On August 20, 1953, during a meeting of the American-Lithuanian Roman Catholic (ALRC) Organists alliance in Chicago, the idea of organizing a Lithuanian Song Festival was discussed for the first time. Initially, the plan was to organize several regional song festivals in 1954, as a prelude to one unified song festival in Chicago in the near future. However, the regional song festival idea never materialized, and in essence there was only one "regional" song festival – the first Lithuanian Song Festival, in Chicago.
On July 2, 1954, during another ALRC organists' meeting, the idea of a Lithuanian Song Festival was discussed once again. This time, the groups board decided to invite choir directors and musicians from the Chicago Lithuanian community for a meeting, which ultimately eleven such individuals attended. During this meeting, a decision was made that a Lithuanian Song Festival would take place in the spring of 1956, and an initial festival organizing committee was thus assembled. Albinas Dzirvonas, Juozas Kreivėnas, Justas Kudirka, Vytautas Radžius, and Alice Stephens were picked for the committee, with Alice Stephens as the committee’s president.
More than 20 choirs signed up to participate in the first Lithuanian Song Festival. Various committees and a repertoire plan were created. On February 6, 1955, representatives from Lithuanian music and community organizations gathered for a meeting, during which a 15 member assembly was organized. A decision was made to make the initial festival organizing committee permanent, include them in the 15 member assembly, and give the assembly power to add members as the need arose. In the end, the First Lithuanian Song Festival committee was as follows: Alice Stephens – president; Vytautas Radžius and Justas Kudirka – vice-presidents; Juzė Daužvardienė – advisor; Juozas Kreivėnas, Agnė Jasaitytė, and Elena Blandytė – secretaries; Albinas Dzirvonas –treasurer; Vladas Butėnas – director of media relations.
July 16, 1955, the Song Festival committee met with the American-Lithuanian Community-Chicago District’s board of directors. An agreement was made that the first Lithuanian Song Festival would be under the auspices of the Lithuanian Community – Chicago organization, whose board was as follows: Dr. Jonas Bajerčius (president), Teodoras Blinstrubas, Jonas Švedas, Kazys Deveikis, Jonas Jasaitis, Zigmas Dailidka, Vytautas Radžius, and Stasys Daunys. The repertoire committee was made up of the following individuals: Vladas Jakubėnas (president), Aleksandras Aleksis, Bronius Budriūnas, Stasys Gailevičius, Bronius Jonušas, Juozas Kreivėnas, Justas Kudirka, Alfonsas Mikulskis, Stepas Sodeika, Alice Stephens, Kazys Steponavičius, Leonardas Šimutis, Jr., and Juozas Žilevičius.
Prof. Juozas Žilevičius, who in 1924 organized a Lithuanian Song Day in Kaunas, Lithuania, was invited to be an honorary conductor at the Song Festival. Other conductors were: Stepas Sodeika, Sr. Bernarda Venskutė, SSC, Alice Stephens, Bronius Budriūnas, Alfonsas Mikulskis, Vladas Baltrušaitis, and Kazys Steponavičius. The accompanists were Vladas Jakubėnas and Genovaitė Aleksiūnaitė. The first Lithuanian Song Festival took place in the Chicago Coliseum, with 34 choirs and about 1200 singers performing.
After the Song Festival, the organizing committee was informed by treasurer, Albinas Dzirvonas that the Festival took in $22,167.00, and spent $14,515.00. Travel expenses for choirs were only partially covered. A decision was made that the profits from the Festival would be distributed as follows: $2500 for future Song Festivals, $1250 to the "Music News" journal, $1000 for a publication of Lithuanian songs for children, $1000 toward prizes for a music contest, and $1000 to the Lithuanian Community-Chicago district. Remaining profits after this initial distribution went toward various other Lithuanian cultural projects.
Journalist Stasys Pieža was in charge of media relations with the American press. He advertised the first Lithuanian Song Festival by having photos of committee members with Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, as well as photos of prominent people of Lithuanian descent, printed in newspapers. Amongst the latter were: Antanas Olis, president of the Sanitary District; Mother Marija Kaupaitė, founder of the St. Casimir Order of Sisters; Army chaplain Antanas Švedas; boxing champion Jack Sharkey; Metropolitan Opera soloists Anna Kaskas and Polyna Stoska; athletes Phil Krause, Ed Krause, John Podres, Bill Osmanski, and Eddie Miksis; golfers Billie Burke and John Goodman; 1933 "Miss Lithuania" Ieva Paulekiūtė-Rockefeller; U.S. Navy warship nurse-hero, the last to leave Corregidor, Anne Bernatitus; police captain William Balswick; Lithuanian pilot-heroes Darius and Girėnas; judges John Zuris and Alfonse Wells; Cicero Lithuanian Parish pastor Ignas Albavičius; bankers John Pakel, John Brenza, and Julius Brenza; bowling champion Joe Williams; and factory owner Antanas Rudis.
Vladas Jakubėnas, a music critic, wrote about the first Lithuanian Song Festival in the journal "Aidas". Amongst his comments was the following quote:
"The repertoire was dutifully learned. The songs were in tune with no noticeable detonation. There were only a few rhythm issues. The repertoire was not just sung by the unified choir – some songs were sung only by women, some only by men, and some by select choirs. On the day of the Festival, a cool summer suddenly turned hot, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees. The Coliseum had no air conditioning, and the heat was almost unbearable in the sold-out arena. In the end, however, a moral victory had been achieved. With the success of the first Lithuanian Song Festival, American and Canadian Lithuanians achieved self-respect and encouragement for future cultural projects."
The second Lithuanian Song Festival was sponsored by the Lithuanian American Community and the Lithuanian Canadian Community. The $2500 allocated for future song festivals from profits from the first Lithuanian Song Festival provided a solid financial foundation for organizers of the second song festival.
The organizing committee for the second Lithuanian Song Festival was as follows: Prelate Ignas Albavičius – chairman, Vytautas Radžius, Teodoras Blinstrubas, Justas Kudirka, Jonas Paštukas, Stasys Daunys, Jonas Zdanius, and Jonas Jasaitis. The repertoire committee members were: Vladas Jakubėnas – chairman, Aleksandras Aleksis, Bronius Budriūnas, Albinas Dzirvonas, Julius Gaidelis, Juozas Kreivėnas, Justas Kudirka, Bruno Markaitis, SJ, Alfonsas Mikulskis, Antanas Nakas, Stepas Sodeika, Alice Stephens, Kazys Steponavičius, Algis Šimkus, Jonas Zdanius, and Juozas Žilevičius. The organizing committee was assisted by several other committees assembled for various tasks.
The second Lithuanian Song Festival took place on July 2, 1961 at the International Amphitheater in Chicago, Ill. The honorary conductor was Aleksandras Aleksis. Taking the conductor’s baton from Juozas Žilevičius, honorary conductor of the first Lithuanian Song Festival, A. Aleksis conducted the American and Lithuanian national anthems. Other conductors during the second Lithuanian Song Festival were: Alfonsas Mikulskis, Kazys Steponavičius, Alice Stephens, Bronius Budriūnas, Stepas Sodeika, and Julius Gaidelis. The accompanists were Stasys Gailevičius and Vladas Jakubėnas. Approximately 1,000 singers from 23 choirs participated in the song festival, which was attended by more than 10,000 people. Juzė Daužvardienė was the program’s master of ceremonies. Stasys Daunys and Jonas Zdanius prepared the publication of the song festival’s program (for which Algirdas Kurauskas illustrated the cover).
