Thursday, December 18, 2008

Love, Longing, Uncertainty, and Booze

These are the principal recurring themes in the Lithuanian songs my grandfather, Julius Jušinskas, sang.

With the thin but treacherous layer of ice covering sidewalks throughout the city, this week was the perfect time to put a kettle on (or more precisely, flip the switch on the electric water boiler) and spend some quality time with the musical impetus for this opera. This exploration included transcribing melodies and tracing (or, as in some cases, guessing) their origin, but it also included translating the text of each song. While this translation work is far from complete (here I must credit my mother for her extensive help), it so far has yielded several and sometimes unexpected rewards.

On a purely musical level, it is worth noting that although my grandfather's control of individual pitches was shaky at best (he was, after all, about 90 years old at the time the recordings were made), his sense of key and pitch center was quite consistent. Here are two short excerpts of my grandfather singing the song from which the title of this blog is derived. The first was recorded in 1999, when he was 89 years old, and the second was recorded three years later in 2002, just two years before he passed away. Apart from the variation in melody and with the exception, perhaps, of a few microtones, the key is the same.

Whether it was because of the muscle memory he developed during his long lifetime of singing the same songs (most other songs fall between the keys of F and A-flat), or perhaps because of a more inherent sense of absolute pitch, this phenomenon is remarkable for a man his age (Elliott Carters of the world excepted), especially one without any musical training. If the former is true, then it highlights the frequency with which my grandfather sang these songs and therefore their importance to him.

Musical peculiarities aside, the songs offer a wealth of information about my grandfather's life as well as insight into his personality. Apart from a few phrases, I never spoke or understood Lithuanian before my grandfather passed away in 2004. Despite having lived in the United States for over fifty years, he spoke only broken English, and any conversation I ever had with my grandfather was either through my mother or limited to short phrases. Furthermore, I only saw him for two or three weeks out of the year, and I certainly didn't have as many questions for him then as I do today.

My grandfather left Lithuania when he was 30 years old, just after he married my grandmother, Adelina. It is no wonder then, that the love and lost youth which dominate the largest group of songs are embodied by imagery from Lithuania. In the recordings he sings of smoking with his brothers (all of whom he never saw again), bathing in the local river, and of his many loves. In most cases, the latter of these is compared to or represented by different plants or flowers. For instance, in one song he sings that he "planted many flowers- some blossomed, some did not," and in another he sings of the flax he planted on the river embankment: "it grew... it bloomed... I pulled it out of the ground... I took it home." The tone of these songs is usually nostalgic, and he frequently notes that the loves he had eventually vanished and that his youthful days will never return.

My grandfather grew up during the first period of Lithuanian independence, a relatively peaceful time which ended when the Soviet army occupied Lithuania in June, 1940. This development is clearly echoed in a song about a bittersweet spring. In the song, he sings about how the weather is beautiful in the spring and that flowers are bursting from their buds, to which he adds that "our brothers are saddling the horses" and that "one can hear the sounds of swords."

In March of 1941, my grandfather and grandmother, along with their infant son, Julius, Jr., left Lithuania. During the ten years that followed, they lived as displaced persons (DPs), eventually ending up in Germany. Towards the end of WWII, my grandfather was absorbed into the masses of foreign labor used to fuel the waning German war industry, and the family was often forced to live in separate parts of the country. The stress of difficult labor and agonizing separation magnified his short temper, which, coupled with his stubbornness, often landed him in prison. "Dainuoju Dainą," the song I discussed at the beginning of this post, is a prisoner's song in which he describes the hard beds, the sounds of chains and shackles, and the unattainable luxury of rest. In this same song, he sheds light on the hopeless uncertainty of he and his family's situation- a gypsy predicts for him a long journey. In another song he reflects upon having been born and raised in Lithuania, but only God knows where he will die, perhaps in Warsaw or in Moscow.

These and the other songs my grandfather sang are, in the end, quite revealing about his personality and about the experiences he constantly revisited and which affected his character throughout his long life. I was pleasantly surprised that over the course of listening to the songs, I discovered things about him which would have otherwise remained uncovered.

