I’ve just spent the last two weeks travelling through the
The Lonely Planet Guide said: “Song is the soul of the Balts. And nowhere is this expressed more eloquently than in the national song festivals that unite
And the Rough Guide said: “The characteristic Baltic singing festivals – hugely popular events – played a major role in expressing the national identities of
Unfortunately most of the big folk song festivals had already happened earlier in the year!
In the 19th century, great collections of folk lyrics and tunes were made: over 1.4 million folk lyrics and 30,000 tunes have been written down in
I also read in a local guide book that if you ask a Lithuanian about his country’s traditional culture, you would most likely hear about Lithuanian songs and love of singing. Apparently, only a few decades ago, most women of the Dzukija region still knew a hundred songs; the most accomplished singers remembered as many as four hundred. Often, people sang more than they spoke!
The choral folk and runo-song arrangements of Estonian composer Veljo Tormis are very popular, having influence as far away as the Estonian community in
So how come in the restaurants and shops the music was Russian pop or Bob Marley or classical muzak, and the new Baltic MTV was full of Baltic rock of the bad 1970s kind? Where was this vibrant traditional culture that I’d been reading so much about?
I was also yearning to see some kind of authentic folk craft in the shops rather than the usual watered-down tourist rubbish (is that what people really want, or do we buy it because it’s the only thing on offer?).
It got me thinking about how visible so-called traditional culture is in any particular society. There is clearly a rich and vibrant folk tradition in the Baltics in both music and applied arts, yet on an everyday level it is invisible. What happens to all those thousands of people who join in the song festivals the rest of the year? Do they simply stop singing? What is a culture’s folk tradition any way? I guess you could say that the derivative Baltic pop music on the radio, and the buying of cheap Russian clothes imports in the markets is an expression of today’s traditional culture. Yet my background reading suggests that there is a lively, current interest in songs and music that has been handed down over generations – songs for every occasion: weddings, rye harvest, summer solstice, funerals. It is an integral part of Baltic society and runs deep. So why did I have to go hunting in modern record shops to try and find recordings of folk music hidden amongst the stacks of death metal and American pop?
What would a foreigner’s impression of our folk traditions be if she arrived at Heathrow, took the tube into