"Atkārtot!": Speaking up at Work.

Posted by jlubans on July 10, 2013

I’ve been immersed in Latvia’s quinquennial Song and Dance Festival.
This weeklong celebration – nationally televised from start to finish - of Latvian song, dance, music, theater, art and crafts involves approximately 40,000 performers. Every community in Latvia sends its best to take part in DZIESMU SVĒTKI in the capital city, Riga. And, Latvians from all over the world converge on the city and fill its streets, literally, with dance and song. The grand finale features a community-sing* with audience and choirs holding forth until 6.30AM the next day.

Caption: At sunset in the Mežaparks concert bowl, 10.30PM, the audience and the 14,000 singers, just getting started.

At the final song concert, held outdoors with 14,000 singers, led by ten or more male and female conductors*, I observed an unusual practice. After a particular song, one that went especially well, the choir would chant "Atkārtot!" to the conductor. You can hear it here, and, even better, here, asking to repeat the highly patriotic song “Saule, Pērkons, Daugava” (Sun, Thunder, and the mighty river Daugava.)
My young cousin Ivars tells me that this chant is more about self-expression, “We want to repeat” than it is a command to the conductor. In my experience in the classical music world, I have never seen an orchestra say much of anything (with the notable exception of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, of course).
If there are to be encores, the conductor decides. If a particular piece goes well, the audience – in Italy, for example – may ask for it to be sung again. So, to have the performers feel this strongly and then express their desire is something I, frankly, like very much.

Why do I like it? Because of what "Atkārtot!" says about the relationship between the nominal leader – the conductor – and those being led – the followers. Getting people to speak up is one of management’s biggest challenges; not speaking up in the workplace is more the norm. Here’s an insightful note from Ivars: “As this fest's grand finale is like a party after the 5-year work for the choirs, I guess they are feeling not that much as the performers but more like a part of the audience.” (Emphasis added.)

And I like what "Atkārtot!" says about the followers. This kind of follower has her own mind – she knows a good thing when she hears it. These followers have internal standards to which they aspire. Internal is the key word here. Knowing you’ve done a good job is as much a personal realization as it is something for which you receive external recognition. These followers are analytic and they love – as does the conductor – what they are doing. When something goes really well, they want more of it.
"Atkārtot!" is remarkable because it confirms the trust between leader and follower. The conductors (half were women – this is Latvia, remember!) are publicly honored by the choirs. After the conductor leads the singing of a song, several of the choir members run up to the conductor’s platform and present him or her with flowers, smiles and hugs. You can see that at the end of the clip.
What does this have to with work? With working in libraries?
If we enjoy what we do and we do something really well, would it not be nice to do it again, that the accomplishment be recognized by one and all? If we have been well led, then let the boss know. Maybe we do not do the flowers and the hugs but we surely can smile and offer thanks. This is part of a realization that all – each and every one of us - have done a good job and that it is worth taking the time to celebrate the achievement. "Atkārtot!" brings to mind the Taoist and early anarchist, Lao Tzu: “The great leader is he who the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’"

*NOTE: In Latvian, conductor is “Diriģents”. While translated as conductor, the Latvian word may have some etymological nuances not associated with our (English-speaking) interpretation of the word.

*Two views of the community sing taken at 3AM. Perspective is from the side of the stage looking out into the audience. From a friend and colleague who was there:


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