And some things about him which were already abundantly clear were reinforced, in particular his fondness for alcohol. In fact, the liquor he made with homemade stills during his time in DP camps made him exceptionally popular and, on more than one occasion, greased the palms of those with the power to make his family's life impossible. Later in life, a dose or two of "medicine" was the only necessary prelude to a performance of these songs, and it is not surprising that booze earned such a prominent place among the most important themes. The last recording of the collection reflects his hard-headedness as much as it does his abundant sense of humor: "I got drunk as a rooster. No one will scare me off."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

About the Librettist

I hadn't mentioned it until now, but I met my librettist, Marija Simona Šimulynaitė, back in October. She's a graduate student in the theater department at the Academy and focuses mainly on theater direction, but she's also a writer and an accomplished dancer (check out this video of her routine in the Lithuanian semi-finals of the Eurovision Dance Contest!). Not only did she enthusiastically agree to write a libretto, but she also offered to direct the production when the time comes.

To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly I was able to find someone willing to work with me. My only real preferences were that he or she speak English to some degree and not be in the midst of a well-established (and hence, hectic) career. After unsuccessfully chasing some leads through my teacher, the Composers' Union, and some of my new friends, I got an e-mail from Marija. She was recommended to me by the head of the Academy's theater deparment, Dr. Algis Mažeika, who was once himself a Fulbright scholar at the University of Kansas.

After getting to know each other a little better during our first meeting, I gave her a copy of the final product of the reasearch I did over the summer: the story of my grandfather's life and a brief history of Displaced Persons Camps after WWII. Because the document has so much important and detailed information and is written in English, I was delighted to discover that Marija speaks English quite well.

But more importantly, I was excited by the energy and enthusiasm she injected immediately into her work. Only a week after our first meeting, she sent me a draft of the first half of Act I (after which I spent two days straight reading it with a Lithuanian-English dictionary in my lap), and today I am writing with the first draft of the entire libretto sitting next to me. What's more is that despite the speed at which she delivered her work, it shows evidence of great consideration of the details decribed in my original document while making light of them creatively through her writing.

Since we have not yet made final any cuts, additions, or edits, I won't give away any details about the libretto just yet, but I can say with confidence that this collaboration is off to a great start.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Love and Other Demons and Many, Many Other Concerts

I woke up on Monday after a two-week concert binge. The 2008 ISCM World Music Days festival finally ended this weekend, and now that I've recovered (somewhat) from my new-music hangover, I will attempt to recall some of the highlights and limit my music criticism to mentioning and providing links to some of my favorites. Be sure to click the link above to see more detail about the concerts and works.

The longest day of the festival was October 25. The first concert began at three in the afternoon and the last note was played at about 3:45 in the morning. The concert by the Lithuanian National Philharmonic included music by Joji Yuasa (Japan), Oscar Carmona (Chile), and Vytautas V. Jurgutis (Lithuania), the latter of which added his own electronic work to Ligeti's Atmospheres. John Adams' Century Rolls was also on the program, and expectedly so, since minimalism, with certain of its characteristics likened to the canonical folk songs sutartinės, holds a special place in modern Lithuanian music.

The following concert, which began at 9:30pm and lasted until 3:45 in the morning, was entitled Procession, and featured both music and food from around the world. Two American composers, Ashley Fure and David Coll, both had works on the program, and Coll gave a spirited presentation at the Academy the morning he headed back to the U.S.

Back-to-back concerts by the Ensemble Modern and the Cello Octet Amsterdam, a Spanish-Dutch group, made for an exceptionally impressive evening. Onutė Narbutaitė wrote works in honor of All Saints Day weekend, and Sunday featured the same work sung simultaneously in at least seven different churches throughout the Old Town (see right). The Strasbourg Percussion gave the premiere of a work by my teacher, Osvaldas Balakauskas, and the group was perhaps most intriguing due to sheer amount of equipment (see left) and noise sharing the stage. The Sound Cube project, hatched at the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, brought a 40-speaker (give or take) surround system and sound engineers from Germany to the Great Hall of the Lithuanian Radio and Television. There was a concert dedicated almost entirely, with the exception of Lithuanian minimalist Rytis Mažulis' music, to the works of fluxus pioneer Jurgis "George" Mačiūnas (check out his Piano Piece No. 13).... and it was packed.

