The Making of a Dziesmu Svētki, Part 6: The Music

I have a confession: when song-festival chair Marisa Gudrā first mentioned hosting dziesmu svētki, I had zero interest. Then she told me that Krisīte Skare was already on board as music director. Suddenly, I was interested.

I knew Skare from our time together at Gaŗezers Latvian summer high school, where she was not only my class’s valedictorian, but also a musical prodigy who I made a point of standing next to during choir rehearsals so I could try (unsuccessfully) to copy her perfect pitch.

It didn’t surprise me that Skare went on to earn three degrees in music, including a master’s degree in jazz performance from the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music and a master’s in education with a focus on the arts from Harvard University, and to establish a musical professional career as an educator, performer, music director, and choir leader. For the past ten years, Skare has also applied these skills to teaching Latvians, from the children of Katskiļi summer camp and Boston’s Latvian school to the adults of Boston’s choirs. And Skare brings more than music education to the Latvian community: she was the principal of Boston’s Latvian school for six years and is the current church treasurer. In recognition of all these contributions to the Latvian music and education scenes, Skare has earned commendations from the Latvian Heritage Foundation, the American Latvian Association, and Latvia’s Ministry of Education.

So I was comforted knowing that the core of our festival’s program was already in good hands. Skare herself had given the intimidating job offer maybe thirty seconds of thought before agreeing. “Dziesmu svētki is an extension of my passion and my work,” she explains. When someone offers you that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, “that’s not an offer that you pass up.”

Once it became clear that the festival would indeed be going ahead, and after Skare had a chance to meet with other festival leaders, she got to work assembling a crack team. She turned to Latvian friends with impressive musical pedigrees and was happy when every one responded positively. Laura Padega Zamura, the head of New York’s Latvian choir, had collaborated with Skare at Katskiļi summer camp and would play a major role in preparations for the Festival Choir Concert. Dace Aperāne, a composer and recent recipient of Latvia’s prestigious Grand Music Award for popularizing Latvian music abroad, is, in Skare’s words, “a treasure trove of knowledge for basically any musical subject matter.” Agita Arista is a professional flautist from Latvia now living in Boston who has become invaluable in working with the festival’s instrumentalists. And Iveta Grava, a former member of famed Latvian choir Ave Sol as well as a member of the festival organizing committee in D.C., pulls double duty, helping with administrative tasks on the music committee. With two organizers in Boston, two in New York, and one in D.C., the music committee exemplifies the collaborative nature of this East Coast project. It’s further supported by superstar shadow helpers like Juris Ķeniņš, a repeat organizer of Canada’s Latvian song festivals who is always ready to lend expertise and input, and Skare’s mother, Ilze, who has taken on some of the committee’s more thankless tasks — such as hand-numbering hundreds of songbooks after they arrived with a printer error.

With the team assembled, the most pressing matter for Skare was selecting the repertoire and preparing materials for the festival’s main event, the Kopkora koncerts (Festival Choir Concert). Skare started by entering every song from every previous festival into a spreadsheet and conducting a detailed analysis, from which she learned that, with a few exceptions, there is surprisingly little repetition or tradition where song selection is concerned. From there, the team’s members each compiled a dream list and started whittling. They began by keeping some lyrical folk favorites and newer, upbeat rhythmic pieces that complemented Skare’s effervescent musical personality, then decided to highlight a selection of East Coast composers. Each composer was asked to decide which of their songs they would like to see performed.

By the summer of 2016 the repertoire had been selected. Now came the hard part: finding and arranging all of the sheet music for each piece (while not infringing on copyrights). Thankfully, the music program has a guardian angel: Musica Baltica, a publishing house in Latvia whose leader just happens to be a friend of Aperāne. For a truly nominal licensing fee, Musica Baltica sent Skare the majority of the necessary sheet music, leaving her to write the remaining music out by hand. In September, the sheet-music songbook went to the printer, and soon thereafter distribution to choirs began, providing Skare her first solid look at the number and size of choirs participating. It turns out that this process is still continuing; several groups have signed up as recently as a couple weeks ago. Skare explains that it is often difficult to pin down exact participant numbers, since choirs can afford to be more flexible than dance troupes can. Still, the current estimate, based largely on the number of songbooks sent out, rests at roughly 500 singers from across the U.S., Canada, Latvia, and Ireland.

