20,000 voices, singing as one
July 1, 2014 1:33 PM   Subscribe

The Latvian Song and Dance Festival has existed in some form or another since 1873, held roughly every five years. Along with similar festivals in Estonia and Lithuania, it has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the world's Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The approximately 35,000 amateur singers and dancers who travel from all around Latvia to perform the weeklong festival comprise 1.5% of the country's entire population. The centerpiece of the festival is always the final night, when the full complement of roughly 20,000 singers perform the most iconic Latvian folk songs a cappella. In 2013, a song performed on the final night was "Līgo" (a word meaning both "sway" and "summer solstice festival"). But for sheer spine-tingling pleasure, 2008's "Gaismas pils" ("Castle of Light") can't be beat.
posted by ocherdraco (18 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a schedule (pdf) of some of the events of the 2013 festival, to give you more of an idea of what the whole thing is like.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:41 PM on July 1, 2014

Very much like going to Koprivshtitsa in Bulgaria, which is coming up next year if anyone wants to meet me there ;-)
posted by mykescipark at 2:01 PM on July 1, 2014

What a beautiful event and sound! I'm in slightly-jealous, bittersweet awe at the broad unity on display here.
posted by gilrain at 2:01 PM on July 1, 2014

I thought there was a post about it here on MetaFilter, but I can't find it.

I see you've found it at last. Great post, by the way!
posted by hat_eater at 2:14 PM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Castle of light indeed. My goosebumps still have goosebumps.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:01 PM on July 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was at the 2013 festival, and it really is a most amazing event. Thanks for posting about it!
posted by thylacinthine at 3:23 PM on July 1, 2014

I really wasn't expected the hair on the back of my neck to stand up. Dad was sitting right here, asked what it was, and when I read him your description, ocherdraco, he said, "Jesus! That's 20,000 voices?" Thank you very much for posting it.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:21 PM on July 1, 2014

I don't mean to swear, but: Holy Mackerel! I'm so happy to know this exists.
posted by cleroy at 6:20 PM on July 1, 2014

I'm rather partial to Saule, Perkons, Daugava myself.
posted by Harald74 at 6:55 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

And this short ad, which I just spent an inordinate amount of time searching for, actually brings a tear to my eye, and I'm just married to a Latvian...
posted by Harald74 at 7:06 AM on July 2, 2014

That was beautiful. And it takes me right back to music college, where the handsomest man in my class was a Latvian bass-- about seven feet tall, a voice to die for and cheekbones you could ski off. Crouching behind the chairs in French Song class helping him translate French love poetry into English was probably one of my most erotic music-college moments.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:19 AM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

If others have favorites, please share! I intentionally only included two songs in the main post, for brevity, but there are many more on YouTube.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:03 AM on July 2, 2014

This is one of my favourites (not from the festival).
posted by thylacinthine at 2:20 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's awesome!
posted by ocherdraco at 6:18 PM on July 3, 2014

This happens in Estonia too and was the thing that triggered the Estonian Singing Revolution in 1991. That is one of my favourite stories of the 20th century.
posted by salishsea at 8:11 AM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

That's a very cool trailer, salishsea! Thanks for linking to it.
posted by tavella at 2:10 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hurrah! I wrote my undergrad dissertation about the Estonian song tradition, and lived in Tartu for a few months singing with local choirs while I did it, back in 1996. An incredible experience, though I never got to sing at laulupidu.

But that means I'm honour-bound to offer up Mu Isamaa on Minu Arm (My Fatherland is My Love). This one's filmed at one of the youth song festivals, and seeing all those fresh-faced young Estonians who know nothing but an independent Estonia chokes me right up...
posted by penguin pie at 3:40 PM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

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