Most relevant to this blog was the sold-out Lithuanian premiere of Peter Eötvös' new opera, Love and Other Demons, based on the book by Gabriel García Márquez. Here I must credit my friends from the Academy for knowing how to get into a sold-out concert, for without them, I would never have seen it. You may think that sneaking into an opera performance sounds a little anachronistic today, but there was, after all, a great deal of nudity. In fact, the lead character of the opera, Sierva Maria, spends most of Act II in her birthday suit. I imagine performance anxiety becomes a non-issue after singing the most tragic aria of the opera "in the raw." As for the music itself, this review is generally positive and reflects many of my opinions. I don't have any pictures from the performance, but the picture to the right was taken during intermission in the Soviet-era National Opera and Ballet Theater, famous for its many chandeliers.

I mentioned less than half of all the concerts I attended, and while I enjoyed (almost) every minute of the festival, I can't include everything here. This was the first such festival I have been lucky enough to attend, and like a 21 year-old on his birthday, I simply overindulged. Someone asked me this morning what I thought of a specific piece on one of earlier concerts of the festival. I responded, "I don't remember. I think I heard too much."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jonas Švedas Festival

With the weather in Vilnius as volatile as it has been this month, I promptly came down with a cold. But the good news is that I got over it just in time for the Third International Jonas Švedas Festival of Folk Instrumental Music, which ran October 7-11. Though the term "international" usually implies a much larger group of countries and regions, the festival featured mainly folk instruments and performers from the Baltics, Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia. Some performances were accompanied by the National Lithuanian Philharmonic, and others were solo performances. And the primary venue of the festival, St. Catherine's Church, made for a visually beautiful (albeit acoustically wet) concert setting.

Without going into a detailed listing of all the performers (there is no longer a festival website, so I can't provide a link), I'll just say that each offered a unique contribution to the zither-heavy festival program. But here are a few examples.

Olga Shishkina (Russia) played a Shostakovich-inspired work by Sergei Oskolkov for gusli and orchestra one evening, and performed a few solo works another. Oksana Kuznetsova and Elena Vorontsova, two Belorussian dulcimerists (wikipedia confirmed that "dulcimerist" is a word), also performed with orchestra (Kuznetsova) and solo (Vorontsova).

Many festival participants played the kanklės, arguably the most iconic Lithuanian folk instrument, but Aistė Bružaitė deserves special mention. She played most of a concerto for kanklės and orchestra by Lithuanian composer Vaclovas Paketūras before her aggressively virtuosic playing fatally snapped a string on the delicate instrument, putting a halt to the rest of the performance. Two days later, after a restringing, she appeared in a duet performance with Jolita Sidorenkaitė (also on the kanklės).

However, my personal favorite of the festival was Irmantas Andriūnas (and I really wish he had a website), who gave an impressive performance on the birbynė. The birbynė is another important Lithuanian instrument (a contender with the kanklės for the title of "national instrument of Lithuania") that featured prominently in the festival, and Andriūnas played three birbynės of different sizes during his performance of Gervių šokiai (Dance of the Cranes), a 15-minute piece by composer Vytautas Germanavičius that includes extended techniques familiar to most saxophonists as well as some unique to the birbynė. I couldn't figure out how to make the podcast option work (any tips from more experienced bloggers would be appreciated), so here are the links to two audio clips of Andriūnas playing a soprano birbynė and a contrabass birbynė. More clips of this piece and works for other instruments are available from this link to Germanavičius' Compositions for Lithuanian National Instruments.

Most of the Lithuanian performers at the festival are students or teachers at the Academy, or else closely affiliated with the Academy, and frequently commission composers to write new works for their instrument. Given their willingness to work with composers, it would be interesting to sit down with one of them to learn more about his or her instrument- not just its traditional usage, but any extended techniques that may have developed in the last few decades.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lithuanian Composers Union

One of the many legacies of the Soviet Union in Lithuania is its socialist engineering of residential spaces. Images of rows of identical block apartment buildings aside, an interesting example of this type of planning in Vilnius is the Lithuanian Composers Union, situated in a quiet neighborhood west of the city center.