Music critic Vladas Jakubėnas reviewed the second Lithuanian Song Festival for the journal "Aidai". The following are several excerpts from his article:
"A Lithuanian Song Festival cannot, in essence, be held to the same strict standards of a classical or other style concert; rather, it should be viewed as an expression of cultural and national unity through song. Thus, songs in the repertoire of such festivals are more traditional than artistic, and ultimately serve to stir emotions for the singers and the public. The participating choirs, living in the more technologically advanced countries of America and Canada, sounded better trained and smoother in their delivery than before; their intonations and rhythms had also improved. This was especially evident in the presentation of new and more complicated songs, such as Bertulis’s "Pabusk, Pasauli" ("Awake, World") and Jakubėnas’s "Tremtinių ir Išvežtųjų Giesmė" ("Hymn of the Exiled"). In the opinion of many, this latter song was the most impressive one in the festival’s repertoire. The song's lyricist, B. Budriūnas, and P. Gaučas, stated that this song could be renamed "Lietuvių Tautos Psalmė" ("Psalm of Lithuania"). It was expressively conducted by B. Budriūnas and surprisingly well sung by the joint choirs. The success of these two songs is evidence of the strides our Lithuanian choirs have made in the United States and Canada."
The Song Festival choirs were accompanied by two pianos, played by pianists Stasys Gailevičius and Vladas Jakubėnas. Some songs, at the requests of their conductors, were sung a capella; others had special accompaniments written for two pianos. The musical part of the second Lithuanian Song Festival was positively received by the participants and the audience. Understandably, not everyone uniformly liked all the songs or the conductors; however, the general consensus was that this second Lithuanian Song Festival was a success, and probably better than hoped for. Most complaints about the song festival were directed toward the organizational side, specifically that there were too many speeches and they were too long. Nevertheless, the second Lithuanian Song Festival was truly a great achievement; its memories will strengthen our national pride and resolve to continue organizing more Lithuanian cultural events outside the boundaries of our homeland.".
The third Lithuanian Song Festival took place on July 3, 1966 at the International Amphitheater in Chicago, Ill. It featured 41 choirs from the United States and Canada, 16 of which were children's choirs (made up of children attending Lithuanian Saturday schools in these countries). There were approximately 1,200 singers and 11,000 audience members. The program publication’s editor was journalist Stasys Daunys; the cover's illustrator was Vladas Vijeikis. Included in this publication were photographs (starting from 1924) and journalist Vladas Jakubėnas's articles about past Lithuanian Song Festivals, the names of the current festival’s organizing committee, the repertoire in both English and Lithuanian languages, photographs of the conductors, accompanists, and choirs of the third Lithuanian Song Festival, and a list of financial donors for this festival.
The organizing committee for the third Lithuanian Song Festival was as follows: Dr. Steponas Biežis – chairman, Jonas Paštukas, Antanas Šantaras, Kostas Dočkus, Stasys Šiaučiūnas, Jonas Jurkūnas, Jonas Zdanius, Jonas Kubilius, SJ, and a representative from the Lithuanian Canadian Community. Nine other committees were formed to assist the organizing committee. The main members of the repertoire committee were Jonas Zdanius, Petras Armonas, and Juozas Kreivėnas.
The Honorary Conductor from the second Lithuanian Song Festival, Aleksandras Aleksis, passed the conductor’s baton to this festival’s Honorary Conductor Alice Stephens, who conducted the American and Lithuanian National Anthems as well as Kačanauskas’s "Malda už Tėvynę" ("Prayer for the Homeland"). Other conductors at the third Lithuanian Song Festival were Petras Armonas, Jeronimas Kačinskas, Alfonsas Mikulskis, Faustas Strolia, and Bronius Budriūnas. The children’s choirs were accompanied by a thirty-one member psaltery (ancient harp) orchestra from Cleveland, Ohio, led by Ona Mikulskienė. The highlight of the third Lithuanian Song Festival was the cantata "Tėviškės Namai" ("Our Homeland"), composed by Bronius Budriūnas. It was performed by members of the adult choirs and featured soloists Dana Stankaitytė and Rimtautas Dabšys. Accompanists for this piece were Raimonda Apeikytė (piano) and Vladas Jakubėnas (organ). The composer of this cantata was also its conductor at this festival. This cantata was written specifically for the third Lithuanian Song Festival and was prominently featured in the program.
Composer and music critic Vladas Jakubėnas reviewed the third Lithuanian Song Festival for the journal "Aidai", whereas professor Juozas Žilevičius did likewise for the Lithuanian daily newspaper "Draugas". The following is an excerpt from Žilevičius's article:
"The third Lithuanian Song Festival has been indelibly written into the historical pages of Lithuanian cultural events outside the boundaries of Lithuania. Less complex songs resonated boldly during this festival. However, less than ideal acoustics in the amphitheater hindered the overall sound, especially during the song "Oželis" ("The Goat"). The featured song for this festival was B. Budriūnas’s cantata, commissioned two years in advance of the festival. Unfortunately, due to a delay in completion of this piece, the participating choirs received the cantata only several months prior to the song festival. Therefore, only some adult choirs performed the cantata. Though the piece sounded impressive, I can only imagine how grand it would have been had all the adult choirs joined in its performance! Nevertheless, the cantata’s composer included enough musical variations to achieve a beautiful, melodic sound, and thus established himself as a prominent Lithuanian composer. Soprano soloist Dana Stankaitytė and bass baritone Rimtautas Dabšys performed admirably, holding their own even during the loudest choir parts. Pianist Raimonda Apeikytė, from Los Angeles, proved to be technically masterful accompanying this cantata.
The children's choirs performed admirably as well, seemingly comfortable with the songs. The psaltery orchestra was exceptional, no doubt due to the efforts of their leader Ona Mikulskienė. The psaltery accompaniment parts were well written by Alfonsas Mikulskis. The conductor of the children's choir, Faustas Strolia, proved to be very competent in this role."
The fourth Lithuanian Song Festival took place on July 4, 1971 in the International Amphitheater in Chicago, Ill. The organizing committee for this festival was: Dr. Gediminas Balukas – chairman, Antanas Rėklaitis, Petras Armonas, Stanley Balzekas, Jr., Jonas Paštukas, Vincas Grėbliūnas, Kostas Dočkus, Jonas Jurkūnas, Jonas Vaičiūnas, Jonas Kubilius, SJ, and a representative from the Lithuanian Canadian Community. Members of the repertoire committee were: Petras Armonas – chairman, Aleksandras Aleksis, Mykolas Cibas, Vytautas Gutauskas, Bronius Jurkšas, and Vincas Mamaitis. As in prior Lithuanian Song Festivals, the organizing committee was assisted by various subcommittees.
