Building Bridges

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It’s been an eventful summer.

While millions of people around the world were gearing up for the FIFA World Cup, which was held this past June and July in Brazil, there were also several other significant international gatherings set to kick off. From July 9-19, overlapping with the FIFA World Cup’s championship match, some 27,000 choristers from 73 nations around the world gathered in Riga, Latvia for the World Choir Games. This tenth edition of the event, which takes place in a different corner of the world every two years and was last hosted by Cincinnati, Ohio in 2012, featured some 450 choirs (among them more than 25 from the U.S.) in a simply immense mass of competitions, performances, and exhibitions. The World Choir Games declares its mission to be to “peacefully unify singing people and nations connected by song in a fair competition.”

Latvia was a natural destination for a gathering of this sort, considering that it is part of a region that has a tremendously rich choral tradition. (For more on the historical importance of choral traditions in Northeastern Europe, check out the documentary The Singing Revolution, which chronicles the overthrow of Soviet tyranny in Estonia, Latvia’s neighbors to the north, largely through the use of song as a means of mobilizing the population in non-violent protest.)

And a month after that, the tenth World Symposium on Choral Music took place in Seoul, South Korea (from August 6-13). The 2014 edition of this triennial gathering that falls under the umbrella of the International Federation of Choral Music had the theme of “Healing and Youth.” Although it doesn’t boast the same volume of participation as the World Choir Games, the WSCM is still a unique gathering of some of the finest choral conductors and performers in the world. And its goal is similar to that of the WCG: to use the “universality of choral music to mend gaps between nations.”

Globally inclusive choral events like the World Choir Games and World Symposium on Choral Music serve as a refreshing reminder that both similarities and differences between cultures can be celebrated peacefully and respectfully. While choral traditions around the world can vary dramatically, there are also a great number of obvious similarities within the art form, and recognizing those can help foster understanding and mutual appreciation.

As news of strife and discord, both abroad and at home, continues to dominate the headlines, whether in Gaza, Syria, or Ferguson, Missouri, the opportunity to engage students and, through music, expand their horizons and broaden their understanding just may prove to be an invaluable tool towards promoting a more tolerant, respectful, and peaceful society.

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