The LCU is the major hub for all Lithuanian composers and houses copies of every score, recording, and other publications by its past and current members. The building is also home to the Lithuanian Music Information and Publishing Center, the major promoter of all Lithuanian composers and performers, including popular and folk music. In addition to maintaining a comprehensive website dedicated to its artists, it publishes and rents scores, operates three Lithuanian record labels, and helps to organize major events, including this year's ISCM World Music Days.

Last week, I visited the LCU in hopes of finding some useful materials about Lithuanian music. Linas Paulauskis, the director of the LMIPC, is quiet but extremely helpful. Not only did he offer to connect me with a few possible librettists, but he did not hesitate to lend me scores (some of which were one of only two copies) and recordings of the most recent and, in some cases, unpublished Lithuanian music. For one unpublished and unperformed opera, I was given a photocopy of the manuscript and a recording of the composer himself singing all the vocal parts over a midi realization of the instrumental parts.

Getting back to the main point of this blog post, the most unique thing about the LCU is its surrounding neighborhood, which is made up of a collection modest rowhouses on quiet alleys branching off of the main street. It was in these houses that Lithuania's composers lived together in a relatively isolated artist community. Each of the houses bears a plaque indicating its former composer resident and the years of residence.

In addition to the rowhouses, there stands a much larger apartment building- at least 14 units- which housed no one but composers. Both Osvaldas Balakauskas and Feliksas Bajoras live there. It is hard to imagine a composer who would not have been influenced by his neighbor at some point.

And while today many Lithuanian composers have chosen to move elsewhere as their economic independence increases, at least half of all important composers in Lithuania live next to the Composers Union. It must have been quite an experience to develop alongside every other composer in Lithuania. Given this fact, the diversity among their works should be seen as evidence of extraordinary creativity in what otherwise might have been a compositional melting pot.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Faces of Vilnius

Some of the most interesting things I've seen in Vilnius have been either impromptu or brought to my attention at the last minute through word of mouth or a casual e-mail, and this week was no exception.

Last week, a Fulbright scholar who has been living here for over a year mentioned to me that she participates in weekly folk-singing rehearsals as a hobby and that I might be interested in joining this week. I took her advice and asked Dr. Vyčinienė, a member of the group and a professor at the Academy, if I could sit in. It turns out that the rehearsals take place in the same room as most of the ethnomusicology classes, so I just stuck around after her class ended.

It is one thing to hear a folk-singing performance at a festival or in a concert, but it is quite another to be sitting amidst a group during rehearsal. In what I previously perceived as rather basic tonal progressions and vocal harmonizations, nuances in diction and ornamentation jumped out more and more as I read along. And after the fifth repetition of the melody, it was hard not to join in.

But the fun didn't stop there. Two of the members happened to share a birthday on the day of rehearsal, so halfway through, a spread of sweets, cheese, and a big bottle of brandy was introduced. Somehow this seemed to complete the picture as I remembered how my grandfather, after a few glasses of "medicine," would suddenly recall all the songs he learned in his youth and sing loudly with little or no encouragement. By the end of the rehearsal, whatever timidity or restraint shown initially by anyone had been completely shaken.

Perhaps more interesting, though, was the Vilniaus Veidai (Faces of Vilnius) "non-commercial art festival." The absence of an internet link to the festival is an indication of its underground nature. I was sent an e-mail by my friend and student of Osvaldas Balakauskas, Albertas Navickas, notifying me of the three-day event, which featured music by students at the Academy as well as art exhibits and installations by other young Lithuanian artists.

After following the arrows taped to the sidewalk, I entered the venue, which turned out to be an all-but-abandoned three-story 16th-century monastery attached to a recently renovated church. The crumbling rooms and corridors were eerily lit by colored fluorescent lights powered by a complex extension-cord network. Walls and ceilings were cracked, windows non-existent, floors covered with an inch or two of dust, holes in the floor hastily patched, and any wood exposed to the air thoroughly eaten by dry rot.