The National Anthems and Naujalis’s composition "Malda už Tėvynę" ("Prayer for the Homeland") were conducted by Vincas Mamaitis, though the Song Festival's program publication did not specify that he was the Honorary Conductor. Other conductors included Algirdas Kačanauskas, Bronius Jonušas, Vaclovas Verikaitis, Petras Armonas, Stasys Sližys, Faustas Strolia, and Bronius Budriūnas. The adult choirs were accompanied by pianists Raimonda Apeikytė and Manigirdas Motekaitis. The closing speech was given by Vytautas Volertas, president of the board of directors of the Lithuanian American Community. Stasys Barzdukas, chairman of the Lithuanian World Community, Inc., wrote in his congratulatory remarks, "We now have two centers for Lithuanian Song Festivals outside of Lithuania –- Australia and United States/Canada. Festivals in both places are organized under the auspices of the Lithuanian World Community, Inc." From these two sentences, one can conclude that the fourth Lithuanian Song Festival in Chicago was sponsored by the Lithuanian World Community organization. The program publication for this Song Festival also included photographs of the conductors, soloists, and accompanists, short biographies and photographs of the participating choirs, and the names of each choir member. The editors of this Song Festival's publication were Stasys Daunys and Jonas Vačiūnas, with Vladas Vijeikis serving as the technical advisor.
The fourth Lithuanian Song Festival was reviewed for the journal "Aidai" by composer Vladas Jakubėnas. The following excerpt from his article should help paint a clearer picture of this Festival.
"The adult choir participants totalled about 800 (though other reviewers put the number closer to 950). These choirs sang their designated repertoire songs in unison, with no noticeable intonation or rhythm issues. However, the performances seemed lackluster, short on musical nuances and enthusiasm. This mood persisted throughout most of the first half of the program. The audience, though well behaved, reacted with less than enthusiastic applause.
In the second half, the performance of B. Budriūnas’s cantata brought about a noticeable change. The joint adult choirs sounded livelier, the mood became more upbeat, and the music flowed beautifully with energy and purpose. The cantata, "Lietuvos Šviesos Keliu" ("Along Lithuania's Shining Road"), composed by B. Budriūnas to the words of Bernardas Brazdžionis, effectively balanced choir and soloists’ parts. Especially notable was the role of the bass singer, clearly and passionately performed by Jonas Vaznelis, through which an ancient priest recalls important events in Lithuania's history. Soprano soloist Prudencija Bičkienė performed admirably as well, especially during the cantata's finale, which required her to hold many high notes. The performance of the cantata was rewarded with loud, enthusiastic applause from the audience that resulted in a repeat of the cantata's last movement. The composer of the cantata, B. Budriūnas, was also its conductor.
The children's choirs performed in the middle part of the Festival's program. Approximately 600 children participated, and the size of the choir, as well as their overall performance, were impressive. However, the general consensus was that the children's choirs performances during the third Lithuanian Song Festival were better than the performances during this fourth Lithuanian Song Festival. Many felt that the children's choirs' performances were the pinnacle of the entire third Lithuanian Song Festival.
Generally speaking, the fourth Lithuanian Song Festival was a success. Approximately 10,000 people were in the audience. Musical performance goals were met. The Festival was well organized with no obvious mishaps. Nevertheless, the second Lithuanian Song Festival remains the strongest and most impressive. Even the third Lithuanian Song Festival, despite some problems, was more interesting than the fourth Lithuanian Song Festival. That said, A. Valeškas’s decorations during the latter Festival, with Lithuanian willows in red hues, were original and thus noteworthy."
The fifth Lithuanian Song Festival took place in Toronto, Canada, on July 2, 1978, at the Maple Leaf Gardens. It coincided with other Lithuanian events, namely Lithuanian World Days and various sport competitions. Lithuanian song enthusiasts, living in Canada, took the initiative to organize the Song Festival in their country, and this was reflected in its official title – The Fifth Canadian and American Lithuanian Song Festival (giving Canada prominence in the title). The organizing committee members were all Canadian Lithuanians; only the repertoire committee had some members from the United States.
This Song Festival also marked the introduction of several important additions: a Song Festival flag, a joint psaltery (kankles) performance, a Lithuanian choir from Australia (Melbourne), and a symphony orchestra to accompany the Festival’s choirs. Approximately 1,400 singers from 51 choirs participated in the Song Festival. Among the 51 choirs were 10 choirs from Canada.
The Honorary Conductors for this Festival were Alice Stephens and Stasys Gailevičius. Other conductors included: Aloyzas Jurgutis, Alfonsas Mikulskis, Jonas Govėdas, Faustas Strolia, Vaclovas Verikaitis, and Bronius Budriūnas. The psaltery group leader was Ona Mikulskienė. An ensemble of various Lithuanian folk instruments accompanied several songs. Soloist Gina Čapkauskienė was featured in the performance of B. Budriūnas’s composition,"Mano Protėvių Žemė" ("My Ancestor’s Homeland"), by the joint adult choirs.
The chairman of the fifth Lithuanian Song Festival’s organizing committee was Jonas R. Simanavičius, who was also in charge of the Lithuanian World Days. Other organizing committee members were: Fr. Augustinas Simanavičius, J. Virgelienė, Vaclovas Verikaitis, L. Skripkutė, Aldona Jankaitienė, Stasys Gailevičius, R. Celejewska, Ada Jucienė, Česlovas Senkevičius, Stasys Prakapas, Kazys Mileris, Jonas Govėdas, Eugenijus Kriščiūnas, Vytautas Taseckas, Vytautas Aušrotas, Miras Chainauskas, V. Dauginis, Juozas Karasiejus, Jonas Andrulis, Dr. Vaidotas Kvedaras, Vytautas Bireta, Marija Vasiliauskienė, Algis Juzukonis, Žibutė Šilininkaitė, and Lilija Pacevičienė. Several of the listed members became chairpersons of various subcommittees. The Song Festival’s program publication was edited by journalist Česlovas Senkevičius and financed through the Festival’s organizing committee; its cover was created by artist Jurgis Račkus.
In a review of the fifth Lithuanian Song Festival, musician Algis Šimkus wrote:
"The organizing and repertoire committees took into account that there were a significant number of choirs organized solely for the purpose of participating in the Song Festival and thus would have difficulty performing musically demanding compositions. Therefore, they settled on a repertoire of simpler songs. A pleasant addition to the program was a performance by the Lithuanian Folk Instrument Ensemble, led by A. Mikulskis, of his composed rhapsody "Ant Nemuno Kranto" ("On the Banks of the Nemunas River"). Furthermore, some repertoire songs were accompanied by an Estonian Pipe Orchestra and a symphony orchestra of professional musicians assembled for this purpose as well. These were significant and positive additions as well. Though the fifth Lithuanian Song Festival was not artistically outstanding, it had enough exceptional moments to be viewed as an overall success. No doubt many Lithuanians left Toronto with a renewed pride in their nationality and Lithuania‘s culture. I personally witnessed a lady, married to a non-Lithuanian and reluctlantly attending this Song Festival, verbally share that she is proud to call herself a Lithuanian."
The sixth American and Canadian Lithuanian Song Festival took place on July 3, 1983 in Chicago at the University of Illinois-Chicago pavilion. It was organized under the auspices of the Lithuanian World Community. This Song Festival was only one part of the Second Lithuanian World Days, which included other events, such as athletic games. The chairman of the Second Lithuanian World Days was Dr. Antanas Razma; the chairman of the athletic events was Valdas Adamkus.
