Watching them is like stepping back in time; sensing that mass emotional charge of common belief and endeavour coming together in emotion-laden celebration, is powerful, moving and uplifting.
As a spectacle, the main event is unforgettable, the massed choir of twelve thousand being joined by a throng of forty eight thousand spectators who filled the arena the year that I visited.
I sat through stirring speeches/introductions and poems filled with a nation’s passion, not understanding a word but mesmerised by the stillness of that vast crowd as guest conductors and composers took the rostrum.
All around me, listening with rapt attention were weather-beaten faces of stoic life, bright and spirits soaring but with eyes tear-filled too, being stirred to their very deepest souls.
The build-up to the opening breath-taking presentation is magical.
Suddenly the entire arena is plunged into darkness and then a single spotlight illuminates a band of musicians who start to play an ancient melody; a haunting female voice joins in as a percussionist smacks the skin of a giant drum with such resounding force that it sends a chakra-rattling shock wave out into the crowd. You have begun to feel as well as see what is happening.
Each time he struck the skin more firmly, we felt the reverberations resonating through our bodies. As the swell of the beat grew to an almost unsettling volume, then died off, the backdrop – a giant multi-tiered semi-circular arena – became floodlit as men and women who had picked their way up to the highest point from the rear of the stage, began to cascade over and descend in an amazing masterpiece or choreography.
As the choir members filtered down like a human waterfall, we heard their singing swelling louder and louder until all of the choirs are finally in place.
The musical chant they are producing in primal and passionate. You “feel” the singing too!
We remain transfixed as if we have been mysteriously transported to a different realm while soaking up these magic moments, and when the curtain finally comes down on the mother of all folk extravaganzas, we feel both dazed and exhilarated all at once.
As I eventually shuffled away from the auditorium, I thought about the power of music, the world’s one universal language. I wanted to speak, to articulate my thoughts, but couldn’t, contemplative head shaking regurgitating reflective little nuggets from the experience.
On the way home, we stood watching the crowds disperse. They too, were under the same spell and talking, if at all, in whispers. They say goosepimples are never far away in Latvia. On a very special weekend once every few years, everyone has them.