The audience arrive from near and far. Some from Aluksne, a few miles down the road, some from the capital Riga, others from Finland, England and Estonia, there are even 2 people who have travelled from Australia especially for the event! However, there is no great expectation or pressure on the performers.Music here is as much a part of life as eating and breathing.
A calm, relaxed atmosphere settles over the sun drenched Manor. The home made ice cream seller is doing a roaring trade with her delicious wares, picnics are being eaten, beer is effortlessly being drunk as people settle themselves into position, ready for the Maestro to appear to start the proceedings.
There he is, resplendent in his white linen suit, long hair blowing in the gentle breeze and he steps forward onto the small,dirt arena in front of verandah and addresses the crowd. In Latvian. I understand not a word, and yet, understand everything! The musicians waiting their turn, sit among the audience, showing their appreciation of each act as it performs tune after beautiful tune. My friends from Faversham are at the back, on the bank of the stream, craning their necks to watch and to hear the reaction from an unknown crowd. Waiting their turn. They had a long wait……..
Folk music in this country is a serious affair. There is an academy in Riga dedicated to teaching this nebulous genre and indeed, the Professor of music is playing on the bill tonight along with some of his past and present students. He greets them with a warm affection, willing them to do well. And they do not disappoint him. Music is sung accompanied by the traditional Kokle (an ancient, flat stringed instrument that looks like something from an Egyptian painting), Mandolins, Bagpipes, Concertinas, Drums, Jaw harps, Ringing Bowls, Violins and others. The a capella singing with it’s intricate harmonies captivates all who hear it. This is sung not with lack lustre panache, but with the conviction of long standing tradition and is carried out over our heads and into the surrounding fields, reaching the ears of the storks who are taking their supper in the last rays of the sun. There is not one hair on my neck asleep. All are standing to attention.
At last, the English take to the stage. They are superb! Not a hint of nerves, that some lesser musicians might have encountered having to follow in such illustrious musical footsteps that had preceded them. They chose a very clever program, aimed at entertaining their foreign friends. Faultless playing and singing was eclipsed by Ruth and Barbara performing the only dance steps of the entire concert. They went down a storm!
The last act of the night quite rightly deserved pole position. A brilliantly understated percussionist, a lead singer, whose voice was a cross between Bette Midler and Janis Joplin, delivered mesmerising vocals, and a giant of a giant of a man with a Basso Profundo voice who resembled a cross between a Viking and Hercules! He started the act with some throat singing that was literally startling! A deep guttural roar was being coaxed out of his larynx, one minute soaring up high, the next rattling the clothes on your back. Quite, quite remarkable. They were simply exquisite.
Here we were, deep in the countryside up in the north of Latvia and close to the Russian border, being treated to music that would grace Londons Albert Hall. I kid you not! Spine tingling, close harmony vocals and traditional instrumentals, played with passion and fervour took us to the end of the concert. The crowd wanted more. Now in darkness, apart from a light shining from inside the Manor and the flickering rays from the bonfire burning brightly in a hollow on the river bank, the playing area became a dance floor and as the band played Latvian dance tunes the audience rose to their feet and started dancing. I was taught steps that have been danced on this rough patch of earth for decades and we twirled through the night like fire flys! For the very last dance everybody joined hands and performed a ritualistic stomp, round in a circle to the sound of a shamen drum, percussion and a haunting vocal delivery. Beautiful.
The Manor now became a post concert party venue. More music with musicians joining in for an impromptu jam. Inga conjured up more food, delicious ‘hand pies’, made in the local school earlier that afternoon, cake, fruit, wine etc. The atmosphere was one of complete joy, new friends were made and animated chat relating to the wonderful night we had all just experienced echoed throughout the majestic wooden building. Eventually, I found my room and many guests headed up into the loft to bed down for the night on a cosy bed of straw.
The following morning, the sun was shining brightly and I could hear breakfast being eaten. More food. Where did it all come from? We had become one big family, pitching in to make tea, offering food around, clearing the plates away and talking about the previous evening.
Eventually, it was time for the overnight guests to leave for their homes. Some had many hours journey ahead of them. We took a ‘team’ photograph of the remaining guests and the Faversham musicians sang a beautiful farewell song which brilliantly conveyed the sentiment of the camaraderie and warmth that had developed among us all. I mus admit, I was by now very emotional and relied on my sunglasses to hide a few tears. As cars pulled away down the dusty driveway, the giant, Ernie, played a bagpipe lament from the tower on top of the house. I still had my sunglasses on….
The party was finally over.
If you’ve read this far, I hope I have been able to convey to you just how amazing this experience was. If I haven’t, well, I suggest you come to next years concert and witness it yourself. Bring your sunglasses.
Have a great day.
|Miks Čavarts, Julgī Stalte un Ernests Medenis|
|Valdis un Rūta Muktupāveli|
|Anete Stuce un Zane Pērkone|
|Barbara Kelly un Ruth Cronk|