On Sunday, we bid adieu—or “Viso Gero”—to the beautiful town of Birstonas in Lithuania, where we spent three days making new friends, enjoying the countryside, and making music. Though we didn’t want to leave, we were excited to travel to our first large city in the Baltics—Vilnius.
On our transit, we stopped at Traku salos pilis, “Trakai Island Castle.” It was built by a grand duke in the 16th Century, when Trakai was briefly declared the capital of Lithuania. Though we only had 20 minutes, we were thrilled to stop and captured some wonderful pictures.
As we arrived in the city, our wonderful tour guide, Egle, began telling us about Lithuanian History, from the foundation of the city in the 14th century to the reconstruction after the end of Soviet Rule. She spoke to us about her experience as a “Grandchild of Lenin,” and the other titles the youth were expected to take as a young member of the Party. In her adult years, Egle participated in the crucial protests that liberated Lithuanians from communist rule. We also went up to one of the tallest buildings in Vilnius and got some wonderful shots.
After we had lunch and did more sightseeing, we checked into our Rock and Roll themed hotel, which started playing Fleetwood Mac the minute we turned on the lights in our room. It just goes to show that even though music can be specific to one culture, it can also travel to all parts of the world.
After we had changed into our concert attire, we departed for our concert venue, which was the St. Catherine’s Church, and had the livest acoustics that any of us (Dr. Adams included) had ever experienced. Our sound reverberated for 3-4 seconds after we had stopped singing. This is fortunate, because we were all feeling tired from the last three days of nonstop concerts, and we trusted the space to carry our sound.
When we opened the doors, we greeted each person with the Lithuanian greeting, “Labas Vakaras,” and had so many visitors that we ran out of programs. Even a few of our new Finnish choir friends were in attendance! As we began to sing, the atmosphere of the choir was one of trust. Not only is every person uplifting to one another, but also our sound has evolved to fit us like a glove. It’s much like a dance partner you’ve been with for years—you trust them to be completely with you through the most basic waltz to spontaneous movements.
The next morning, we departed for Riga, Latvia. On our transit, we made many stops, one of which was Rundale Palace. It was built in the mid 18th century by the Duke of Courtland, and was passed to Katherine the Great, The German Army, the Napoleon Army, Latvian Ministry of Agriculture, a school, and then finally the Soviet Union. The varying art styles reflects the frequent movement of power in Latvia.
For lunch, we were served a meat that tasted a lot like chicken, but what many were surprised to find was actually rabbit. This was a first for many of us, though it was an idea that was hard to swallow.
We traveled for the rest of the day, and arrived at the University in Latvia to observe the rehearsal of Juventus, a community choir that sounded like anything but. Their sound was free and unified in a gorgeous tone that complimented both their Latvian folk repertoire as well as internationally known choral music. It was a pleasure hearing them and sharing pieces by Latvian and American composers. Additionally, we experienced they way they celebrate birthdays. You can find a video of it in the comments section.