FROM THE HISTORY OF SONG CELEBRATIONS
The Lithuanian Song Celebrations having become an indisputable tradition praises the individual’s creative self-expression, vitality of the national culture, love for the homeland and solidarity of its people. The celebration joins different generations, contributes to the nurturing of the nationally shared values. Through the years the most valued features of the genre’s expressions have crystallized along with aesthetic criteria of the artistic programmes, the emotional commonness of the celebration’s participants and the audience.
The Lithuanian Song Celebration is an overall national cultural phenomenon and a continual purposeful creative process spiritually equal to ancient Greek Olympic Games.
On the 7th of November 2003, UNESCO has proclaimed the tradition of the Song and Dance Celebration in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity and in 2008 it has been inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In the world
On the 25th of June 1843, Zurich (Switzerland) hosted the first Song Celebration in the world drawing in 80 choirs, 2100 singers. In 1935 Basel (Switzerland) hosted the most massive event of the genre with participation of 166 choirs, 12 thousand singers.
In 1845 the Song Celebration was organised in Viurzburg (Germany). The German Song Celebrations distinguished for their monumentality and grandiosity. They used to be held on large stairs outdoors in front of churches, at city squares, later on – at stadiums. The last German Celebration was held in Hanover in 1928 with 44 thousand participants.
In 1869 in TartuCity on the initiative of the men’s singers’ community “Vanemuine” the first Estonian Song Celebration was held with participation of 46 choirs, 789 singers, 56 musicians and 15 thousand spectators. The Seventh Song Celebration of 1910 already featured children choirs and a symphonic orchestra. Four Estonian National Song Celebrations (1923, 1928, 1933 and 1938) were organised in the interwar period. Songs by Lithuanian composers: Domas Andrulis, Eduardas Balsys, A. Andriulis, Zigmas Venckus, and Lithuanian folk songs were performed at the Estonian Song Celebrations held after the Second World War.
The first National Latvian Song Celebration was organised by the Riga’s Latvian Community in 1873 drawing in 45 choirs, 1003 singers and an orchestra of 16 musicians. Four more national Latvian Song Celebrations had been held before the First World War. In the interwar period another four national events were organised in 1926, 1931, 1933 and 1938. At the 1931 Song Celebration 100 Lithuanian singers were invited. Several Lithuanian dances like “Malūnėlis” (The Mill), “Rugučiai” (The Rye) and others used to be danced at the post-war Latvian Celebrations.
In 1884 in Jyvaskyla the National Education Community organized the first Finnish Song Celebration with participation of six choirs (314 singers) and six orchestras (76 musicians). Sixteen song celebrations had been held in Finland until the First World War.
Lithuania Minor singing
The 17th of February 1895 is recorded in the history as the debut of the first Lithuanian choir. The concert was given on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Lithuanian community “Birutė”.
On the 2nd of December 1895 the Tilsit Lithuanian Singers’ Community was founded led by Vydūnas (Vilius Storosta). The community used to organise theatre performances, concerts, evenings, St. John’s Day festivities in Tilsit, Klaipėda, Gumbinė, Verdainė, Rusnė, Ragainė, Juodkrantė, Smalininkai. Up to one thousand spectators used to gather at the events, so called the winter and summer Lithuanian celebrations, later in 1902 entitled the Song Celebrations.
In 1899 composer Juozas Naujalis had rallied the singers of his led Kaunas Cathedral Choir and founded the secret “Daina” community.
The activity of art amateurs
At the barn evenings authentic Lithuanian plays by Lithuanian authors used to be performed. Through 1900–1910 55 plays by 20 authors were presented. The church choirs conducted by organists used to sing.
On the 31st of October 1903 in Saint Petersburg the first Lithuanian dance on stage – “Suktinis” was performed and on the 20th of February it was time for the second – “Klumpakojis”.
At the 1904 Lithuanian Evening in Riga the multiple-whistlers’ group performed.
