Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Ferry and Stockholm!

After a lovely ferry cruise we got to Stockholm and our really nice, modern hotel, Skandic. We took a jaunt to the market, had lunch across the street, and headed to the Vasa museum. Today,a boat tour and the Skansen outdoor museum. Click the link HERE to see a ton of photos from our whole trip!

Riga - Day 5. Champions Awards and Mezaparks

It's hard to believe it's already day five. Time is going by so fast and today's the day that Youth Chorale, Ginny, Greg,  Colleen and Catherine return back to Atlanta. We will miss our friends and we will remember the times we had with them in this great city of Riga as TCC moves on to Stockholm tomorrow!

The Award Ceremony was a bit early and on the other side of town, but our spirits and energies returned shortly after the names began to be announced. I didn't explain this in the last post, but they list the competing choirs from the lowest to highest scores in each choir category. So for instance, they may start with Barbershop Quartets, Open Competition. Then list the score, level and diploma/medal, then the choir name, followed by conductor name. With over 470 choir competing, these process gets a little tedious (especially at 9AM in the morning!).

BUT it really adds to the tension and excitement of awaiting our names.
Picture Courtesy Eric Flenaugh
The Children's Choir Champions competition was announced earlier in the morning. After wading through tens of names, we jumped in elation to hear ours! ATLANTA YOUNG SINGERS from USA = a SILVER MEDAL in the single most competitive competition in the entire World Choir Games!!

Picture Courtesy Eric Flenaugh
Picture Courtesy Eric Flenaugh

Picture Courtesy Eric Flenaugh
Picture Courtesy Eric Flenaugh
Picture Courtesy Eric Flenaugh
Picture Courtesy Eric Flenaugh
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Pretty much felt like this!

Atlanta Young Singers never before this moment received a medal in the World Choir Games. This medal signifies countless hours of hard work and focus, from our Singers and Families alike. Thank you for supporting your Singer on this amazing journey of spirit and song! These moments they will keep with them for the rest of their lives.

To add to a wonderful morning, Atlanta Young Singers received a GOLD MEDAL in the Young Choirs of Equal Voices Champions Competition - featuring the AYS Young Women with a handful of TCC Young Ladies.

After lunch and some more downtime in Old Town, the Singers headed out to Mezaparks stadium for the Open Air Concert.

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After a bit of rain (which we are lucky to have not experienced so far in the port town of Riga) over 4000 voices joined together in Latvian song, celebrating one of the biggest choral traditions in the world! All 4000 singers were decked in traditional garb and sang songs about the summer solstice celebration, Jani, as well as other celebratory songs of old. What a great end to another great day in Riga!

The Youth Chorale left the concert via bus towards Vilnius to catch a string of flights back home! Tomorrow brings our last day in Riga, then the ferry ride back to Stockholm!


Riga - Day 4. Downtime, Young Women's Choir Champions Competition then Awards!

After a tight schedule for the first half of our Major Tour, TCC (with the exception of our SSAA Young Women's move-ups) got a day of down time. While the TCC boys spent the morning with Greg and the YC Men's Choir in old town, the TCC girls decided to spend a morning in the hotel pool, cooling off from a somewhat sweaty Riga.

Both of these groups then made their way to the Young Choirs of Equal Voices Champions Competition - featuring the AYS Young Women with a handful of TCC Young Ladies. The rest of TCC made it to the Riga Stradins University early to catch the other competing choirs in this category. WOW - what a special experience to hear the choral traditions of a wide array of countries! We heard a Czech choir, and Chinese Choir and American choir, all in under an hour! It is so special to be on this musical journey :)

The Young Women's Choir was simply breathtaking. It is honestly really hard to describe in a blog post. The TCC Families of the Young Ladies who were selected to join the YC in this performance should be VERY proud. There were many talks of these TCC Singers' focus, enthusiasm and musical expressiveness throughout our choir, and others.

All of our AYS Choirs met up outside the University doors to celebrate, then headed towards the WCG Meal Center for Lunch, then to Old Town for extended shopping, fun and ice cream!

