If nations were to be asked to open their heritage treasure chests, at the forefront of Lithuania’s cultural treasury would be dainos ─ our songs. The word is as ancient as the Lithuanian language and, according to Indian linguist Professor Suniti Kuman Chattergi, comes from the old Indo-European word dhaina: “To think, to ponder, to give thought to.”
Historians and musicologists describe them as “immortal” dainos because they recount Lithuania’s history, offering tangible relics of the ancient past as well as chronicling events of the present day. Dainos “give thought to” who Man is, and to his relationship with the events in his life and the country of his origin. A Lithuanian is enveloped by dainos from birth to death: there is a song for every experience, and he is equipped to reflect upon and narrate the story of his life through song. It is no surprise, therefore, that there are over 100,000 Lithuanian songs about weddings alone.
These dainos, from ancient folk songs to modern-day works by Lithuanian composers, will be the focus of the IX Lithuanian Song Festival hosted in Toronto, Canada, on July 2-4, 2010. Over 50 choirs with1,000 singers of all ages, from Canada, the United States, England, Poland and Lithuania, will come together to be part of this celebration reflecting Lithuanian pride in the tradition of singing and to ensure that this unique living cultural treasure continues to be handed down from one generation to the next. A song festival is a culmination of choirs’ hard work, and a show of unity. The song festival tradition began in Lithuania in 1924 and still continues there, with last year’s festival drawing 30,000 singers.
Even though there had already been unofficial Lithuanian song festivals in the United States, such as the gathering of 3,000 singers at the 1939 World Fair, the ALRK (American-Lithuanian Roman Catholic) Organists’ Society endorsed the idea of organizing the first official Song Festival for Lithuanians living outside of then-occupied Lithuania. Because Chicago was centrally located and because it had a large Lithuanian community, it was chosen as the site of the first festival.
And so the first official Lithuanian Song Festival outside of Lithuania was held in 1956 in Chicago, Illinois, with 34 choirs with 1,200 singers. Since then there have been eight such events, all held in Chicago with one exception: The 1978 Festival was held in Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens, with 51 choirs with 1,400 singers participating.
Toronto is very proud to again embrace the tradition and host this year’s event. As with all the other festivals, the contributors ─ the organizers, various committee members, choir directors and singers ─ work tirelessly and without remuneration toward the objective: A successful song festival, a truly unique example of priceless cultural heritage that can be enjoyed by every member of the audience, even if he or she does not understand the language.
Robert Payne ─ novelist, poet, historian, anthropologist ─ writes:
One comes to them (dainos) almost unbelieving, surprised that such perfect songs should be permitted to survive. They have a beauty and pure splendor above anything I know in Western literature except the early songs of Greek islanders. They seem to have been written at the morning of the world, and the dew is still on them…in our desperate age, the dainos acquire a supreme importance for they speak of a time when joy still walked over the earth.
(Reprinted with permission of Bridges – www.lithuanian-american.org)