However, guests did not seem to mind as they walked through its many drafty halls and up its many crumbling stairs to see artwork tucked away in rooms and other settings that could normally only be reconstructed by a film set designer. And despite the cold one should expect from a windowless (but definitely not window frameless) stone structure around midnight, I was able to hear and see some very good music and multimedia collaborations.

I heard works by students Albertas Navickas, Rūta Vitkauskaitė, Rita Mačiliūnaitė, Andrius Maslekovas, and Vytautas Paukštelis, among others. Maslekovas performed a work for accordion, Mačiliūnaitė sang her own works as well as those by Navickas, and Vitkauskaitė played violin on many of the works, including her own. The only time I thought about leaving the concert was during the high-energy (and high-volume) electronic work by Paukštelis- not because I disliked the music, but more so because I feared for my safety as I watched small pieces of the 500 year-old ceiling fall to the floor when the bass "really kicked in."

Overall, the variety in style of the works I heard was very refreshing. I hope I will get to hear many more performances of student works throughout my stay here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A New Piano, the Seattle Chamber Players, and Art in Unusual Places

The big event for me last week was the purchase of an upright piano- the first piano I've ever purchased. I found it on, the Lithuanian equivalent of Craigslist. After a 3-hour tuning (the lower half of the piano was a whole step flat, while the upper half was only half step flat, which helped the keys of C and D-flat meld into a healthy key of D), I found that the instrument plays quite nicely. It's a "Riga," which is the closest thing to "Vilnius" I could find (there are some "Belarus" pianos, which is technically closer, but they can hardly be considered playable).

A few days later, in a concert sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and the LMTA (Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater), the Seattle Chamber Players presented a program of mostly American music, including works by Alexandra Gardner, John Luther Adams, Nico Muhly, and Mason Bates, but also a work for flute and tape by Lithuanian composer Antanas Kučinskas, who was present in the audience.

After the concert, I joined the performers, along with theory professor Dr. Gražina Daunoravičienė and composer Onutė Narbutaitė, for a late-night dinner. The Seattle Chamber Players were on their way to the Warsaw Autumn festival in Poland, where they would be playing the same program as well as some works with more complicated electronics setups.

Over the weekend, Vilnius held its annual Art in Unusual Places festival, which has been steadily gaining popularity as 2009 nears. In addition to the many visual art installations on display throughout the city (including a 9-foot bust of Tony Soprano), there were two memorable concerts on the festival program.

The first was a concert given by the Chordos Quartet, Lithuania's best-known "new music" string quartet, in the Vilnius train station. During the first work, which was a long, slowly pulsating piece for string quartet and electronics, each member of the group played inside a white air-filled globe. Coupled with the rock-concert stage lighting, it reminded me a lot of the scene in "This is Spinal Tap" when Derek Smalls gets stuck in the clear plastic pod during "Rock n' Roll Creation."

Appropriate to the venue, the Chordos Quartet played Steve Reich's "Different Trains" for the second (and last) work of the concert. Now, free from their white cacoons, they played in front of a giant screen with projections of stock railroad and WWII footage. In spite of the light show that accompanied the work (and I don't think anyone in the audience was given an explanation of the work), it was quite an effective performance of the work.

The other concert I attended was more of a ritual than a concert. Titled "Winter oh Winter Come Back to the Yard," the ceremony represents, as this title suggests, the call for winter to come to Lithuania. It featured "snow" (white balloons), fire jugglers, chants, and original music by composer Mindaugas Urbaitis, who happens to teach the English-language class on Lithuanian contemporary music at the LMTA. His contribution to the ceremony included a piece for two saxophones and a work for a capella choir, which was performed by the seemingly ubiquitous Lithuanian choral group Jauna Muzika.

The fire portion of this ceremony spilled over into the culmination of the festival, the Fall Equinox celebration, which took place Sunday night at the Neris river and featured huge, flaming, traditional Lithuanian textile patterns along the river banks and floating down the river itself. Word has it that an exceptionally cold winter is on its way...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fieldwork Expedition and Folk Music Festivals

Last weekend, I joined some students from the ethnomusicology department for their first fieldwork expedition of the school year. The department rented out a cabin by a lake near the town of Zervynos so their students could have a central base from which to make trips to smaller villages in Dzūkija, the southeastern region of Lithuania. Their goal in the area was to track down as many Lithuanian folk songs as they could in one week's time (I was only able to join them for the weekend), record them, and add them to Lithuania's extensive and ongoing folk-music archive.