The organizing committee members of the sixth Lithuanian Song Festival were: Vaclovas Momkus – chairman, Sofia Džiugienė, Algis Modestas, Jonė Bobinienė, Dalia Dundzilienė, Vaclovas Verikaitis, Faustas Strolia, Emilija Sakadolskienė, Joana Krutulienė, Genė Rimkienė, Nijolė Pupienė, Vladas Vijeikis, Danutė Bindokienė, Kazys Skaisgirys, Vytautas Jasinevičius, and Jonas Žukauskas. The repertoire committee for adult choirs included Vaclovas Verikaitis – chairman, Stasys Gailevičius, Jonas Govėdas, Julius Kazėnas, Alfonsas Mikulskis, and Dalia Viskontienė. The repertoire committee members for the youth choirs were: Faustas Strolia – chairman, Vytautas Gutauskas, Darius Polikaitis, Ona Razutienė, Rasa Šoliūnaitė, and Pranas Zaranka.
The Honorary Conductor for this Song Festival was Alfonsas Mikulskis. Other conductors were: Aloyzas Jurgutis, Emilija Sakadolskienė, Vaclovas Verikaitis, Faustas Strolia, Alfonsas Gečas, Jonas Govėdas, and Algis Modestas. Anita Pakalniškytė, Roma Mastienė, and Algis Grigas were the featured soloists. The editor of the Song Festival’s program publication was Dr. Vitalija Vasaitienė. Nijolė Pupienė organized the Lithuanian folk dance performances included in this Song Festival. Approximately 8,000 audience members watched 33 adult and 12 children’s choirs perform, accompanied by a symphony orchestra and a Lithuanian folk music instrument ensemble.
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the transatlantic flight by Darius and Girėnas, the joint adult choirs performed the song "Lituanica", composed by Emerikas Gailevičius. Since the Song Festival organizers could only find the orchestration for a few instruments, composer Arūnas Kaminskas competently rewrote the entire orchestration for this piece. This commemorative song was memorable, although soprano domination was very evident, most likely because there were twice as many sopranos as tenors. "Jaunimo Giesmė" ("Song of the Youth") by Naujalis was also well received by the audience. This song was first performed at the First Song Day in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1924. The fact that it was again performed, 60 years later, at the sixth Lithuanian Song Festival is a testament to the lasting power of songs with beautiful melodies and simple harmonies.
B. Budriūnas’s composition, "O, Nemune" was orchestrated by the composer himself and aptly performed by the adult choirs. The performance of a rhapsody by Jonas Švedas (1908-1971), played by the Lithuanian Folk Instrument Ensemble, provided a nice variation to the program. This piece was conducted by Emilija Sakadolskienė. The reed instrument soloist was Balys Pakštas; the psaltery (kankles) soloist - Elena Muliolytė. This composition, interwoven with beautiful Lithuanian folk melodies, was performed admirably.
The most memorable performance in the first half of the program was a cantata, "Atsisveikinimas su Tėvyne" ("Farewell to our Homeland"), by Stasys Šimkus. Interestingly, this piece was first performed in Chicago in 1920. It is nine minutes in length and written for three soloists, adult choirs, and an orchestra. Here, the cantata was conducted by Vaclovas Verikaitis, and featured the soloists Anita Pakalniškytė, Romas Mastienė, and Algis Grigas.
The youth choirs performed well, although they were hindered by an imprecise distribution of the microphones. The joint men’s choirs were confidently conducted by Alfonsas Gečas. Their most memorable song was "Oi, kad Išauštų" ("Come, Daylight"), written by J. Žilevičius. The Lithuanian folk dance group, assembled for this Song Festival, danced three dances, and was accompanied by the symphony orchestra, the Lithuanian Folk Instrument Ensemble, and the adult choirs. To conclude the sixth Lithuanian Song Festival, the audience joined the choirs in singing the popular patriotic song "Lietuva Brangi" ("My Beloved Lithuania"), written by Juozas Naujalis, and were accompanied by both the symphony orchestra and the folk instrument ensemble.
During this Song Festival, President Ronald Reagan addressed its participants by telephone. Illinois Senator Charles Percy attended the Festival in person. Journalist Alfonsas Nakas, in a column in the Lithuanian newspaper "Tėviškės Žiburiai" ("Lights of the Homeland"), wrote that there were approximately 8,000 people in the audience. In the daily newspaper "Draugas", Algirdas Budreckas reminisced about his own participation in the First Song Day in Kaunas in 1924.
The seventh Lithuanian Song Festival took place on May 26, 1991 at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion. It was organized under the auspices of the American and Canadian Lithuanian Communities. This Song Festival was part of a broader Lithuanian Music Festival taking place at the same time. The chairman of the Lithuanian Music Festival was Stasys Baras. The Song Festival’s organizing committee members were: Vaclovas Momkus – chairman; Vladas Stropus, Raimundas Korzonas, and Faustas Strolia – vice-chairmen; Danguolė Ilginytė – secretary; Alė Steponavičienė – treasurer; Dalia Kučėnienė – chairperson of the Cultural Committee. The repertoire committee included Rita Kliorienė and Dalia Viskontienė – chairpersons, Algirdas Bielskus, Jonas Govėdas, Darius Polikaitis, Faustas Strolia, and Loreta Venclauskienė. The Song Festival’s program publication editor was Danutė Bindokienė; the cover was illustrated by Petras Aleksa. The motto for the Song Festival was "Kad Tu Liktum Gyva!" ("That You May Continue to Flourish!") (referring to the country of Lithuania).
The Honorary Conductor for the Song Festival was Petras Armonas. Other conductors were: Darius Polikaitis, Jonas Govėdas, Rita Kliorienė, Dalia Viskontienė, Emilija Sakadolskienė, Gediminas Purlys, Viktoras Ralys, Česlovas Radžiūnas, Raimundas Obalis, and Faustas Strolia. Many songs were accompanied by The Republic of Lithuania’s Opera and Ballet Theater symphony orchestra, which played at the performance of the opera "I Lituani" and other Lithuanian Music Festival events. The seventh Song Festival had about 900 program performers: approximately 500 adult choir singers, 200 youth choir singers, 200 Lithuanian folk dancers, and 46 members of the orchestra. The Pavilion, which seats 6,000 people, seemed to be filled to capacity.
In her review of the seventh Lithuanian Song Festival for the Lithuanian newspaper "Draugas", musicologist Loreta Venclauskienė wrote:
"For the past several years, choir conductors have been lamenting that the overall quality of choirs is weakening. The reason for this appears to be a lack of interest by the younger generation to become choir members, thus leaving many choirs with a roster of aging singers. The repertoire committee took this into account and appeared to select less complex, yet no less beautiful, songs. This Song Festival’s program consisted mainly of Lithuanian folk songs, with Lithuanian folk dances providing a nice variation to the program. In addition, there was a conscious attempt to feature more performances by the youth choirs. It appears, in my opinion, that the organizing and repertoire committees’ approach to the Song Festival was successful — the adult choirs performed well, the folk dances (organized by Nijole Pupienė) enhanced the festive mood, and the youth choir performances provide hope that Lithuanian cultural traditions will continue into the future. The Song Festival’s program appealed to all ages; the conductors’ mutual respect for one another’s talents was palpable as each strived to bring out the highest quality of performance by the participating choirs. However, it was unfortunate that the most artistically noteworthy presentation, a medley of Lithuanian folk songs by Kazys Viktoras Banaitis, orchestrated and conducted by Jonas Govėdas, was placed in the beginning of the second half and fell victim to noise interference by an audience returning to its seats after intermission."
