Beautiful Music in the Baltics with Sacramento Children’s Chorus and Seattle Girls’ Choir
Sacramento Children’s Chorus at the Sibelius Monument in Helsinki, Finland
This summer, Sacramento Children’s Chorus and Seattle Girls’ Choir, two longtime ACFEA clients, travelled to Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, marking SCC’s seventh and SGC’s sixth tours with ACFEA. Both groups were looking for something a little different than their many other European tours, and their visits to this unique corner of the world left deep and lasting impressions.
The Baltic countries share many similarities and celebrate important differences as well. Finnish and Estonian are two of a very small family of living languages that share common roots with Hungarian. Latvian and Lithuanian are the only two surviving languages in the similarly small Baltic language family. While Finland was not part of the USSR through the Cold War, the other three countries came to independence through the Singing Revolution of 1987-1991. These mass gatherings, centered on the performance of censored nationalistic folk songs, helped pave the path for all three Baltic nations to leave the Soviet Union, and eventually to the dissolution of the USSR.
Thus, like the Euro that all four countries use, music is an important thread that runs through each culture. What better destination for two youth choirs that wished to share their own culture through music?
Seattle Girls’ Choir in front of St. Casimir’s Church in Vilnius, Lithuania
Stacia Cammarano, General Manager of the Seattle Girls’ Choir, said it was “a joy to sing in a region that so values people coming together to sing in a choir.” For their tour, and particularly their performances in Latvia, SGC conductor Jacob Winkler created an arrangement of the Latvian folk song, “PÅ«t, VÄ“jiÅ†i”, a song with profound meaning to Latvians. Though it had been a regular part of the Latvian Song and Dance Festival for decades, it was suppressed under the Soviet regime. However, during the Singing Revolution, tens of thousands sang this song, which had become the unofficial national anthem, in protest. As Stacia says, “The text itself is about a young man who elopes with his fiancée against her parents’ wishes… One can’t help but wonder whether it was this defiance of authority in the song that made it resonate with the oppressed Latvians! SGC sang it at the end of each concert as we learned was custom there. The gasps, tears, and smiles of joy from the audience was such a gift to the choristers as they experienced how music can touch people from two very different cultures so deeply.”
For the Sacramento Children’s Chorus, a particular highlight of their trip was an informal concert in the Jugla Center for the Blind in Riga, after which, they reported, “small groups of singers were escorted by staff members to meet members of the audience. After most of the residents had left the room, one young man sang for us; it was so moving. He was so proud to share his music with us.”
Sacramento Children’s Chorus performs in St. Peter’s Church in Riga, Latvia
Like SGC, SCC also experienced powerful audience response to their performances, and there were emotional and cultural connections outside the concert venues as well, such as the evening solstice celebration around a bonfire in Tallinn. Juliette Taylor, a participant in the SCC tour, eloquently captured the emotion of another serendipitous moment of connection: “When I got to my hotel room in Riga, I set down my bag and rushed over to open the arched window on the far side of the room. Below me, there was a narrow cobbled street on which young children were playing. I could hear foreign words—beautiful words—being shouted from one Latvian to another, and I could smell the scent of their dinners being cooked nearby. Across the street, my travel mates were opening their windows and doing the same as me: taking it all in. Soon, all of us were waving to each other, shouting to each other, singing to each other, etc. In that moment, I felt a strong connection to each of them and to the city of Riga, and that feeling hasn’t left me.”