On the 3rd of January 1905 in Kretinga the dance “Aguonėlė” was presented performed by dancers Sofija Borkevičiūtė, Petronėlė Gaigalaitė, Juozapota Jurkutė, Petronėlė Jurkutė, Elena Mekuškaitė and Eleonora Petrikytė. The dance group was prepared and led by E. Mekuškaitė. The date is recorded as the birthday of the Lithuanian scenic dance.
On the 3rd of July 1905 in Betygala after the theatre performance “Amerika pirtyje” (America in a Bath) five dances were presented.
In 1905 in Marijampolė after the theatre performance and the concert of the choir led by Albinas Jasenauskas an aged kanklės player Juras Salamas climbed the stage.
In 1906 the newspaper “Vilniaus žinios” had announce the intention to organise the overall Lithuanian Song Celebration. Regretfully the event was not realized due to organisational misunderstandings.
In 1909 composer Stasys Šimkus was the first to unite several choirs at the concert in Jurbarkas. The intention to organise the national choral festival scheduled on the 16th of August 1914 in Marijampolė was hindered by the First World War.
On the 1st of February dances “Žilvitis”, “Blezdingėlė”, “Čigonėlis”, “Rūtelė” were presented in Riga.
The beginning of the Great Celebrations
At the meeting of a few initiators hosted on the 22nd of December 1923 at the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Lithuania composer Juozas Žilevičius announced about 109 choirs having declared their willingness to participate in the Song Celebration.
At the meeting on the 23rd of February 1924 it was decided to title the upcoming event the Song Day. Through 7 to 28 July following the pre-announced schedule principal conductors Stasys Šimkus and Julius Štarka had visited 31 locations in order to inspect the preparedness of the choirs. 11 842 tickets were sold to the first day of the Celebration and 7895 to the second one.
The first Song Day was held on the 23rd and 25th of August 1924 in Kaunas, the Exhibitions’ Square. 86 choirs (around 3000 singers) participated. The principal conductors of the Song Day were J. Naujalis, S. Šimkus and J. Štarka. The choirs performed 36 songs (22 folk songs and 14 authentic songs by Lithuanian composers). Along with the choirs of cities and district centres the church choirs of Antašava, Ylakiai, Kavarskas, Kybartai, Klovainiai, Krakės, Mosėdis, Pasvalys, Radviliškis, Simnas, Surviliškis, Sintautai, Seda participated.
On the 1st of July 1928 Kaunas hosted the second Lithuanian Song Celebration, which drew in around 6000 singers. The programme consisted of 21 compositions. The Celebration featured the guest choir of Riga’s Lithuanians – “Šviesa” (leader – Juozas Karosas). 250 school students on stage demonstrated gymnastics exercises. The choir singing popular folk songs accompanied the programme. Six songs were repeated from the first Song Day’s programme. 51 church choirs, 22 gymnasium and other schools choirs, 19 choirs of various unions and organisations participated.
The third Celebration was dedicated to commemorate the 500th death anniversary of Vytautas Magnus. 115 choir leaders had participated in the courses of choirmasters in March 1930. The preparedness of the choirs had been inspected by musicians J. Štarka, Aleksandras Kačanauskas, Nikodemas Martinonis and Jonas Bendorius. The Song Celebration held on the 20th of June 1930 at the open-air stage of KaunasCity rallied 30 shooters’ choirs, 23 choirs of the YouthCatholicFederation“Spring”, 9 choirs of the Catholic Federation “Ateitis”, over 60 church choirs (over 6000 singers). 24 songs were sung.
On the 6th of June 1927 the first Lithuanian Song Celebration of the Klaipėda region was held with 12 choirs, 800 singers and an orchestra of 100 musicians. 18 vocal compositions were performed. The second regional celebration of song lovers took place in 4-5 of June 1933, the third one – in 9-19 of July 1938 drawing in around 2000 singers.
Since 1930 regional Schoolchildren’s Song and Sport Celebrations were periodically organised in Telšiai, Panevėžys, Marijampolės, Ukmergė.
In 1934 the Higher Physical Training Course was launched in Kaunas. The course compulsory programme included the National Dance subject.
In 1935 the International Folkdance Festival was organised in London, where Lithuanians (16 dancers and a folk orchestra of 4 musicians) also participated. Later on Lithuanian dancers performed at various dance festivals in Germany, Czechoslovakia and Sweden.