Journalist and composer Algis Šimkus also wrote a review of the seventh Lithuanian Song Festival for "Draugas". The following are his concluding remarks from that review:
"The seventh Lithuanian Song Festival should be considered a success; it was a clear demonstration that Lithuanian culture is alive and well outside the boundaries of our homeland. The Song Festival attracted many Lithuanians from Canada and the United States and reflected our patriotic spirit to guests of different nationalities. The master of ceremonies, actress Ann Jillian (Lithuanian name - Jūratė Nausėdaitė), competently and with appropriate humorous interjections, introduced the program’s itinerary in both the Lithuanian and English languages. At the conclusion of the Song Festival, the energetic chairman of the Lithuanian Music Festival, Stasys Baras, expressed his gratitude to all in attendance in a short, yet effective speech. The seventh Lithuanian Song Festival ended with Faustas Strolia conducting three songs: "Parveski, Viešpatie" ("Bring us Home, Lord"), composed by Juozas Strolia, "Lietuva Brangi" ("My Beloved Lithuania") by Juozas Naujalis, and his own composition to the words of Vytė Nemunėlis, "Grįšim, Grįšim" ("We Will Return")."
In 1994, 1998, and 2002, Lithuanian World Song Festivals were able to take place in Lithuania. A significant number of American and Canadian Lithuanians enthusiastically attended these festivals as program participants or audience members. Consequently, Lithuanian Song Festivals and related cultural events suddenly stopped being organized in North America.
Lithuanian American and Canadian Community representatives were concerned that a revival of such Song Festivals was only a dream. Some shared their thoughts with influential people in Lithuania. Prof. Vytautas Jakelaitis, in his book "Saulei Leidžiantis – toks Buvimas Drauge" ("As the Sun Sets – Together as Friends") (Alka-2002) writes:
"After Lithuania regained its independence, emigrant Lithuanians have found it more difficult to organize cultural events, hastening denationalization. While this may appear to be a painful paradox, in truth it is because the goal – Lithuania’s independence – for which everything was being done, has been achieved. Thus, events such as Song Festivals outside of Lithuania will cease to exist." (pg. 159)
Who would take on the job of once again organizing Lithuanian Song Festivals in North America? Who could create such a miracle? Perhaps the word "miracle" is a bit strong, but REVIVAL is indeed an appropriate term. It was in the beginning of the new millenium that the president of the Lithuanian American Community, Algimantas Gečys, began talking with the president of the North American Lithuanian Musical Society, Faustas Strolia, about this subject. F. Strolia, having closely followed the organization and performances of Lithuanian choirs in America and Canada, invited Rita Čyvaitė-Kliorienė, from Cleveland, Ohio, to organize the next Lithuanian Song Festival. In a correspondence to Mr. Gečys, F. Strolia wrote: " I sincerely vouch for Mrs. Rita Kliorys’s immense musical and social talents. I would very much like her to not only be the chairperson of the repertoire committee, but, as in Lithuania, the artistic director of the next Lithuanian Song Festival. Her nature will not allow for mediocrity; she has already created a New Vision. These are the kind of people we need if we are to begin moving the stalled, rusty plow that has been buried in a rut for the past dozen years."
It was in the year 2002 that Rita was first invited to take on this massive job. She did not immediately agree. There were many conversations between R. Kliorys, F. Strolia, and A. Gečys, focusing especially on which responsibilities would fall on the shoulders of the artistic director of the Lithuanian Song Festival. R. Kliorys was concerned about the scope of her responsibilities with regard to various artistic committees, the repertoire, the venue, choir apparel, visual aids, filming, the sound system, inviting choirs from Lithuania, and choosing the chairperson of the organizing committee.
In March, 2003, Rita Čyvaitė-Kliorienė did agree to become the artistic director of the Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival. From that moment she energetically embraced her responsibilities, perhaps initially not fully realizing the scope of the job she had just undertaken.
Rimantas Gudelis, in his article "Answer with a Song – the Eighth Lithuanian North American Song Festival" ("Folk Culture", 2006, #4, 109), writes:
"…one has to envision the amount of time needed to travel through America and Canada, visiting various choirs…then one can begin to grasp what dedication, sacrifices, and organizational skills are required of the artistic director to present the Song Festival’s repertoire to each choir, provide support in the learning process, and then bring all the choirs together to collectively sing at the Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival…"
The search for a chairperson of the Song Festival’s organizing committee continued for about a year. In May, 2004, the Lithuanian American Council announced that Dr. Audrius Polikaitis would be chairman of the organizing committee, Rita Čyvaitė-Kliorienė – the artistic director, and the Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival would take place in 2006 in Chicago, Il.
Almost immediately, two main committees were formed: the organizing committee, led by Dr. Audrius Polikaitis, and the artistic committee, with Rita Kliorienė at the forefront. The scope of responsibilities of the organizing committee included fundraising, support for the artistic program, publishing the Song Festival’s program book, accomodations, evening entertainment, transportation for choirs/audience members, and advertising/marketing of the Song Festival itself. Dr. Polikaitis, well aware of the breadth of his job, invited the following people with various skill sets to be members of the organizing committee: Dainė Jablonskytė, Linas Gylys, Tadas Birutis, Tadas Glavinskas, Daina Matusaitienė, Dainė Quinn, Eglė Laniauskienė, Vaiva Marchertienė, Vytas Čuplinskas, Jonas Korsakas, Marius Polikaitis, Laura Lapinskienė, Taiyda Chiapetta, Lukas Laniauskas, nSJ, Kristina Žvinakytė, and Rima Zigaitytė. Every member of this committee played an important role in the overall success of the Song Festival. Because of their dedication and competence, buses were on time, visitors were well cared for, the evening programs were uplifting, the program book was an interesting souvenir, and the Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival was a memorable achievement. It should be noted that every committee member worked on a voluntary basis, sacrificing their time and creative energy for a common goal. The organizing committee, with precise attention to detail, accomplished their jobs professionally and admirably.
Dr. Polikaitis also invited Lithuanian Canadians to create their own organizing committee, which would oversee Canadian choir registrations, fundraising, repertoire books, etc. This committee’s members were: Nijolė Benotienė, Algirdas Nausėdas, Ramunė Stravinskienė, Algirdas Vaičiūnas, and Dalia Viskontienė.
The artistic committee, as mentioned before, was led by Rita Čyvaitė-Kliorienė. This committee was responsible for the Song Festival program and all its music-related peripheries: repertoire selections, structure and printing of repertoire books for all choir participants, orchestrations, selection of orchestra members, communications with leaders of all participating choirs, mp3 recordings of the different voice types for learning via the internet, etc. Members of the artistic committee included Darius Polikaitis, Dalia Skrinskaitė-Viskontienė, Faustas Strolia (chairman of the North American Lithuanian Musical Society), Nijolė Benotienė (media liaison), and Lilija Gelažis and Siga Mikoliūnaitė, who were in charge of the visual effects, parade of choir directors, the Song Festival flag, etc.
Every choir director of each participating choir played a significant part in the success of the Eighth Song Festival. They shouldered the responsibilities of teaching the chosen repertoire to their members, and either delegating or themselves taking care of the registration, purchasing required apparel for the Song Festival, organizing practices, etc. For all this Rita Kliorienė was especially grateful, and in turn focused much energy on open communication with choir directors through emails, telephone conversations, and visits to various cities to personally hear the choirs.