I borrowed a bicycle from one of the ethnomusicology professors, took a train to the Zervynos stop (which is literally just a concrete slab, bench, and "Zervynos" sign next to the railroad tracks in the middle of the woods), and rode the bike several kilometers into the woods to meet up with the students. The students had split up into two groups in order to track down singers in the neighboring villages. Most of the time, this search involved little more than a small telephone tip followed by lots and lots of walking and asking around a particular village.

The most fruitful of these searches was in the village of Perloja, where the students originally sought an old woman who was apparently known throughout the village for her singing. After about 15-30 minutes of asking people in the village where she lived, we found her house tucked away on one of the smaller roads. Her husband, Zygmas, answered the door and told us that the woman we wanted to hear was either sick upstairs or out of town to see a doctor (my Lithuanian isn't that refined yet).

The students kept the conversation going, and when Zygmas mentioned he used to sing when he was younger, they seized the opportunity to persuade him to sing. He came up with every excuse he could- he was too old, he couldn't remember any songs, etc.- but the students persisted. After 5 or 10 minutes of coaxing, he invited everyone inside. From there he proceeded to sing, play accordion, show off his drum and cymbal, and show us all the photos documenting his musical life.

The most interesting was his singing, which was exceptionally strong for someone well into his 80s. He sang two partisan songs, one in a minor mode, the other in major. The Lithuanian partisans were those Lithuanians after World War II who chose to put up armed resistance against the occupying Soviet Union. Although this resistance was ultimately unsuccessful and mostly died out during the 1950s, many partisans continued to resist well into the 1970s (some say longer), hiding in the many forests in Lithuania. Zygmas was one of the earliest partisans.

I'm sure the students had countless other experiences just like our meeting with Zygmas, but I unfortunately had to cut my visit short. There will, however, be more expeditions throughout the school year (at least while the weather is still bearable).

In Vilnius, I was able to see some types of folk-music performance a little different than those of the fieldwork expedition. The week was filled by two giant international folk-music festivals, Kolokola and Griežynė, both overlapping (I don't know who schedules these things, but there could have been a little bit more coordination between the organizers of the two). Poor planning aside, I was able to hear several groups, both vocal and instrumental, from all over Eastern Europe.

There were concerts devoted to dance, song, and even some crossover experiments. Particularly interesting was the Lithuanian jaw harp duo, which yielded sounds reminiscent of the twangs, phases, and bleeps of early electronic music. I was both surprised and unsurprised to see Dr. Vyčinienė singing with Lithuania's premiere sutartinė (a type of Lithuanian polyphonic singing) group, Trys Keturiose. She later told me that the group has been singing together for over 20 years.

As I write, the festivals are still in full swing, and I think this is as good a time as any to sign off.

Friday, September 5, 2008

First Week in Vilnius

After moving into my apartment and getting acquianted with the most basic aspects of living in Vilnius, I actually have been able to move ahead quite a bit with the project. I met with most of my contacts, including Rytis Mažulis, the head of the composition department at the Academy, Feliksas Bajoras, and Osvaldas Balakauskas.

I was even able to bring in the recordings of my grandfather's songs to the ethnomusicology department. The head of the department, Dr. Daiva Vyčinienė, listened to each song and described its possible origin, the meaning of the text, and, in the case of the more well-known songs, whether his singing mirrored closely the most widely sung variant of a particular song. Given my grandfather's age (87 and 91) at the time the recordings were made, it was difficult for him to sing without wavering in pitch, but Dr. Vyčinienė assured me that one of her students would help to transcribe both the text and pitches.

This weekend I will be traveling by train and bicycle to villages near the town of Zervynos, in Dzūkija, the southeastern region of Lithuania, to observe (and perhaps participate in) fieldwork done by the ethnomusicology department's students. The students will be traveling in groups to small villages in the area to record some of Lithuania's oldest songs. Dr. Vyčinienė explained to me that because the only people living in Lithuanian villages are quite old, it is important for their students to collect as many songs as possible, since most of the younger people have moved to the cities and are not interested in learning these songs.