After a fun afternoon in Old Town, we headed to the award ceremony to hear the results for our Young Men's Choir Open Competition, and Scenic Folklore Open Competition. This is the very first year that AYS has participated as competitors in this category, so we had no idea what to expect! We knew that both performances went very well and hoped the judges agreed...

...they did!

The AYS Young Men's Choir received a gold diploma in the Young Male Choirs Open Competition! AND we came in 2nd overall for our category!

Finally, the Scenic Folklore Open Competition results were announced. The AYS Folk Ensemble also received a Gold Diploma, coming in 3rd overall for our category!

The Singers screamed and jumped as Paige and Greg took the stage for their awards. We are so happy to be representing our Families and country so well! It is such a big relief to see all of our hardwork pay off.

Riga - Day 3. TCC Competes & Friendship Concert

After another glorious breakfast for TCC's big day, we walked to our shuttle in Riga to head to our sound check for the Children's Choir Competition at the Culture Palace (Ziemelblazma). Appropriately named, the Culture Palace is a 100 year old renovated palace on the outskirts of Riga. The grounds were  beautiful and had lots of space for impormptu rehearsals, fun and games AND beautiful greenery.

While TCC got down to business across town, YC women gathered for another very important rehearsal before thier competition the following day.

After sound check and a few more run-thrus, they collected our belongings and headed back to the building for our big performance! It was so great to have the Youth Chorale cheering us on in the performance. The level of professionalism and focus between your TCC Singers is truly amazing.  AYS performed some of the most complicated repertoire of all of the Children's and Youth Choirs AND executed these pieces with refinement and finesse. While the repertoire only consisted of four pieces, it took the Singers and audience to a world beyond.

After the performance, we headed to WCG Lunch facility and grabbed some Latvian grub. We have had a different soup almost every meal along with another favorable Baltic dish. We meet up with Youth Chorale at the end of our meal and collectively headed back to the center of town via the festival shuttle for our Friendship concert.

The first choir in our Friendship concert was from the Czech Republic, followed by a traditional Latvian Choir consisting of college aged singers in traditional Latvian outfits! A senior choir from Latvia went third, and were decked out in Latvian Amber and sang some native and "foreign" pieces in English :).

While these choirs were performing, the YC and TCC gathered for a quick run through of the program, featuring all 4 ensembles. Even during our run through, we attracted MANY visitors, followed with inquiries about where we were from, etc. After a quick video stop for local media, we then headed to the stage.

The crowd was GINORMOUS! What a great welcome from a beautiful and musical city!

 TCC kicked off the music with Stephen Paulus's "Daybreak". Then, the Young Men's Choir led the crowd to another rousing rendition of "Viva L'Amour". The YC women then sang a beautiful performance of "No Time" (as heard by our TCC Families at Explore Four). YC Folk Ensemble then clogged their way through "Shady Grove", as the entire audience clapped along! Finally, we all joined together for a fun, fast round of "Juba".

After leaving the stage, TCC and YC were greeted by countless strangers, thanking us in Latvian, Russian, Chinese and more. What a wonderful moment, quickly followed by celebratory singing and dancing.

With a small break before dinner, we shopped at the special Latvian Arts and Crafts market in the Vermanes Park, where we were performing. Yes, if you are reading this, you may be getting an authentic Latvian souvenir :) There were so many great vendors and quality goods, from local, handcrafting artisans. The market is only gracing Riga for these long hours during the World Choir Games. This country really wants us to have a great time during our stay!

We then headed to the Meal Facility by way of WCG shuttle. After a hearty dinner, we had some time to exchange songs and goodies with other visiting choirs. We especially had fun with the Russian Choir as TCC taught "Juba" and the hand percussion to our new singing chums. It was so nice to sing, dance and play with one of the many other children's choirs before returning to the hotel to turn in for the night.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Riga - AYS Competitions Begin

The day has finally come! AYS's full year of hard work has come to a head as the Scenic Folklore and Young Men's Choir took the world's stage.

Our day began with a smorgasbord fit for royalty. Cheese for breakfast? Yes, please! After an early start, the AYS Folk Ensemble gathered for a morning rehearsal before heading out into the city donning their handmade folklore skirts (made by one of our own Singers), with gingham and peasant shirts in toe.

