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The Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces – Celebrating song and dance in Latvia

By Captain Matt Zalot, Task Force Latvia Public Affairs Officer –

Every five years, Latvians head to the capital city Riga and partake in the celebration of their culture through a massive display of song and dance. This year, 32 members of the Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces (CBCAF) were proud to participate in the XXVI Latvian Song and XVI Dance Celebration from July 1-8, 2018, at the invitation of the Latvian National Guard Orchestra. The celebration itself culminated in a massive event at the Mezaparks Bandstand that featured thousands of performers in front of a crowd of more than 60,000 spectators.

The Central Band’s introduction to Latvian culture coincidentally began on Canada Day, and featured the marching band parade through the streets of Riga alongside thousands of local dancers, singers and bands, most of whom were dressed in traditional Latvian attire. Under the leadership of Commanding Officer (and conductor) Captain John Fullerton, the Central Band practiced extensively with elements from the Central Military Band of the Latvian National Armed Forces and the National Guard Orchestra, a reserve component of the Latvian military. Over the following week, the Central Band performed in a number of locations throughout Latvia.

“The Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces was proud to perform with the Central Military Band of the Latvian National Armed Forces as well as the Latvian National Guard Orchestra at the prestigious Song and Dance Celebration,” said Capt Fullerton. “It was truly a unique experience to perform among so many talented musicians, singers, and dancers.”

For pianist Sergeant Natalia Lerner, the trip to Latvia had special meaning. Born in Russia to Latvian parents, she spent her formative years living in Riga before moving to Canada, where she studied music and later joined the CAF. Having a Latvian speaker in the band provided an instant connection with their audiences, and allowed an ease of communication that would have been otherwise impossible. A number of local and national news outlets spoke with
Sgt Lerner, and she was part of a Central Band ensemble that performed on a morning television show with members from the Latvian National Guard Orchestra.

The Central Band’s responsibilities didn’t end when the Song and Dance Celebration concluded on July 8, 2018. The Change of Command of the Canadian-led multinational NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Latvia took place on July 12, 2018, with Lieutenant-Colonel Sean French transferring command to Lieutenant-Colonel Steve MacBeth at Camp Ādaži. In front of soldiers from nine NATO nations – Latvia, Albania, Canada, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain – the Central Band proudly led the marching troops around the parade square during a morning ceremony that also commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Battle Group’s presence in Latvia.

The members of the Central Band spent their final days in Latvia performing in the cities of Daugavpils and Smiltene before returning to Ottawa. The trip was a valuable cross-cultural opportunity and provided a memorable experience for participants in the Song and Dance Celebration, for those citizens that attended their concerts, and of course for the CBCAF members themselves.

Photo: 12 WING IMAGING SERVICES/ Master Corporal Alexandre Paquin

This post is also available in: Français (French)

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