Conductor selection happened around this time as well. Part of the search focused on traditionally underrepresented demographics: East Coast icons (this will be the first Latvian American song festival on the East Coast in over three decades), experienced conductors who have never graced the kopkoris conductor’s podium, and female talent. Including women is particularly important to Skare, who remembers thinking, “I want to be her when I grow up!” when Toronto’s Vizma Maksiņa conducted at the Cleveland song festival twenty years ago. Skare went on to discover that women are tremendously underrepresented in the conducting world; Baltimore’s own symphony orchestra is the only major city orchestra in the country with a female music director — Marin Alsop.

Instrumentalist selection worked very differently, with the music team listing and contacting all professional Latvian instrumentalists they could think of who are skilled enough to play together after just one rehearsal. Invitations went out to everyone, and of the lengthy list, twenty-seven people accepted and will be performing in Baltimore. This means that all of the festival’s instrumentalists will be Latvians or have Latvian connections, whereas other festivals on occasion have had to hire local non-Latvians to fill the gaps. This musical bunch is a perfect example of how far-reaching song festivals can be, drawing participants from Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Canada, and Latvia.

The majority of these instrumentalists will be pulling double or triple duty. Almost all will be accompanying the choir during the Festival Choir Concert, most will perform at the Latvian Chamber Music Concert, and some will participate in the Sacred Music Concert. While the Festival Choir Concert is the grand cornerstone of every dziesmu svētki, attracting not only the largest audience but also the largest chunk of Skare’s time, the two smaller concerts are also definitely not to be missed, as the committee has dedicated itself to make them spectacular for all festival attendees.

The task of assembling the program for the Chamber Music Concert falls mostly to Arista. She, Skare, and the rest of the committee are acutely aware that chamber music has a reputation as being stuffy and stodgy. “People our age either are or are not in that world, and have their biases,” explains Skare. But the goal of Baltimore’s chamber music concert, she says, is to “be interesting for people who don’t think they like classical music.” Helping this effort is the concert’s unique venue: the American Visionary Art Museum, a whiskey warehouse turned hip alternative-art gallery that exudes fun and vibrance. An emcee will be on hand to explain what is happening in each piece. “Learning about the music gets you more invested in it,” explains Skare. And the concert’s programmers are striving to choose an engaging repertoire that will make a connection with the audience.

This connection will also be on hand at the Sacred Music Concert, where audience members sitting in the astoundingly beautiful sanctuary of Christ Lutheran Church will literally be surrounded by the show. Musicians will place themselves in different locations around the chamber, depending on acoustics and the needs of each particular piece. Skare envisions the experience as a soothing meditation, enveloping listeners in ethereal melodies. Adding its talents will be the festival’s award-winning guest choir, Sōla, which is collaborating with Skare’s team on the project.

What remains to be done over the remaining few months? Skare is currently working on the Opening Ceremony with Anita Juberts, the Very Rev. Anita Vārsberga-Pāža, and festival folk-dancing director Astrīda Liziņš. The ceremony will welcome festivalgoers back to the East Coast with a mini-concert from various East Coast choirs and dance troupes. Also in the works or coming up soon: sheet music needs to be assembled and delivered to the instrumentalists for all shows, and the program for the Sacred Music Concert must be fully worked out with Sōla. Once those tasks are completed over the coming weeks, Skare’s focus will return to the Festival Choir Concert, for which the largest remaining task is figuring out gametime logistics: how to best divide up rehearsal times, how to maneuver several hundred people onstage and backstage, etc.

If Skare or her team of pros are at all daunted by the colossal task of leading several hundred musicians through four different performances for thousands of audience members, they’re not showing it. They didn’t even flinch last June when the original venue for one show went MIA (Skare shrugs this obstacle off — she’s used to venue staff being flighty). Skare partially credits her jazz training, which teaches her to roll with the unexpected. She is also bolstered by the encouragement and excitement she encounters from folks at every turn, despite (or perhaps because of) her relative youth. Skare is pleased that so many of this year’s organizers are, like her, taking on this massive project in their busy mid-thirties. “It’s nice to get the sense that people want to continue this tradition,” she says. “I hope it inspires a sense of hope for the future.”