One of the organizing committee’s first tasks was to secure a venue for the 2006 Lithuanian Song Festival. The chosen place was the pavilion at the University of Illinois – Chicago (UIC), which had a seating capacity of 10,000 and allowed for an unlimited number of singers. Both the artistic director and organizing committee chairman wanted a venue where the participants could see the entire Song Festival from beginning to end, not having to wait behind the scenes and only coming in to sing their designated songs. They felt this was especially important for the youth choirs. The pavilion at UIC was well suited for this vision.
Once Rita Kliorienė took the artistic reins of the Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival, she knew she wanted to meet as many choir directors as possible and review the repertoire with them. Thus, a weekend seminar was organized August 18-21, 2005 at Camp Dainava, in Manchester, Michigan, to which all choir directors were invited. Dalia Viskontienė planned the seminar program, and Rusnė Kasputienė was responsible for the food and lodging.
R. Kliorienė took the initiave to have every voice part for every repertoire song pre-recorded and available to listen to/learn from on the Song Festival’s internet website. Darius Polikaitis was reponsible for this time-consuming project. He enlisted Kristina Kliorytė and Rima Polikaitytė-Birutienė to sing the female voice parts. The accessibility for choir singers to all the pre-recorded music parts: their rhythms, tempo, and interpretation, was critical to the success of the Song Festival performance. Per R. Kliorys, these pre-recordings were the "glue" that allowed over 1,000 singers to perform songs in unison.
Though most of the repertoire songs were selected from a list of published works or Lithuanian folk songs, four pieces were written specifically for this Song Festival:
The conductors for the Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival were:
While preparing for the Song Festival, R. Kliorienė worked closely with the Lithuanian Folk Culture Center, led by Saulius Liausa. Mr. Liausa facilitated the commissioning of music by composers living in Lithuania, prepared their compositions for distribution, and arranged orchestrations for these works. This collaboration was very helpful and appreciated by the artistic director.
The Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival was enriched by the participation of two renowned choirs from Lithuania: the Jesuit High School choir from Vilnius, led by Leonidas Abaris, and the co-ed choir "Aukuras" from Klaipėda, led by Alfonsas Vildžiūnas. These choirs not only performed in the actual Song Festival, but also gave separate concerts on days prior to the Festival and contributed their voices at Holy Mass. The St. Casimir Parish choir from London, England, led by Virgilijus Vaitkus, also participated in this Song Festival.
The Festival unofficially began Friday, June 30th, with a dinner for all the choir directors. It was organized by Dr. Audrius Polikaitis and Rita Kliorienė in gratitude to the directors for preparing their choirs for the Song Festival. After dinner many of the participants went to a concert performed by "Aukuras" from Klaipėda, Lithuania. The next morning, Saturday, July 1st, all the singers gathered at the UIC pavilion for the grand rehearsal. The rehearsal started at 8:00 a.m. and ended at 5:00 p.m. Considering it was a long day for all involved, the unending enthuasiasm of the singers, the professionalism of the conductors, and the ability by organizers to run rehearsal within tight time constraints were a pleasant surprise. Saturday night, a vocal group from Lithuania, "Jazz Land", led by Artūras Novikas, performed in a local Chicago hall to the delight of many who had come for the Song Festival. This, and the "get acquainted" mingling that followed, were aptly organized by Marius Polikaitis. Sunday, July 2nd, began with 9:00 a.m. Holy Mass in one of the massive auditorium rooms at the hotel, and by 2:00 p.m. everyone was ready for the start of the main event – the Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival.
In a designated area of the UIC pavilion, over 1150 singers from 52 choirs took their seats. On several big screens, an introduction of all the choirs could be seen. Announcers Eglė Laniauskienė and Arūnas Čiuberkis introduced each choir and its director in alphabetical order while pictures of each choir’s members graced the screens. Loud applause and encouraging shouts of support could be heard after each introduction. The Song Festival’s orchestra, conducted by Darius Polikaitis, tastefully played marching music in the background of the choir introductions, further enhancing the enthusiasm already felt in the air. After the choirs were introduced via screens, the American, Canadian, and Lithuanian national flags were carried in, followed by the parade of choir directors and the Festival’s conductors.
The Song Festival’s program was divided by themes, for which corresponding songs were performed and related scenes visualized on the big screens.
"Ačiū Tau, Prigimtie" ("Thank you, My Heritage") was the first theme of the program. The American, Canadian, and Lithuanian national anthems, a prayer – "Už Lietuvą, Tėvynę Motiną" ("For Lithuania, the Motherland"), (composer - J. Govėdas, lyrics by A. Paulavičius), and a patriotic song "Lietuva, brangi šalele" ("Lithuania, a Treasured Land") (music and lyrics by V. Vydūnas), started the Eighth Song Festival. At this point, the Festival’s flag was carried in and raised above the performers, where it served as a scenic backdrop throughout the Festival.
Next, the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus, stressed in his opening remarks that through song a country shows the world that it is still alive. After his remarks, President Adamkus decorated retired Metropolitan Opera soloist, Algirdas Brazis, with an order medal for his 31 years of service in the Chicago Lithuanian Opera Company.
Dr. Audrius Polikaitis, chairman of the organizing committee, shared his delight in seeing so many people in the audience, thanked all who contributed financially and/or through volunteerism, and then invited the artistic director, Rita Kliorienė, to conduct her composition of the Festival’s theme song "Atsiliepk Daina" ("Answer with a Song") (lyrics by N. Benotienė).
The female singers, wearing flowy shades-of-blue capes, held similarly colored songbooks in their hands; the Festival flag, created by Ričardas and Aušrinė Širvinskas, incorporated these same colors. On the flag: blue, purple, and green color hues symbolizing the Atlantic ocean, which separates Lithuania and North America; a blue sky, which unites the two lands; and symbols of music, which brought everyone together for this Song Festival.
R. Kliorienė incorporated into the repertoire six songs for audience participation; after all, everyone attending was called to "answer with a song". Those songs lyrics were printed in the souvenir program and also projected on the big screens in the pavilion. In the second half, the song "Gražių Dainelių" ("Beautiful Songs") (music by A. Vanagaitis, lyrics by V. Stonys), was especially impressive as the performers and audience members joined voices in its singing. A folk song "Augo Putins" ("The Snowball Tree Grew"), was performed by the youth choirs and accompanied by a youth ensemble playing panpipes. The playful song, "Ta Ta To", composed by Nijolė Sinkevičiūtė, was an example of works by composers currently living in Lithuania.
Another theme for songs performed in this Festival was titled "Uždek, Motule, Žvakelę" ("Light a Candle, Mother"), dedicated to Lithuania’s history and all who fought for its freedom. Especially moving was the popular folk song "Kaip Verkiančio Smuiko" ("Like a Weeping Violin") (harmonization by R. Kliorienė, orchestrated by K. Daugėla), sung in unison by performers and audience members. During this song, the pavilion was darkened, and the audience was asked to turn on the small flashlights passed out upon entrance into the Festival. The melancholy words, about a mother’s eternal sorrow for her sons who sacrificed their lives fighting for Lithuania’s freedom, no doubt evoked deep emotions. The sparkles of light and the song’s words were poignant reminders that such sacrifices will never be forgotten. An aura of respect and hope could be felt throughout the pavilion.
