Accepted Paper:

Marketing the identity of "singing nation": economic strategies of maintaining the Song festival tradition in Soviet Latvia  


Sergei Kruk (Riga Stradins University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper investigates the economic and administrative tactics used by music professionals to motivate and constrain the common people to sing in choirs. What was considered a genuine folk tradition was turned into a professional cultural venue event creating jobs for academically educated musicians.

Paper long abstract:

Apologists of cultural nationalism argue that the cultural tradition is self-perpetuating. They consider culture rather as a structure shaping behaviour of social actors. Latvians identify themselves as the 'singing nation': singing in a local choir and participating the Song festival every five years is said to be the natural expression of collective identity. Analysis of the archival documents on local level cultural activities demonstrates however that the idea of self-organisation of the ethnic community around the putative cultural values is exaggerated. Whereas there were strong choirs with long lasting traditions of a joint action many people were unwilling to invest their material resources in keeping the tradition preferring singing contemporary songs in small ensembles. Professional musicians and culture administrators pressed the government and management of enterprises to provide the eventual singers with different kinds of material stimuli. Professionals convinced the government that the Song festival was an important ideological event strengthening the collectivist Soviet identity. The generous financial and political support allowed maintaining of numerous amateur choirs which permitted selection of the best groups able to reach high professional standards of performance. The academically educated musicians, on their turn, could satisfy their professional ambitions by composing sophisticated scores for a capella choirs.

This paper returns the social actor in the process of maintenance of tradition. Cultural tradition can not be reified; it does not possess an intrinsic homogenising force. Rather these are concrete social actors who select some cultural stuff, define it as a component of identity and perpetuate it resorting to the help of institutions possessing real powers.

Panel P21
Collective creativity in everyday life: civil activity between hegemonic structures and flows of ideas