Any advice for future festival leaders? “If you have a vision for the kind of experience that you want the Dziesmu Svētki public to have,” says Skare, “really stick with it and don’t waver. I think that’s what’s made a lot of my decision-making easy: I return to the big picture. That way you can remove yourself from nitty-gritty questions and then those become easier to answer.” Skare’s vision for Dziesmu Svētki is clear. “I as a musician have been to really boring concerts. How do we make this engaging and a little bit fresh and different?” Audiences will discover the answer this summer in Baltimore.

“The Making of a Dziesmu Svētki” is an ongoing series documenting the behind-the-scenes process of organizing a Latvian song and dance festival.

The XIV Latvian-American Song and Dance Festival will take place in Baltimore, Maryland, from June 29 to July 3, 2017. For more information, please visit or write to

3×3 Falls Creek viesosies Janta un Ilmārs Meži – iepazīsimies!

Nākošgad no Latvijas 3×3 Falls Creek, Austrālijā viesosies daudzpusīgie Janta un Ilmārs Meži. Iepazīsimies mazliet ar viņiem. Lai gan Mežiem ir kupla ģimene, uz 3×3 viņi tomēr dosies vieni paši.

Kāda jūsu pamatnodarbošanās, kādi vaļasprieki?

Janta ir botāniķe Latvijas Dabas muzejā, kur strādā ar izstāžu ierīkošanu, gan arī Latvijas augu kolekcijas papildināšanu. Savukārt Ilmārs strādā Starptautiskajā Migrācijas organizācijā, palīdzot imigrantiem brīvprātīgi atgriezties atpakaļ dzimtenē, ja tiem nav tiesību dzīvot Latvijā. Vaļasprieku mums ir daudz, no kuriem kopīgie ir saistīti ar latviešu tradicionālo kultūru un dabu. Mums ļoti patīk visiem izbraukt dabā – vai nu sēņot un ogot, vai ar laivām pa kādu nelielu upi, vai apceļot skaistas vietas.

Mums visiem liels pārsteigums bija uzzināt, ka jums ir viena no Latvijas “dižģimenēm” – ģimenē aug seši bērni! Kādos vecumos viņi ir?

Mums ir seši bērni: vecākā meita Ingrīda (24) jau strādā par zobārsta palīdzi, Silvija (21) mācās pēdējo gadu Latvijas Universitātes Bioloģijas fakultātē. Nākamā ir Lauma (16), kura mācās Rīgas Āgenskalna ģimnāzijā un interesējas par “mangām” un mitoloģiju, bet Jānis Viesturs (13) mācās Rīgas Doma kora skolā, ir īsts kora puika, kaut, protams, labprātāk spēlētu futbolu vai kādu datorspēli. Bet abi maziņie – Kalvis Ievalts (4) un Marta Austra (1) vēl dzīvojas pa māju un izstaro prieku un enerģiju.

Lūdzu pastāstiet par savu folkloras dzīvi. Janta – tu dziedi grupā “Saucējas”, un Ilmār, tu esi dziedātājs, kā arī mūzikas instrumentu kolekcionārs. Cik katrs dziedat, cik mūzicējat?