The final theme of songs in the first half of the program was titled "Norėčiau Prisijaukinti Sakalą Gintarinėm Akim" ("Taming a Falcon with Eyes of Amber"). This phrase, taken from a song, speaks about the longing for 50 years by emigrants to return, like falcon birds, to a free Lithuania. With the goal of independence now accomplished, several songs were performed that expressed the joy of this freedom, the love for Lithuania, and the gratitude to God for His many blessings upon this tiny nation. The collaboration between composers in Lithuania and lyricists in North America on several songs in this Festival was further evidence of the spirit of unity felt between Lithuanians on both sides of the Atlantic.
The second half of the program began with youth choirs performing songs to the theme "Gražūs Vaikai Pelėdos" ("Pretty are the Owl’s Children"). Among several playful and humorous songs was a medley titled "Tai Smagu Lauke per Lietų" ("Fun Outside in the Rain"). This song medley included four original and three folk songs, with introductions and orchestral insertions written by Viktoras Ralys. During the youth choir performances, a dance ensemble visually interpreted some songs, and on the big pavilion screens children’s thematic drawings could be seen.
It should be noted that advertisement of the Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival was an ongoing process and included various methods. Aside from frequent articles in several Lithuanian newspapers about Festival preparations, choirs performed in their local communities, and children’s art competitions were held in Lithuanian Saturday Schools. In fact, drawings selected through these competitions were those projected on the big screens during the youth choir performances.
Lilija Gelažis and Siga Mikoliūnaitė were this Song Festival’s visual effects coordinators. Two dance ensembles were also integrated into the program: The Artistic Dance Theater group from Lemont, Illinois, led by Estera Lisauskienė and Sandra Krumhorn, and the Chicago Lithuanian Folk Dance group "Suktinis", led by Salomėja and Vidmantas Strižigauskas.
Ten choirs composed of high school and college students participated in the Song Festival. Almost all were assembled for this sole purpose and participated with infectious enthusiasm. Among this group of choirs was the Jesuit High School choir from Vilnius, Lithuania. Songs designated for these choirs, under the theme "Su Tavim aš per Pasaulį Platų" ("With You I Travel the World"), were performed by the mixed choir, the women’s choir, and the all-male choir. A popular modern song, "Keleiviai" ("The Travelers"), composed by Darius Polikaitis (lyrics by B. Brazdžionis), was sung by the all-male choir and received an especially loud ovation.
A festive spirit, the smiling faces of the performers, and strong musical voices blended in beautiful harmony throughout the Song Festival. The final theme of songs, titled "Tegul Jungia Daina Vaikus Lietuvos" ("May Songs Unite All Children of Lithuania"), began with the performance of the beloved song, "Kur Giria Žaliuoja" ("The Green Forests") (music by J. Gudavičius, lyrics by K. Sakalauskas-Vanagėlis), which describes Lithuania’s beautiful nature. A new composition, "Šokių ir Dainų Sonetas" ("Song and Dance Sonata"), (lyrics by A. Kairys, music by Faustas Strolia), was conducted by Dalia Viskontienė. The song "Viena Šeima, Viena Tauta" ("One Family, One Nation"), (lyrics by Nijolė Kersnauskaitė, music by Rita Kliorienė), was sung by the joint adult choir, conducted by A. Vildžiūnas, and captured the spirit of unity that Lithuanians feel no matter where they live in the world. The phrase "one family, one nation, united by our motherland Lithuania" resounded loudly and proudly within the walls of the pavilion.
The Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival culminated with a new composition, "Giesmė Naujajai Žemei" ("Hymn to the New Land"). Its music was written by Giedrius Svilainis, a composer living in Lithuania, to words written by an emigrant to America, Nijolė Kersnauskaitė. ".... The waves billowed, and the land answered..." – these are words from the final song which reflect feelings of gratitude toward foreign lands that have embraced Lithuanian emigrants throughout history and provided them refuge. The Song Festival itself could be viewed as symbolic of how a culture can remain alive in a "new land".
This final song was conducted by the Song Festival's artistic director, Rita Čyvaitė-Kliorienė. The audience, which was given small white kerchiefs upon entering the pavilion, was asked to wave them during the performance of this song. Some, however, were seen using the kerchiefs to wipe away tears, as the Song Festival tugged at deep emotions. As the final note echoed in the background, Rita Kliorienė and Dr. Audrius Polikaitis called to the main stage all the choir directors, the Festival’s conductors, members of the organizational and artistic committees, dance group leaders, and other significant contributors to the success of the Eighth Song Festival. With deep gratitude from the organizers, each received a commemorative sash, woven in Lithuania. The Festival flag was lowered and, along with a baton, was ceremoniously passed to the organizing committee chairpersons of the next Song Festival, Rasa and Paulius Kuras, and its artistic director, Dalia Viskontienė. The Ninth Lithuanian Song Festival is scheduled to take place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival ended with a grand ball at the Chicago Sheraton Hotel and Towers. There, after dinner, impromptu singing to the sounds of several accordions could be heard, and many danced well into the night.
Information about the Song Festival "Answer with a Song" was distributed to many media outlets. Right from the start, an internet website, dainusvente.org, was created where all pertinent information could be accessed by performers, audience members, financial donors. This website was well maintained and frequently updated.
Print media also played an important part in advertising and distributing information about the Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival. This team of journalists was led by Nijolė Benotienė. They wrote over 80 articles, introducing each choir, relaying quotes from choir members, sharing interviews with various committee members. Lithuanian newspapers "Tėviškės Žiburiai" – Kanada ("Lights of our Homeland" – Canada), "Amerikos Lietuvis" – Čikaga ("The American Lithuanian" – Chicago), and especially the daily Lithuanian newspaper "Draugas"- Čikaga ("Friend"-Chicago) graciously printed many articles presented to them about the Song Festival.
A DVD was of this event was also released, and the Song Festival was broadcast twice on television in Lithuania. A souvenir program, with Eglė Laniauskienė as chief editor, was given to all participants and made available to everyone attending the Festival. This publication included photographs and short descriptions of each participating choir, company ads, personal posts with best wishes, congratulatory letters from dignitaries, and a list of all financial donors. Special attention was called to Marija and Antanas Rudis, who donated over $10,000; other generous donors were the Lithuanian Foundation, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and the Bureau of Tourism and Emigration Department.
The Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival, titled "Answer with a Song", which took place on July 1-2, 2006, in Chicago, Ill., was proof that the tradition of Song Festivals outside the boundaries of Lithuania was again alive and well. Though Lithuania has regained its independence, it is imperative to continue such traditions in North America to keep fostering the treasures of language, music, and song, which earlier generations brought over as they settled in new lands.
It is important to once again emphasize that the demanding artistic and organizational tasks required to organize a Song Festival were all done by selfless volunteers, who shared their knowledge and creativity, and sacrificed their precious free time. The organizers should also be commended for having faith that Lithuanians would financially support the Song Festival, as they started with very little seed money.
Any nation with strong leaders, teachers, and scientists is indeed blessed. Lithuanian emigrants in North America should also feel blessed that the right leaders emerged to revive Lithuanian Song Festivals. Rita Kliorienė and Dr. Audrius Polikaitis accomplished this seemingly impossible task. R. Kliorienė inspired choirs to form, especially in smaller Lithuanian communities, urged newer emigrants to join these choirs, and strenghtened the bond between choirs and choir directors in North America and Lithuania.
The history of Lithuanian emigrants in North America has been enriched by the Eighth Lithuanian Song Festival, which can be viewed as a symbol of vitality and hope. Songs have resounded for 50 years among emigrants; now we have "answered with a song", and we will keep our culture alive through song!
