Latvian leaders look to Cincinnati for World Choir Games organizational ideas

CINCINNATI - When the leaders of Riga, Latvia, leave the 2012 Cincinnati World Choir Games to head home, they'll likely be carrying notebooks filled with countless ideas on how to stage a successful event.

"We were like students," said Zaneta Jaunzeme-Frende, Latvia's Minister of Culture, in describing her two-week stay.  "We learned a lot."

Many of the ideas likely revolve around Cincinnati's use of 5,000 volunteers to operate the Queen City games.  Riga, a city of 700,000 residents on the Baltic sea, is the host in 2014.

"The volunteer culture is much more developed here in the U.S. than back home in Riga," said Riga Mayor Nil Ushakov.  "We will definitely try to do something like that."

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory officially passed the games' flag to Mayor Ushakov during Saturday's Closing Ceremony at U.S. Bank Arena.  They rang a peace bell together.

"It will be a great challenge for us to do the same way as already done in Cincinnati," said Ushakov.

The seven-member vocal group "Latvian Voices" -- one of the choirs crowned a Champion -- performed in beautiful harmony.  "My Song," the official song of the 2014 Riga World Choir games, was played as spectacular images of the Latvian capital were shown on large video screens.

Riga is home for one-third of its country's diverse population and will be the Culture Capital of Europe in 2014 when the World Choir Games are held.  

The city is already known for its rich musical heritage, especially the Song and Dance Festival, which was founded in 1873 and is held every five years.

"One thing about choir culture is it's part of our nation," Ushakov said.  "We have an experience with organizing on a regular basis choir games with more than 30,000 participants."

However, watching and learning in Cincinnati produced ideas other than just the volunteers.  Mayor Mallory and Cincinnati city leaders sat down with the Latvian delegation Thursday to compare notes.

"I hope that somebody from Cincinnati can join our volunteer program," said Diana Civle, Director of the 2014 Riga World Choir Games.

Without a doubt the people from Riga liked what they saw in Cincinnati.

"You feel yourself like a part of a huge family when you move around, when you participate in events and when you just see people in the hotel lobby singing ahd having fun," said Ushakov.  "It was really days of harmony and this feeling is what we really need as part of our organization procedure."

The Latvians noted how public transportation was used to move people.  They were urged to make sure they have enough phones and personnel to have questions from the public quickly answered.  Cincinnati organizers received 24,000 calls.

Mallory said the logistics will all be worked out, but that the World Choir Games has to permeate the fabric of the Latvian culture and society.

"Mister Mayor, you are receiving a wonderful gift -- what I call the gift to humanity, the gift of music, the ability to bring people together across differences, across lands and across political ideology," he said.  

Cincinnati leaders have been invited to Riga in 2014, but it's a safe bet that numerous e-mails and telephone calls will be exchanged as the dates of the competition draw closer.

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