Esam dziedājuši jau no skolas gadiem – Janta ilgu laiku dziedāja “Saviešos”, bet tagad jau 5 gadus dzied Latvijas Kultūras akadēmijas grupā “Saucējas”, kas vāc un restaurē senākās tradicionālās dziesmas bez apdares, tieši tā, kā tās ir skanējušas agrāk, un kā tās vēl vecākie ļaudis atceras. Ilmārs agrāk ir dziedājis folkloras draugu kopā “Skandinieki”, bet tagad labprāt dzied un muzicē draugu un ģimenes pasākumos. Mums abiem ir īpaša interese vākt un atdzīvināt sen aizmirstās latviešu dziesmas – kopā esam izbraukājuši daudzus Latvijas lauku nostūrus meklējot cilvēkus, kuri vēl atceras seno laiku dziedāšanu. Dziesmu meklēšanā esam bijuši arī vairākos Sibīrijas latviešu ciemos, kur pierakstītās dziesmas dziedam un dodam tām jaunu dzīvi mūsdienās. Ilmārs pēdējā laikā ir aizrāvies arī ar mūzikas instrumentiem – īpaši ermoņiku kolekcionēšanu un spēlēšanu, bet spēlē arī cītaru, kas ir sens latviešu stīgu instruments, līdzīgs koklei.

Ilmār, Tavs darbs ir saistīts ar demogrāfijas un migrācijas pētniecību. Lūdzu pastāsti, kā radās interese darboties šinī laukā..
Jau skolas gados sāku interesēties par iedzīvotāju ģeogrāfiju – atceros sevi kā puiku, aptuveni 12-14 gadu vecumā, izrakstot no grāmatām Latvijas pilsētas un pagastus ar to iedzīvotāju skaitu un arī vācot pamatinformāciju par visām pasaules valstīm. Interese padziļinājās studējot Latvijas universitātes Ģeogrāfijas fakultātē, un vēlāk Rietumu Mičigānas universtitātē (ASV). Jau 18 gadus vadu Starptautiskās Migrācijas organizācijas nelielo biroju Rīgā, bet sabiedriskā kārtā esmu uzņēmies demogrāfijas politikas uzlabošanas mudinātāja pienākumus. Neatlaidīgi runājot ar žurnālistiem un politiķiem ir izdevies mazliet mainīt sabiedrisko domu, ka arī Latvijā ir nepieciešams lielāks atbalsts tām ģimenēm, kuras audzina vairākus bērnus, un svarīgi ir novērst nabadzību, kas daudzām ģimenēm rodās tāpēc, ka viņi vēlās vairākus bērnus. Vairākos gados ir izdevies rast dzirdīgas ausis arī politiķu un ierēdņu starpā, un pakāpeniski arī Latvijā tiek uzlabota demogrāfijas politika.

Vai esat piedalījušies 3×3 arī Latvijā? Un citur pasaulē?

Esam piedalījušies vairākos Latvijas 3×3 pasākumos kā lektori un praktisko nodarbību vadītāji, visspilgtākā atmiņā bija Alsungas nometne, kur varēja iedraudzēties ar dzīvespriecīgajām Suitu sievām. Esam arī bijuši 3×3 Garezerā vairākas reizes un senāk arī Katskiļos.

Janta, vai tev rokdarbi ir visu mūžu bijuši mīļi – vai no mātes, vecās mātes mācījies šīs mākas?

Protams, ka ar rokdarbiem nodarbojās gan mammiņa, gan vecmammiņa, toreiz jau tā bija ikdienas nepieciešamība – jo rocība daudziem neļāva neko daudz nopirkt, tāpēc rokdarbi bija labs risinājums. Jau 15 gadu vecumā sāku mācīties Rīgas Lietišķās mākslas vidusskolā, kur mācījos tekstila nodaļā. Mans diplomdarbs bija pašas gatavots tautastērps, un arī joprojām turpinu tos darināt – visai ģimenei un ārpus tās. Nesen pie manis sāka pulcēties sievietes, kam interesē savs tautas tērps un es varu palīdzēt – kam piegriezni izgriezt, kam uzsākt adījumu, kam iemācīt aust ar celiem, kam brunčus sašūt.