Songs were sung even in the Soviet period
In 1941 the Folk Art House – the Headquarters of the Song Celebrations – was established. In 1990 it has been renamed to the Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.
At the 1946 Song Celebration 188 choirs (11 778 singers) participated. 5 songs written by composers and 15 Lithuanian folk arranged songs were performed. 132 pro-gymnasiums and gymnasiums choirs, 3 higher schools and 21 special schools choirs sang. The principal conductors were N. Martinonis, Jonas Švedas, Konradas Kaveckas, Antanas Ilčiukas. The innovation – the competition of groups, which later on became traditional – had been tested at the celebration.
Since 1950 the national song celebration have been regularly organised every five years.
The 1950 Song Celebration drew in 7 dance groups, 41 multi-pipe whistlers’ ensemble and 13 wind orchestras. The children choir was composed of 3570 singers.
In 1955 the village instrumental groups performed at some local festivals.
At the 1955 competition of various art branches and genres 98 groups shared the stage. A folk instrumental orchestra of 159 musicians, 297 kanklės players and 947 multi-pipe whistlers played.
Since the 19th of July 1955 the date of the first issue of the Song Celebration’s newspaper “Skambėk, daina” (Sound, the Song) 47 numbers were published.
In 1960 the VingisPark stage was built designed by Estonian architects.
At the 1960 Song Celebration 23 song and dance ensembles made their debut performing 7 compositions and 76 village instrumental groups (827 musicians). The same year the National Folk Art Exhibition was first held.
In 1963 the National Rally of Men’s Choirs was organised drawing in 40 choirs.
In 1964 the First National Schoolchildren’s Song Celebration was organised with participation of 219 choirs, 245 folk dance groups, 159 multi-pipe whistles, wind instruments, accordion and symphonic orchestras (24 088 players).
254 groups competed for participation at the 1965 Song Celebration. The guest of the celebration was the mixed choir of the America’s Lithuanians. The Lithuanian folk song “Mergužėle, lelijėle” harmonized by Juozas Bendorius was performed under the baton of conductor Milda Stenslerienė. The number of dancers had increased – for the first time 38 ball-dance groups and 78 senior dancers groups had participated.
In 1968 Vilnius hosted the Baltic Students’ Song and Dance Festival “Gaudeamus”. 39 higher schools had delegated 5824 participants. The “Gaudeamus” tradition has started in 1956 with the first celebration hosted in Tartu (Estonia).
In 1969 the Second Schoolchildren’s Art and Sport Festival was arranged. 498 art groups, 20 074 pupils (among them 2132 sportsmen) participated.
In 1970 the KalnaiPark stage was reconstructed.
The 1970 Song Celebration drew in 29 092 performers.
The 1975 Celebration marked the debut of the joint string orchestra composed of 370 musicians. Early in the morning 83 wind orchestras were wakening the sleeping city. 36 compositions were presented in the Dance Day programme.
In 1977 the Third Schoolchildren’s Song Celebration was organised.
In 1978 the Tenth Baltic Students’ Song and Dance Festival “Gaudeamus” was held rallying no less than 6 thousand participants.
380 groups (11 215 performers) had competed in the 1980 Celebration’s contests. The folk ensembles had given three concerts. For the first time the VingisPark stage accommodated 2883 wind orchestra musicians. 36 thousand participants attended the celebration. For the first time in the history of song celebration the sociologists had surveyed the audience’s impression on the celebration, its’ repertoire, had collected the desires for the future events.
The 1985 Song Celebration distinguished for a record number of participants amounting of 38856 art lovers.
The events of the 1988 “Gaudeamus” were held not only in Vilnius, but also Šiauliai and Kaunas. The celebration gathered around 7 thousand participants.