On July 2-4, 2010, after a 32 year interval, the IX LITHUANIAN SONG FESTIVAL, "Daina Aš Gyvenu," returned to Toronto, Canada, under the auspices of the Lithuanian American and Lithuanian Canadian Communities, Inc. and the North American Music Association.
Often joining him by singing songs from his popular repertoire, the audience of 1000 guests warmly and with great enthusiasm welcomed Mikutavičius.
"Miestelio Vakaronė" at Toronto Airport Marriott Hotel at 17:00
A"Town Gathering" welcomed guests with a Lithuanian folk music ensemble, songs, spontaneous dancing , souvenirs, and ale.
All three Toronto Lithuanian Parishes and Airport Marriott Hotel offered Morning Worship.
IX Lithuanian Song Festival, "Daina Aš Gyvenu" at Hershey Centre at 14:00
Three thousand people gathered to hear 1111 singers.
Banquet, "Miško Balsai," at the International Centre at 19:00
An opportunity for all participants to reminisce, photograph, and celebrate.
The festival welcomed 54 choirs, who came from Lithuania, Ireland, Great Britain, Poland, United States of America, and Canada. Of the 1111 singers half were comprised of youth and children choirs. The Hannaford Street Silver Band, consisting of 40 members, accompanied the singers. The choirs were directed by 17 conductors.
The title for the IX Lithuanian Song Festival, "Daina aš Gyvenu," was chosen by the Artistic Director, Dalia Skrinskaitė-Viskontienė, as a symbolic elucidation of the road traveled from and to Lithuania by each of the singers. The thousands of songs, folk and classical, sung by participating choirs for decades were moments by which they touched Lithuania's traditions, customs, and history. The title, therefore, was a statement that acknowledged their hard work and the uniqueness of the Lithuanian song and its traditions.
Artistic Director, Dalia Skrinskaitė-Viskontienė, building on the title, envisioned the festival as having a focus that would reflect the essence of the Lithuanian song through an unfolding of the verities of the human heart and its relation to culture. Laimutė Kisielienė and Dalia Skrinskaitė-Viskontienė, with the help of Nijolė Puranaitė-Benotienė, Birutė Litvinienė, and Jurgis Sederavičius, incorporated into the festival a scenario which focused on the earth's and man's journeys in association with the sun. The scenario starts with morning sounds which the sun awakens, leads to the day's labor, and ends with reflections of the evening until from the cold night the rising sun bursts forth with the eternal spiritual values ingrained in the song and Lithuania's traditions.
The festival included new compositions, each having a sponsor:
The Festival's publication,edited by Ramunė Jonaitienė with the Lithuanian entries written by Nijolė Puranaitė-Benotienė and Birutė Litvinienė, who, also, translated them, was published by the Organizing Committee and its co-chairs Rasa and Paulius Kuras. Included in the publication were greetings from cultural and political personages; explanation of the festival's symbols and the Lithuanian song traditions; photos of participating choirs , their dirctors,and histories; the scenario with Lithuanian and English explanations, and the songs themselves.
A smaller format of the publication included the program.
Morning, symbolizing birth, origin in point of time or place, inception, dawns as Krivių Krivaitis, the head priest of Lithuania's Old Religion and our ancestors' emissary, enters to ignite the altar. He, surrounded by thunder and lightning, is bringing the Sun's sacred fire and with it our supplications, our songs, to commence the day.
The vestal virgins, who have accompanied the Krivių Krivaitis, unfurl bleached woven linen cloths. They are the road to our ancestors and gods and unite all those present. They give clarification to a man's life: to his youth, to love, to the tasks to be done.
The sun sends fewer and fewer rays to the earth. The summer begins its transformation to winter. Krivių Krivaitis guards the sacred fire. Beyond the flame lies the star and beyond it our loved ones. It is this flame that ties us to them and to our land.
With the setting sun our ancestors gathered under the sacred oak groves and prayed to the sacred fire: come from the stone, come from the tree, come from the heavens, come from earth Be charitable: protect us from the cold, from the dark. We, also, pray that after the dark night the sun would bring light to our beloved land.
We have traveled the sun's full circle and have felt the resounding awareness ingrained in the songs, which are the history of our land. In them in every age, we find the joys, the sorrows, the aspirations of our land. They start from the sacred fires of our Old Religion and end as a sacred gift in our hearts.
The repertoire was enhanced by visual effects mounted by A. Pabedinskas. Architect J. Sederavičius and his creative entourage made geese and doves fly on stage, daisies and butterflies dance, oak leaves sway, the sacred fire burn. The program's producers were R. Paškauskas and J. Valaitis.
Snaigė Šileikienė created the symbol of the sun with two distinct faces: one light and one dark. When daylight is with us, night has come to Lithuania, but it is the same sun that unites us. The sun's circle is, also, the earth's and man's life.
The festival's scenario dictated the program:
The Festival advanced at the hands of 17 conductors:
The Festival ended with concluding words from President Vytas Maciūnas of the Lithuanian-American Community, Inc., who invited everyone to the 2012 Lithuanian Folk Dance in Boston and Joana Kuraitė-Lasienė, President of the Lithuanian-Canadian Community, Inc.
Lithuania's Ambassador to Canada, Gintė Damušytė, presented to the Artistic Director, Dalia Skrinskaitė-Viskontienė The Order of Merit from Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaitė. It was a symbolic gesture acknowledging all who worked to make the Festival a success.
With the singers holding yellow, green, and red lights, the color of Lithuania's flag, the Festival ended with M. Mikutavičius singing his composition, "Let Us Greet Each Other." He was joined by everyone present.
In choosing the repertoire the driving force for the Artistic Director, Dalia Skrinskaitė-Viskontienė, was to find a way to include the works by Lithuanian composers outside of Lithuania. Thus, there opened up an opportunity to include six new compositions.
Also, a great emphasis was placed to include songs that could be sung with the audience, a tradition begun at the VIII Song Festival by its Artistic Director, Rita Čyvaitė-Kliorienė, who harmonized the five songs chosen. Rita Čyvaitė-Kliorienė's contribution extended from creating new works for the festival to working in a close and professional relationship with this year's Artistic Director, Dalia Skinskaitė-Viskontienė.
Included in the repertoire were works that were complex and challenging. Many choir directors marveled at their complexity and commended the choirs for their performance.
The Festival was,also, unique in that for the first time many young choir directors conducted such massive number of singers:
Artistic Director, Dalia Skrinskaitė-Viskontienė, tried as much as possible to include young members into committees: visual effects, repertoire, choir directors' workweek, gala events etc. The same emphasis was placed on the event by other members of the Organizing Committee:
This committee of nine members was the heart of the Festival. They inspired 300 volunteers to work four years to bring the Festival from its inception to fruition.
Knowing the strength of the choirs was this committees task in designing the repertoire:
They were aided by directors of childrens' and youth choirs
This history of the IX SONG DANCE FESTIVAL is being written three years after the event. It is the summation of an event to which countless people contributed their hearts and talents. It unified all who touched it and showed how much could be accomplished by volunteers who believed in the project.
The Festival could not have been so successful without the effort, imagination, and stimulus of Dalia Skrinskaitė-Viskontienė, who after 32 years brought it back to Toronto, Canada. Nor could it have motivated so many to give of their time and creativity without the inspiration and professionalism of Paulius and Rasa Kuras.
For more information explore: devintoji.dainusvente.org.