Day 31 - February 6, 2016 - Riga
I was feeling quite under the weather on day 30, so I took a hiatus for a day from exploring Riga and rested up so I could enjoy a full day of exploring on Saturday. I was so excited to finally see all the cathedrals and get a taste for the night life.
It only took me a couple hours to walk through all the major sights of Riga. I realized at that moment what a small city it really is (from the map, it seems a lot bigger). I saw the Riga Cathedral and St. Peter's Cathedral and tower. I also saw some cathedrals where I didn't know their name but their steeples were beautiful. I walked through the old town and saw all the old shops with authentic Latvian artwork, knitting, and ceramics. I walked through all of the parks and even saw the National Opera building, which looked beautiful along the water and I loved watching all the beautiful lights in the trees turn on as it got darker in the parks. It was truly magical. And of course the highlight for me was the Freedom Monument. That monument means so much to Latvia and its independence from the Soviet Union. It was wonderful to see such a beautiful, symbolic statue to celebrate Latvian's independence and rich tradition.
After viewing all of the sights, I parked myself at a cozy coffee shop and relaxed in the city with a delicious cup of coffee, my iPad, an my blog. Before I knew it, 3 hours had passed and it was time for dinner. I walked along the streets of old town to a nice little underground Italian restaurant and had a wonderful dinner filled with wine, and of course, pepperoni pizza. It was absolutely delicious, and I must say, pizza in Europe, no matter where I'm at, is always incredible. I can never get enough. The restaurant felt truly Italian and had exposed brick with the rounded archways. I truly felt like I was hanging out in Florence, which is always a win in my book.
After spending more time at the restaurant I finally left and the night life of Riga was thriving. It was almost 10:00 at this point and I had passed a "New Orleans" themed bar called Moonshine and they just happened to be having the Latvian Blues Band performing live in 10 minutes. I walked in and asked if I could still get in and watch without a reservation. They found out I was from the states and they were very kind and excited to have me watch. They put me upstairs at the bar and took very good care of me.
I had an amazing time listening to this band play blues. They were very good and I couldn't help but smile the entire time they were performing. They had piano, bass, guitar, drums, singer, trumpet, and saxophone. They were beyond entertaining. I must say the decorations representing the theme of New Orleans were a little unique haha. I would say it was more of a 50's diner than it was New Orleans, but I had a good time enjoying all of the American posters, pictures, and architecture.
It was a wonderful night and I ended up catching the last bus out of city center back to the apartment I was staying at. It felt good to experience the night life of Riga, and although it was no Las Vegas, it made me feel at home for a little while.
Day 33 - February 8, 2016 - Riga
So I completely messed up my sleep schedule and stayed up through the middle of the night to get updates on the Super Bowl. And I am glad I did, getting to see Peyton Manning win his 2nd Super Bowl and see Cam Newton fall to the ground pouting like a baby. I had some amazing friends send me live videos and I didn't go to sleep until 6 in the morning.
So after ruining my sleep pattern, I woke up at 1 in the afternoon and didn't leave into Riga until around 5:00. I was going to another rehearsal with the Choir Sola and was going to see them put their songs together with a rhythm section made up of piano, guitar, bass, and drums. They were rehearsing in what seemed like a black box theatre. It was so much fun to hear all the songs come together. It sounded like a musical theatre chorus and the conductors and musicians worked so quickly in figuring out songs. I had a blast listening and observing, especially with the songs that were from musicals in the states. I loved hearing their interpretations of American styles of musical theatre.
Day 34 - February 9, 2016 - Riga
My last day in Riga...wow the time went by so fast. But I had a packed day and was ready to make the most of it. My day started by going to the Riga Domas Kora Skola to hear the Riga Dom Girl's Choir. I was informed when I entered that they were known as one of the best girl's choirs in the world. And they didn't disappoint. I also learned that they have to memorize all the music they perform, which is about 200 songs/year. WOW! Unfortunately, I missed the conductor as she was sick that day, but I got to see the student conductors work with them as they prepare for their final examinations in June. These students are 4th year conducting students and are only...wait for it...19 YEARS OLD!!! I couldn't believe their musicianship and professionalism while working with this choir. I was also able to learn a lot about being a conducting student in this music-focused school.
For their final examinations, the students have to conduct one piece with the girl's choir and 2 pieces with the older, mixed choir. The conductor of those choirs picks those pieces for you. Before you can start conducting the pieces with the choirs, you have to pass a technical examination which includes:
- being able to play the entire choir piece on the piano for memory
- being able to play an individual part (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, or Bass) at any measure the conductor requests for memory
- the conductor can stop them at any point and make them sing all the parts in that specific measure they stopped them at.
So you can see how intense the process is just to graduate from this school, and I kid you not, my jaw dropped as they were explaining the intensity of the preparation to graduate from this program. Not even colleges in the state are this intense, and this is considered a high school! (Haha)
I was able to speak to one of the students graduating in June, and he informed me of all this intensity and also that he has been living on his own in Riga since he was 15. His name is Kristaps and he is attending a music academy in Berlin next fall, where he only has to pay 300 euros a semester! I also sat in on the mixed choir, which was also at a high quality and left early to go to the Musica Baltica.
For those that don't know, the Musica Baltica is a music store that also publishes their own sheet music and music books and publishes most, if not all of the Latvian choral compositions. I met the owner, Solvita and she explained the entire story of why Latvian Choral traditions are so rich. This was founded in 19900, when Latvia sustained its independence and the traditions that were the most rich were their music and their choirs. Composers then revolutionized the sound of choirs in Latvia after their independence was claimed from the USSR and music was more complex and unique from the rest of the world. A Latvian choral piece is easy to recognize because of this time period in Latvian's musical history.
She showed me a lot of choral composers, and an up and coming composer who is still studying at the music academy but has most than 10 pieces published through her business. She had a bag full of Latvian music for me to take home and I was so surprised and honored that she wanted me to take so much of this rich tradition home with me to show off to all musicians that are interested. I can't wait to spread my love of Latvian choral singing and compositions to the rest of my friends that are musicians in the states. It is truly captivating.
After spending a good hour and a half at the Musica Baltica, I then had the honor of having dinner and drinks with the Production Manager of the Latvia Radio Choir, Ilve Tormane. We had a great time chatting about everything from Latvian music, American musical traditions, movies, and of course, wine! We had so much in common and were laughing for most of the time. We had dinner at an Italian cafe and then she took me to a wine studio to have some Latvian Malbec. It was absolutely delicious! Then her boyfriend joined us and drove me back to my apartment. Her boyfriend, Janis, attended the University of Kansas and has the most American accent I have ever heard for being a native Latvian.
It was the BEST way to end my time in Riga and I do feel like I left Latvia with a wonderful friend and some INCREDIBLE professional connections. Now I can't wait to get to Finland and meet family that I've never met and that no one on my Grandma's side of the family has ever met. I look forward to telling them all about my amazing Grandma and learning all about my family's history.
Until next time, family and friends!