Recalling the history of the Song Celebration some persons should be mention with a special respect and gratitude, just to name a few promoters of our national culture and the song celebrations tradition – Eduardas Balsys, Jonas Banaitis, Vladas Bartusevičius, Povilas Bekeris, Antanas Budriūnas, Aloyzas Čižas, Jonas Dautartas, Balys Dvarionas, Antanas Gabrėnas, Antanas Gimžauskas, Klemensas Griauzdė, Juozas Karosas, Juozas Lingys, N. Martinonis, Jonas Motiekaitis, J. Švedas, Alfonsas Zauka, Vitas Žilius, K. Kaveckas, Salomonas Sverdiolas, Dainius Trinkūnas and others.
Songs and dances of the deportees
In 1952 the Lithuanian deportees, song lovers, in Igarka had formed the choir.
In 1953 the Song Celebration was organised in Igarka. The choir sang a few Lithuanian songs; folk dancers and the woodwind orchestra performed.
In 1953 the Lithuanian deportees, students, in Irkutsk had formed three choirs (150 singers) and a folk dance group. The choirs were led by V. Kasylis, A. Liuberskytė-Varkalienė and G. Vigelytė-Šmigelskienė; the dancers were trained by L. Kalpokienė. The first performance was held on the 7th of June 1956. In 1958 the deportees participated at the Irkutsk region Song and Dance Celebration taking the first prize.
World Lithuanians sing and dance
The Lithuanian song celebrations in Emigration started to be organised in 1916 on the initiative of Stasys Šimkus.
In 1939 during the New York World Exhibition the Lithuanian Song Celebration was held led by Juozas Žilevičius. 59 choirs, over 3000 singers participated.
The 1946 Song Celebration in Viurzburg (Germany) rallied even the Lithuanian choirs from refugee camps (around 400 song lovers).
Since 1956 the Lithuanian Song Celebration of the Lithuanians in the USA and Canada had been regularly organised usually drawing in 1000–1400 choral singers. Notable conductors – Bronius Budriūnas, Juozas Žilevičius, Julius Gaidelis, Alfonsas Mikulskis, Jeronimas Kačinskas, Faustas Strolia, Vaclovas Verikaitis, Stasys Sližys, Stasys Gailevičius, Jonas Govėdas, Dalia Skrinskaitė-Viskontienė. Nine celebrations were organised in 1956, 1961, 1966, 1971, 1978, 1983, 1991, 2006, and 2010.
Fourteen Lithuanian national dance festivals were organised in the USA and Canada. The first one was held on the 30th of June 1957, the others then followed in 1963, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. The dance celebrations have also been organised by the Australian Lithuanians’ community.
In the independent Lithuania
The 13th Lithuanian Song Celebration held in 1990 was titled the National Celebration. Under the conditions of economic blockade many of the art amateurs’ ensembles of Lithuanian Diasporas could not come. The competitions of groups were cancelled. The novelty – the National Evening (later renamed to the Folklore Day) – has been brought to the celebration’s traditional structure. Nearly 33 thousand performers took part at the Celebration.
The first Lithuanian Song and Dance Celebration including Lithuanian emigrants from the USA, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus was held in 1994. 1200 emigrant singers, dancers and musicians performed together with 26 thousand Lithuanian performers. In memory of the organisers of the first Song Celebration of 1924 one of the Song Day’s programmes was rendered at the Kaunas Valley of Songs; and the composition dedicated to the Lithuanian Song Celebrations was solemnly presented.
Over 31 thousand Lithuanian performers took part in the 1998 World Lithuanians’ Song Celebration dedicated to the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of restoration of the Lithuania’s State. 1100 singers, dancers and musicians had come to the celebration from Belarus, Poland, Russia, Latvia, Georgia, Australia, Brazil, United Kingdom, Germany and Ukraine.
The 2003 World Lithuanians’ Song Celebration – the first one in the 21st century and the first one organized under thematic requirements. In 2003 the festival program was based on lyrics of famous Lithuanian poet Justinas Marcinkevičius’ poem, the uniting word then was “we” (mes in Lithuanian). We are the inhabitants of the Baltic Sea coast sharing the history, culture, traditions, customs, self-consciousness of our state proudly evincing it at this great celebration of 32 thousand singers, dancers, musicians, folk artists and performers of other genres, including over 1000 upholders of national art coming from different states of he world.
