having this all occur on the eve of Latvia’s Centennial and the 2018 Dziesmu Svētki in Latvia made this Song Festival all the more heady. Having the financial support of ALA and the Latvian government ensured a degree of stability. But having a RK that could recognize, distil, engage and assemble a program of this quality is a basic reason for why yes – these Dziesmu Svētki truly “izdevās”!