I’ve kinda sleep-walked through a major event that has been held in Riga over the past ten days. As part of Riga being the European Capital of Culture this year, the biennial World Choir Games has been held here. It has been a fantastic affair, with choirs coming from the four corners of the earth – including a huge contingent from China, so I am told. Sadly, for various reasons and despite my best intentions, I was not able to attend any of the events that have taken place – until Saturday, that is.
Somebody took pity on me and offered to give me a spare ticket they had for the closing ceremony which was held in the enormous Ice Hockey arena. As the evening began, it was particularly poignant to be part of an international audience that stood for a moment’s silence as a sign of respect for all those who had been killed in the Malaysian airline tragedy.
The event then continued with a contribution from a huge choir of children. The first of their medley of songs guaranteed that I would be hooked for the rest of the evening, ‘Auld Lang Syne’. I joined in with gusto, and, not for the last time during the evening indulged in a bout of nostalgia.
The evening went on to include a parade of the flags of all the countries who had been represented at the games, a staggering seventy-three in total! There were the usual speeches from various dignitaries, the tolling of a large bell for each of the five continents, and lots of singing. Although a choir drawn from many countries sang, a lot of the contributions were karaoke-style with the words up on giant screens so that everyone could join in. By the end of the evening loads of young people had gathered in the main arena and were dancing and generally enjoying themselves as we sang through songs from around the world. A particular favourite seemed to be a medley of ABBA songs. The evening concluded with Michael Jackson’s ‘We are the world’. It was an exhilarating, exciting and inspiring evening. It was also very thought-provoking on a number of levels.
It seems an incredibly obvious thing to say, but I was struck by the way that songs and singing touch the emotions at a deep level. Particularly at the end of the evening as the audience, a lot of whom were young people, were singing ‘We are the world’ I felt their passionate, idealistic intention to really make the world a better place. It reminded me again, if I needed reminding, of why song is such a powerful way for Christians to express their love and reverence for God.
As the flags of the different nations were brought into the arena, and people cheered and clapped, I was reminded of the ‘back’ story to some of these nations. Korea, Iran, Israel, Ukraine, to name but a few, conjured up thoughts of present difficulties, disagreements and struggles, whilst the flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina brought to mind atrocities committed in the not too distant past. Only that morning I had been listening to a BBC correspondent who has reported from the Middle East for many years, saying, if I understood him correctly, that he cannot remember the situation there being as fraught as it appears to be at the moment …..So, amidst the celebrations and the cheering, these different, quite opposing thoughts were passing through my mind. In Riga, for ten days or so, singing, and the camaraderie it brings took centre stage, but back home, for some of the participants, ‘wars and rumours of war’ stubbornly remain. I really didn’t get much further than that in my reflections save to hope that individuals, making lasting personal relationships across national boundaries during this unique event, might just contribute to making the sentiments of ‘We are the World’, sung with such gusto, come a little closer.
‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out’ John 1:5 (GNT)
* According to my Google search, this is a quote from Martin Luther