The 2007 Song Celebration was symbolically titled “In the Circle of Life”. The concept of the celebration – the circle of life of an individual growing in out national culture – starting with his birth, growing, the wedding, conscious creative self-expression and ending with the sunset of life. The most diverse, thoughtful, sapid programme was created by over 100 most prominent Lithuanian composers, directors, choreographers and conductors. The celebration was attended by around 36,6 thousand participants.
The 18th Lithuanian Song Celebration “The Song of the Centuries” held in 2009 was splendid. The name of the event reflects the natural feeling of harmony between the people and the nature, the ability to consent, to find the uniting solutions having saved the nation in the most complicated periods of the state’s history. Symbolically the millennium anniversary of the Lithuania’s name was celebrated by restoring the Lithuania’s way from the archaic Baltic towards the contemporary Western culture in a cycle of professional creative events – the Folklore Day, dedicated to varied semantics of the Earth, the Evening of Ensembles “The Seasons”, the Dance Day, having uncovered the run of cyclic and historical time, the Schoolchildren’s Song Day, brass orchestras, theatres and other new programmes (14 in total), and also the grand Song Day. The Celebration had rallied over 40 thousand participants (1570 groups), among them 25 thousand children and youth, and nearly one thousand Lithuanians from 16 states of the world (Ireland, Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, United Kingdom, Iceland, Italy, USA, Canada, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, Germany). The celebration also presented art amateur groups of national minorities living in Lithuania (Russians, Byelorussians, Roma, Karaites and Polish).
Thousands of participants and spectators of the anniversary Song and Dance Celebration – 2014 chanted “Here is my home”. The celebration presented rich programmes of Lithuanian songs, dances, ensembles, wind orchestras, kanklės music, invited the inhabitants and guests of the capital to acknowledge folk craftsmen’s art, masterpieces of ancient national cultural traditions. Along with traditional events the 90th anniversary Song and Dance celebration had also brought some innovations: the special performances on Theatre Day dedicated to celebrate the Year of Theatre and the 300th birth anniversary of Kristijonas Donelaitis, the Children crafts town settled at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, the theatrical presentation of the historical costumes of the Baltic tribes. The solemn mentioning of the 90th anniversary of the Song and Dance Celebration was held on the 28th of June, in Kaunas, the Songs’ Valley. For the first time the 6th of July was announced the National Costume Day. Over 20 thousand of the Song and Dance Celebration’s participants had dressed in national costumes or at least some accessory. The common number of Lithuanian and foreign participants coming from 13 states had reached 37 thousand. Over 50 thousand spectators visited the Song and Dance Celebration events. The next Lithuanian Song and Dance Celebration dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the Lithuanian State will be held in 2018.
The continuity of the Schoolchildren’s Song Celebrations has likewise been preserved. The 5th Lithuanian Schoolchildren’s Song Celebration in 1997 was dedicated to the 600th anniversary of the Lithuanian school. 20 thousand pupils took part in it. The 2005 Celebration ”We Are Children of Freedom” rallied over 21 thousand participants. The Schoolchildren’s Song Day “The Sounding Gardens of Childhood” was included in the programme of the Millennium Song Celebration in 2009. At the 2012 Celebration “My Name is Lithuania” over 20 thousand pupils sang, danced and played music.
In 1999 and 2011 the Baltic Students’ Song and Dance Festival “Gaudeamus” came back to Lithuania again.
A unique continuous international event – the Nordic-Baltic Song Celebration uniting the mixed choirs of Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Faeroe Islands, Greenland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – has been initiated in 1995, in Riga. In Lithuania the festival was held in Klaipėda in 2002.
Since the 30th of October 2000 the continuity of the Lithuanian Song Celebrations’ tradition is safeguarded by the Decision of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania and since 2007 – by the Law on the Song Celebrations of the Republic of Lithuania. It states the necessity of maintaining this unique phenomenon having a great influence on the vitality of our culture, the dispersion of regional culture, the unity of the entire nation. The Law guarantees the state’s protection of the song celebration tradition, its periodicity, continuity and development, regulates the order of the preparatory and organizational processes, the responsibilities and competencies of public and municipal institutions, sets up the financing principles.