A song festival diary: Final day

CHICAGO—Compared to the excitement of the previous day, Sunday morning proved downright low key. The faithful flocked to either the ecumenical Christian church service in the seventh floor ballroom of the Marriott Hotel or—two floors lower—to a service hosted by followers of the folk religion dievturība.

Meanwhile, miles away in the UIC Pavilion, hundreds of singers were rehearsing for the main event: the unified choir concert set to start at 3 p.m.

The festival choir concert filled the UIC Pavilion with the sounds of many Latvian choral standards, such as “Gaismas pils” and “Tēvijai,” as well as some newer works. Among the latter was “Skaista, balta viešņa gāja,” an arrangement by Selga Mence commissioned by the song festival organizing committee. Conducted by Monika Dauksts-Strautniece, the performance featured the sweet soprano voice of soloist Arnita Eglīte.

Including the American and Latvian national anthems, the choir performed 26 songs. But with audience demands for six encores, the more than 600 singers presented a nearly three-hour program.

Choir conductors came from the United States, Canada and Latvia. Perhaps the most entertaining was Māris Sirmais, who also founded and conducts the youth choir Kamēr of Rīga. His sweeping signals to the choir helped the singers express the emotions of songs. Sirmais at one point rewarded the choir by running up to it and tossing flowers to the singers.

Honorary choirmaster Roberts Zuika led the choir in its performance of the classic, “Gaismas pils.” Zuika is known in part for his work in organizing Latvian men’s choirs in the United States.

The concert ended on an emotional note with a performance, sung with the audience, of Vilis Plūdonis’ patriotic hymn “Tev mūžām dzīvot, Latvija.” Perhaps realizing that the festival was coming to a close—and that many participants and festivalgoers would not see each other again for a while—a number of people had tears in their eyes.

But the festival wasn’t quite over yet.

Once again, those who wanted to take in the musical “Lolitas brīnumputns” had to rush back downtown to get to the Merle Reskin Theater. And then there was still the final dance, with music provided by Denver’s Jūrmalnieki and Chicago’s Vējš.

The dance provided clear evidence that the festival was on the wane. Gone was the formal attire of the previous night. Gone were the long lines at the bar. Gone was the smothering heat of the room. The dance provided an opportunity for reflection about the festival and, late into the night, for good old Latvian nīkšana.

By Monday morning, it seemed as if a song festival had never happened in Chicago. Only a few, fleeting bits of Latvian could be heard in the elevators and in the lobby, most of it quickly replaced by the banter of biomedical products salespeople.

But one bellboy was still in the spirit, wearing his song festival pin and telling departing guests “atā” before closing the door to their car.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *