In the early morning Toronto rush hour, the United Church on the corner near where I live flashes a red neon message for all who happen upon it: Accept how things are, let go of the past, and have faith in what will be. This message melded together with the elated feeling I still had from the evening before from Julgī Stalte’s concert at the Toronto Latvian Centre.
The evening started with a capacity crowd at the annual pig-roast, where the masterful chefs made sure that there was plenty of great food for all. Those partaking in the feast then moved upstairs for the concert. A show of hands revealed that a large and fairly equal number of Latvians and Estonians (and Julgī would likely add Livonians too) had come together – something not much seen in Toronto since the re-independence of the Baltic countries. Concert participants sang Latvian, Estonian and Livonian songs from song sheets and from memory while Julgī alternated between kokle/kannel (Latvian/Estonian) and violin, all the while singing with unbridled vitality. Julgī is larger than life. Her voice booms mighty and her presence fills the room creating anticipation and excitement. Her band mates that evening – event organizer and kannel player Dace Veinberga, Laura Legzdiņa on hand drum, Olavi Kelle on acoustic guitar and Alar Aedma on electric guitar – gave the evening the flavour of a delightful community dance.
Julgī effortlessly switched between Estonian and Latvian to introduce each song. The star of the evening told a few jokes about Estonians and Latvians, which were warmly received with chuckles and smoothed the way for an enjoyable evening. The evening’s highlight was when she had Estonians and Latvians “shaking a leg” with various dances from back home. The long evening came to a close with Julgī wishing that our communities in Toronto would find a way to come together again.
Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians have a shared past of struggle and yet in the face of this, being stubbornly clever in overcoming obstacles. Though at the moment we can give demonstrating for freedom in the Baltics a rest, we can use our energy to celebrate each of our communities together. Let’s look at doing this through shared song festivals, joint Christmas open house events, joint film festivals – the possibilities are endless.
The name Julgī means daring, courageous and brave and I would say in the case of our Julgī, she is the epitome of gumption and spirit. Julgī has given us the great gift of momentum for our communities to find a new dialogue and fresh opportunities to celebrate our heritage together. Though we learn from the past and we may accept the present, we can create the excitement and find the vision and faith within us for what will be.
Maimu Mölder is an active member of the Estonian community where she heads up the week-long retreat „Metsaülikool“ (Forest University) in Muskoka, Ontario. Julgī Stalte played a large role there this year as lecturer and teacher of Livonian songs, dances, rituals and delicious baking.
See also (in Estonian) VIDEO Kohtumisi Metsaülikoolis - Julgī Stalte
Photos: Tauno Mölder, Maimu Mölder
A Livonian’s Gift (1)