Kur dzīvojat Latvijā – vai pilsētas centrā, vai laukos?
Dzīvojam Rīgas laukos – jeb vienā no zaļākajām Rīgas nomalēm – Mārupē, ko precīzāk būtu saukt par Bieriņiem, bet šo veco nosaukumu daudzi neatpazīst. Tas ir plašākais Rīgas privātmāju apūves rajons, kur pie katras mājas ir lielāks vai mazāks dārzs. Mums ir liela māja, kura būvēta 1898.gadā, ko pamazām cenšamies atjaunot. Arī mums ir liels dārzs ar daudzām ābelēm, ķiršiem, plūmēm, ir arī izdevies ieaudzēt Latvijas vīnogas, persikus un aprikozes, kas visi nes saldus augļus. Blakus tek Mārupīte, no kuras mūsu dīķī iepeld līdakas, un pēdējā gadā pie mums ir apmeties dzīvot arī bebrs. Līdz Vecrīgai mums ir 50 minūšu gājiens, ko reizēm arī cenšamies veikt kājām vai riteņiem. Agrāk dzīvojām vienkāršos pilsētas centra dzīvokļos, tad ik katru brīvu dienu rāvāmies ārā uz laukiem, bet kopš pašiem ir māja ar dārzu, tad laprāt laiku pavadam tur.

Vai bērni jums arī interesējas par folkloru – rokdarbiem, dziedāšanu, latvisko dzīves ziņu?

Ar bērniem nav tik viegli – jo viņiem jāļauj iziet arī caur vecāku noliegšanas stadijai – nevaram lielīties, ka visi bērni ir aktīvi dziedātāji, muzicētāji vai tautas tērpu darinātāji. Bet lietas notiekas pamazām – vecākā meita pamazām ir sajutusi vajadzību gatavot linu kreklus, arī jostiņas. Savukārt Silvija ir aktīva dejotāja tautiskajos dančos – būtu tikai puišu tur vairāk:-) Domājam, ka ar laiku visi bērni sajutīs nepieciešamību darboties arī kādā latviešu tradīciju jomā.

Vai būsit Austrālijā pirmo reizi? Kas jums Austrālijā visvairāk interesē?

Austrālijā abi būsim pirmo reizi. Vistuvāk Austrālijai līdz šim esam ceļojuši uz Sibīrijas latviešu ciemiem un arī Indijā. Austrālijā ceram iepazīt gan dabu, gan cilvēkus un viņu kultūru – gan eiropejiešu, gan vietējo aborigēnu. Priecāsimies, ja izdosies uz kādu brīdi ienirt siltā jūras līcī pavērot krāsainās zivtiņas, kā arī ceram ieraudzīt kādu ķenguru bariņu. Visbeidzot ir arī maza cerība no Austrālijas vecākās paaudzes latviešiem dzirdēt kādu mums nepazīstamu dziesmu. Mūsu labākās teicējas Ķērstas Albužes (dz.Bubēris) brālis dzīvojot kaut kur Austrālijā – varbūt izdotos satikt arī viņu un parunāt par “veciem laikiem”.

Kas jums mīļākā nodarbe karstā vasaras dienā? Garajos ziemas vakaros?
Kā jau ziemeļniekiem mūsu ideālais vasaras siltuma komforts ir no 20-25 C, bet ja karstums pārsniedz 30 grādus, tad meklējam ēnu un ūdeni. Ziemā, kad ir tumšs un auksts – tad Ilmārs strādā ar arhīva datiem vācot latviešu uzvārdu sarakstu un to izplatību, bet Janta veic rokdarbus. Labā ziemas dienā, gan mēģinam ar bērniem slidot un slēpot, veidot sniegavīru.

Paldies par interviju! Tiksimies 3×3 janvārī!

Daina Gross is editor of Latvians Online. An Australian-Latvian she is also a member of the Education Board of the World Federation of Free Latvians and the translator into English of various books on industrial history in Latvia.

The Making of a Dziesmu Svētki, Part 3: Rīc Kom

You know the beginning of any good ensemble-cast blockbuster, where the ringleader travels to goofy locations collecting a ragtag bunch of specialized misfits to assemble his crack squad? The tough guy, the master thief, the tech nerd, the female. Collecting the squad that makes up the Rīc Kom (“rīcības komiteja,” or organizing committee) is just like that. I’m not saying that we’re all a bunch of superheroes, but, we’re basically all a bunch of superheroes.

