The national song and dance celebration tradition has lasted for a hundred years and grew up into the most significant and largest cultural event in Lithuania. It exalts man's creative self-expression, vitality of the national culture, and promotes artistic activity by periodically gathering amateur artistic groups of different genres and culture professionals to enormous festivals that evoke enthusiastic society’s response.
The three Baltic nations – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - were united by their historical fate at the end of the 18th century. All the three of nations were occupied by the Russian Empire. The idea of freedom, unity, and raising of the self-awareness of the people in those countries flourished in the 19th century, at the time when smaller nations all over Europe were liberating themselves from the oppression of the bigger ones seeking independence and statehood. The mass movement that stretched over numerous countries is commonly known as the National Romanticism, National Liberation, or the National Revival.
However, the first Song and Dance Festival was held in 1924 only, that is in six years after the first restoration of the statehood. The Song Day took place in Kaunas (as the capital of Lithuania and Vilnius region were occupied by Poland). It was initiated by the musician Juozas Žilevičius. Having studied and described the Estonian and Latvian song and dance celebration tradition he designed special courses for teachers of music in Lithuania, registered choirs and their repertoires. It turned out that many choirs performed the same songs. Therefore, a commission of musicians was appointed to make sure that choirs prepared their repertoires according to certain standards.
77 choirs, approximately 3000 singers, participated in the first Song Day. 34 songs were performed, 21 harmonised folk song and 13 original. The choirs sang to the playing of a united brass orchestra.
The first Song Day was accompanies by different ceremonies, while the logo of the festival symbolised the 6th anniversary of the independence.
The present pattern of the song and dance celebration events is as follows:
1. The Folklore Day opens the Festival. Up to 4 thousand performers of authentic folklore traditionally gather to a special venue, the original area of the Lithuanian Royal Palace dating back to the 13-16th centuries, which encompasses the old and beautiful Sereikiškių Park. The idea of the Folklore Day is to demonstrate the peculiarity of the living folk song and dance tradition of the four Lithuanian ethnic regions (Aukštaitija, Žemaitija, Suvalkija, and Dzūkija). Every ethnic region is appointed a separate space, where the participants try to reveal and demonstrate the particular character of a certain folklore tradition representing different towns and villages of their ethnic region. While performers are engaged in concerts, craftsmen demonstrate their products of folk art offering spectators traditional food and drinks. This Day has gained its popularity for its natural, spontaneous interaction between performers and the audience, for its relaxed atmosphere and its inclusive spirit that attracts the audience. In the evening, when the concerts are about to finish, the Folklore Day spills out into a mass singing of folk songs.
2. The song and dance celebration has become an important occasion to exhibit folk art. A folk art exhibition is opened on the Folklore Day and continuous until after the celebration events are over. Works of the best contemporary folk artists from all over Lithuania are selected; historically and artistically important works from the museum funds are also exhibited. Every year the exhibitions vary in genre, for instance, painting, sculpture, applied arts, and etc.
On average 500 folk artists take part in the art exhibitions exhibiting about 1 500 works.
3. The third event is the Folk Song and Dance Ensemble Night. Its traditional venue is the outdoor stage in Kalnų Park, which is not far away from the original Royal Palace area, the historic centre of Vilnius. The venue is famous for its beautiful scenery and provides a natural amphitheatre for staged events.
A folk song and dance ensemble combines representatives of three genres: a choir that performs harmonised Lithuanian folk or songs composed by professional composers; a band of modified Lithuanian national instruments that does not only accompany the choir and dancers but makes music in its own right; and a dance company that performs folk dances designed for stage. Composers, choreographers, the authors of the lyrics (just as the directors of the main event) derive their inspiration and draw from the heritage of folk art. The repertoire of such ensembles is based on stylised, harmonised, and modified folk, professional pieces imitating folklore, and professional works.
Their performances are usually centred round certain motives, for example, the customs and traditions related to work, family or something else.
About 3 thousand performers take part in the Folk Song and Dance Ensemble Night. One ensemble may consist of 10 to 70 members.
People love Folk Song and Dance Ensemble Night for the special, thespian way of expression it offers. Because the Folk Song and Dance Ensemble Night attracts big audiences and the number of seats in Kalnų Park outdoor stage is limited, the performance is sometimes given twice.
4. The fourth event is the concert of the Dance Day that takes place in the stadium “Žalgiris”. It is a mass performance of one dance composition performed by dancers of different ages. The composition is created following one common motive that is usually selected from the heritage of folk art; with the emphasis on the customs observed during work and family related festivals. The compositions are created by professional staged folk dance choreographers.
Folk dance companies of different age groups from children to senior citizens, up to 9 thousand dancers all in all, take part in the Dance Day.
In the same way as other Days, the Dance Day is loved for its colourfulness, beautiful national dress and the variety of patterns produced on the stadium floor.
5. The final touch in the series of the song and dance celebration events is the Song Day taking place in Vingis Park, on an outdoor stage designed especially for the Song Day. Approximately 400 choirs, 15 000 singers of children, youth, female, male, and mixed choirs take part in the Song Day concert. Traditionally, harmonised or specially tuned folk songs, works composed by classic or contemporary composers are performed on the Song Day. Most songs are sung a cappella, others are performed to the accompaniment of a brass or symphony orchestra. Different songs are conducted by different conductors. The success of the singing and the whole event depends on the stage director, designer, and the ingenuity of the conductor. They are the ones who generate the emotional and artistic state of the event.
The choir concert takes about 4 hours. It is succeeded by spontaneous singing of all the people who have gathered in Vingis Park, which generally lasts for another couple of hours. Folk songs, romances and the favourite popular Lithuanian songs are sung.
Visit Lithuania invites you to join
90th Anniversary Celebration
Lithuanian Song Celebration is an overall national cultural phenomenon and a continual purposeful creative process spiritually equal to ancient Greek Olympic Games.
It’s tradition praises individual’s creative self-expression, vitality of the national culture, love for the homeland and solidarity of its people.