On Monday I will find out more about my prospective librettist, and next week I will begin meeting regularly with Prof. Balakauskas and taking a class on Lithuanian music and a Lithuanian language course. I currently do not have regular internet access, but I hope that will change in the near future. Then I'll be able to upload some pictures and write longer and more detailed posts.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Lithuanian Research and Studies Center

Earlier this week I was in Chicago, where I spent most of my time at the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center. My goal was to find out more about Lithuanian opera (the Chicago Lithuanian Opera has been staging operas in Lithuanian for the past 50 years) and, more importantly, about my mother's family's experience in Camp Wehnen, a DP camp in Oldenburg, Germany.

The musicological archives are quite extensive. With the help of Lithuanian-American musician Vyto B (Vytas Beleška), who works in the archives, I browsed through an extensive collection of scores and recordings, including some original manuscripts by some of Lithuania's most important composers. Its collection would be an invaluable resource for anyone doing research on Lithuanian music and composers.

Another real treasure housed in the LRSC is its huge collection of documents from the many DP camps in the Allied occupation zones of post-WWII Germany. Camp regulations, protocols, rosters, school and health records, official correspondence, and myriad other documents relating to Camp Wehnen were kept neatly in chronological order and divided by subject. I found a health record from the month prior to my mother's emigration to the U.S., listing everyone in her family as healthy (an emigration prerequisite that was often hard for refugees to fulfill). After that, a camp school roster listing my aunts and uncle. Next, a list of inhabitants in barrack #9, complete with the names and DP numbers of my grandparents, mother, aunts, and uncle. The list goes on, and every piece of information helped to fill the hole between the stories I heard from my mother and her family, and the places, dates, and other historical facts about which I've been reading lately.

With about three weeks to go before my departure for Vilnius, I now have a healthy amount of information and insight into what it meant to be a displaced person in the wake of such a catastrophic war, but, as is the case with any subject into which a researcher delves deeper and deeper, there will always be more to discover.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Capital of Culture

2008-09 promises to be an eventful time in Vilnius. Along with Linz, Austria, the city has been designated the 2009 European Capital of Culture, a title which has been passed among EU cities every year since 1985. This title will enable Vilnius to host an extraordinary number of events, including concerts, festivals, exhibits, etc. Here is the link to the main music events, which include the Vilnius Opera Festival as well as festivals dedicated to electronic music, jazz, and chamber music (in addition to all the regular concert seasons in Vilnius).

And from October 24 to November 8, Vilnius will host the 2008 ISCM World Music Days, which will feature dozens of concerts, discussions, and other events, including several premieres by important composers and performers. The full program is available at the above link.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

An Inaugural Post

There.... the ribbon has been cut. I'll go ahead and fill everyone in with a little more details. I am an American composer of contemporary classical music and for the next year, I will be living in Vilnius, Lithuania, where I've been awarded a 2008-09 U.S. Fulbright grant to compose an opera. The story will be based on my family's experience in Lithuanian Displaced Persons Camps during and after World War II and the music based on the Lithuanian songs of my late grandfather. The title of this blog, meaning "I sing a song," is taken from the first line of one of these songs.

I'll be arriving in Vilnius on August 30 and should be there through the end of May, 2009. I'll be working primarily with Lithuanian composer Osvaldas Balakauskas, but will also be receiving help from composers Feliksas Bajoras, Rytis Mažulis, and possibly others. You can check out their works and bios on the major Lithuanian music promotion site, Music Export Lithuania, which has information on artists from all genres of Lithuanian music.

Before my departure to Vilnius, I'll be doing research related to my family's time in Lithuanian DP camps from 1941-51. This research includes reading literature and articles on the subject, but also (and more importantly) interviews with family members. My plan is to arrive in Vilnius with a fairly well-developed story to present to a Lithuanian librettist (TBA) interested in working with me.

I probably won't post again until the day of my departure draws closer, but feel free to send me your comments or stop by to hear some of my music. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences with all of you.