Take our fearless leader, Marisa Gudrā (whose name fittingly translates to “Marisa the Wise”), the Professor X who oversees our shenanigans with stern, quiet patience. The Boston native pretty much majored in Running a Dziesmu Svētki, racking up degrees in Music, Economics, and Arts Management. She has served on the boards of the American Latvian Association and the American Latvian Youth Association, and has coordinated numerous events for the latter. Gudrā is a meticulous and precise workhorse, one of the best task jugglers I’ve ever encountered, and if it were in any way possible for a single person to organize and run an entire Latvian song festival singlehandedly, she’d be my pick. Alas, some jobs are just too big, and for those you need a ragtag team. You need…

The Rīc Kom! Separate from the festival’s talented program directors and their teams, the nine-member Rīc Kom handles overarching festival logistics and makes sure all the fragmented pieces come together. While program directors hail from all along the East Coast and beyond, Gudrā stuck with her fellow D.C. locals for Rīc Kom.

Four of us, Gudrā included, recently worked together on the Rīc Kom for 2015’s ALA Meistarsacīkstes, an annual sports tournament. Nik Timrots, in addition to working with the American Latvian Youth Association and the Joint Baltic American National Committee, was the head of this Meistarsacīkstes Rīc Kom and, having concocted the original Dziesmu Svētki plan with Gudrā, naturally took his place as her right-hand man. Working as a transportation manager for the University of Maryland Department of Transportation Services with 3 million annual passengers and 200 bus drivers under his watchful eye, Timrots is no stranger to large-scale logistics. He took a strong lead in early planning and research, contacting venues and hotels, and keeping initial efforts focused and broken down into smaller tasks.

Also sliding over from the Meistarsacīkstes Rīc Kom were Inga Bebre and myself. My Latvian society credits include work with children’s summer camp Katskiļi, the Latvian School of Washington, the Latvian Lutheran Church of Washington, and D.C. folk-dancing troupe Namejs.  Having been the webmaster for both Namejs and Meistarsacīkstes, I happily took on the Dziesmu Svētki roles of webmaster, secretary, and marketing-team member. I can think of nobody with whom I would rather work on any Latvian project than my longtime close friend Inga Bebre, one of the most organized and dependable people I have ever met. From our time together in Namejs and Meistarsacīkstes, I know that if you want something done and done well, with a solid system in place, it should be delegated to her. Bebre most notably demonstrated her abilities while serving as the head of the Rīc Kom for the American Latvian Youth Association Congress in D.C., a complicated assignment with countless moving parts. Dependability, a mastery of spreadsheets, organizational skills, and attention to detail make Bebre the perfect candidate for one of Dziesmu Svētki’s most complicated and detail-driven tasks: ticket sales.

Gudrā wasn’t done recruiting fellow Namejs dancers.  She broached the subject of a Baltimore Dziesmu Svētki with former dancer Juris Mohseni, a Sudrabavots folk group singer and accordion player, while watching a football game. His first reaction? “Excited! Thought it would be cool!” he later told me with a huge grin. But then, “Didn’t think I would have ANY part of it!” Attending?  Sure!  Actually leading the thing? Not so much. His mind was changed by the enthusiasm of his brother, Imants, another Namejs member being recruited by Gudrā. “I wanted to do something our grandmother would be proud of, even though she’s not with us anymore,” Imants explained somberly. That sentiment got to Juris, and he committed 100%, taking on the high-pressure job of treasurer for Latvian-American society’s most expensive event. Not that Juris is at all daunted by the task; as a professional budget analyst, he’s used to dealing with billion-dollar-plus budgets (as well as his homeowners association’s $13,000 budget) on a daily basis. While Juris took on one of the most traditional Rīc Kom roles, Imants took on something newer: project technology.

“We didn’t even know that we needed all this technology, but I think it revolutionized the way that we work,” Gudrā said about Imants’s contribution. “He’s the wizard.” While Dziesmu Svētki as an event hasn’t changed much over the generations, the way in which it is organized certainly has thanks to the role of technology (imagine how much our grandparents would have appreciated MP3s while learning songs and YouTube while learning dances). Imants is responsible for researching, implementing, and patiently helping the rest of us understand the best use of technology, from online registration forms and payment options, to team workflow programs that keep Rīc Kom working efficiently — all achievements his grandmother never would have imagined in her day, but of which I am sure she is proud nonetheless.