After a quick sound check, the Folk Ensemble headed to lunch to grab a bite before the big performance - the first presentation of Atlanta Young Singers at the much awaited World Choir Games.

While the folk ensemble completed their speedy sound check across town, TCC gathered in the hotel for a rehearsal - preparing for thier Children's Choirs Champions Competition tomorrow. Things are sounding great. We cannot wait to show our stuff to the jury and audience tomorrow afternoon.

The TCC Singers then headed to lunch, then to Riga University to see the Scenic Folklore Performance in the Great Hall. The AYS Folk Team danced and sang thier hearts out, and into many audience members with thier performance of Cherokee Morning Song, Idumea, Shady Grove, Juba and Colinda. This is the first time AYS has competing in a full Sing and Dance setting - we hope the judges enjoyed themselves as much as the Singers did!

The boys then left for thier Young Males Choir competition at the Culture Palace (Ziemelblazma). Appropriately named, the Culture Palace is a 100 year old renovated palace on the outskirts of Riga. The ground

We collectively headed back to the Hotel for another round of Rehearsals topped off with a killer TCC pool party! It was great to get some downtime before heading to dinner, then watching the Young Male's Performance.

AYS arrived in perfect time to cheer on our guys. Just one of three performing choirs, our Young Men Nailed it! They guys looked like they were having so much fun on stage, and thier sound was full and focused. We couldn't help but celebrate on the palace grounds post-performance!

Pictures (including many silly group photos and performance snapshots) will be posted first thing tomorrow, so check back soon.

Days to Remember

The Youth Chorale left Prague Saturday morning and headed to the former Terezin concentration camp. It was a somber experience for everyone involved; something that none of the Singers were looking forward to, but needed to be seen and done.

After our day at Terezin, we headed to Dresden where we stayed with home stays. The next morning, a former exchange student who participated in AYS the past season, took the Youth Chorale on a walking tour of his city. 

After a beautiful walk, the Singers had a rehearsal and a joint concert with the BennoSingers Dresden before heading off to Berlin for a flight to Warsaw. Our Singers are super troopers! After lunch and a short nap at the Warsaw Hostel, the Singers rehearsed then took a walking tour of the city, followed by a traditional Polish dinner at a pierogi restaurant. 

The next morning Youth Chorale ate breakfast and hopped on the bus with sack lunches for a long drive to Vilnius. After arriving at the Europa City Hotel, the Singers ate dinner, and took a short walk around the city before getting to bed!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Independence Day in Prague!

This morning the Singers had a great breakfast at the hotel before heading out to Prague Castle. En route, we explored the St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Palace, Golden Lane, and St. George's Basilica with a tour guide.After lunch inside the castle grounds, Youth Chorale headed to the Charles Bridge for shopping and views of the city. Then the Singers visited the Old Jewish Quarter's synagogue - now a Holocaust memorial, containing the names of all known Czech victims of the genocide as well as the drawings of the children from Terezin (where Youth Chorale will be stopping tomorrow). Then, a walk through one of the many Jewish cemeteries - including tombstones dating back to the 14th century. According to Jewish tradition, the remains of the dead are not allowed to be moved after they have been laid to rest, so gravediggers created layers of land on top of one another (about 10 in all) and place all of the tombstones on the top layer to show the names of the deceased. There are about 12,000 tombstones in this relatively small cemetery but believed to be the remains about 85,000 people.

Following the Old Jewish Quarter, the Choir walked to the Old Town Square which contains the Astronomical Clock Tower and numerous musicians playing for change. The group dined at a traditional Czech restaurant where Singers got a taste of New Cuisine!

Finally, the Singers rehearsed for their upcoming concert in Dresden on Sunday. Today, Youth Chorale is off to Terezin concentration camp (about an hour away from Prague) and then to Dresden for a home stay.

Back of St. Vitus Cathedral

Inside St. George's Basilica

View of Prague while descending from the castle (it was on a huge hill!)

Wedding pictures taken next to the Charles Bridge

View from the Charles Bridge

Tyn Church from Old Town Square

Panorama shot from Old Gothic portion of St. Vitus Cathedral