A song and dance festival cannot survive with dancers alone, and neither can its Rīc Kom.   An enthusiastic music lover who sings in the choir at every Dziesmu Svētki, Aivars Osvalds has been active in Latvian-American society for as long as I can remember, holding positions with the American Latvian Association, the World Federation of Free Latvians, the Latvian Lutheran Church of Washington, the Lettonia fraternal organizations, and the Baltic countries exhibition at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. A lot of us knew him as the primary mover and shaker behind the re-emergence of youth seminar 2×2, where passion and drive for the project really made it take off (having attended the first of these seminars in West Virginia, I can personally attest to the success of this effort, as it proved to be one of the most inspirational weeks of my life). It was this exact drive and passion that we needed, especially to pull off a project of this size in such a short timespan, and Osvalds has definitely not been a disappointment in this regard. Brought on board to handle evening events, a colossal project on its own, he was immediately enthusiastic to help wherever needed, volunteering to work on fundraising, hotel contacts, and many other loose ends that have crept up throughout the planning process.

Osvalds immediately suggested bringing in his friend Iveta Grava, the only Rīc Kom member with prior experience in organizing a Dziesmu Svētki. Born and raised in Latvia, Grava’s extensive experience in the Latvian arts scene include not just leadership roles with two Dziesmu Svētki in Latvia, but also work at the Latvian National Opera and the World Federation of Free Latvians, membership in the prestigious Ave Sol choir, and a lifetime of music education (including a degree in harp performance). Originally slated to be our main point of contact with Latvian performers and organizations, Grava soon also took on fundraising and theatre duties, and provides beautiful Latvian-language prose for the festival’s promotional material. She describes her involvement with the Latvian saying “Iedod velnam mazo pirkstiņu un viņš paņem visu roku” (“Give the devil your pinkie and he takes your entire arm”). In other words, she was hooked like the rest of us.

Gudrā’s recruitment tale might have ended here, until fate twisted its chilly way into Gudrā’s commute one winter morning. She sat on the metro train reading some bad news on her phone: an email from a potential team member turning down one of our largest remaining positions: volunteer coordinator. Gudrā didn’t have too much time to dwell in her disappointment, however, because just then a stranger sitting nearby introduced herself. Aija Moeller, who usually rides her bike to work but was driven onto the metro due to the bitter cold, noticed Latvian symbols on Gudrā’s winter scarf. They got to talking, and soon discovered two amazing things about one another. Moeller, who had moved to D.C. from Latvia years earlier, had just read in the local church bulletin about potential Dziesmu Svētki plans and had made up her mind to offer her services. And here before her sat the very woman she had intended to contact. And Gudrā, freshly mourning her lack of a volunteer coordinator, was amazed to hear what her new acquaintance did for a living: Moeller was a volunteer coordinator for a non-profit. Newly minted as the Dziesmu Svētki volunteer coordinator, but acknowledging that she had little to do in that regard for months to come, Moeller threw herself into other essential projects, organizing the film festival, joining the marketing team, and patiently proofreading various materials.

So that’s us.  I’ll be honest: I’d never really given much thought to the Rīc Kom during previous festivals. After all, the buzz surrounding a Dziesmu Svētki is, rightly, about the excitement of seeing friends, sharing culture, dancing all day and all night; it’s not about the person filling out 501c3 paperwork.  I’ve listed here some of the relevant experience of our members, but the truth is that there’s only one thing that anyone actually needs to know about us. It’s a response that I received independently from two separate Rīc Kom teammates when I interviewed them for this article. “We are all volunteers and I think that is the answer to ‘what qualifies you to work on this,’” wrote one.

Or, as another member laughed when asked what qualifies him, “I’m willing to show up, right?”

“The Making of a Dziesmu Svētki” is an ongoing series documenting the behind-the-scenes process of organizing a Latvian song and dance festival.

The XIV Latvian-American Song and Dance Festival will take place in Baltimore, Maryland, from June 29 to July 3, 2017. For more information, please visit the Festival website or write to