This Saturday at 8 p.m. the University of Nebraska at Omaha will be hosting Saule Folk Ensemble.
The folk group is from Lithuania’s Siauliai University and they will be going on a 10-day tour of the Midwest. While the tour is a great opportunity for one culture to share it’s music with another, the Saule tour means even more than that to UNO and the School of Music.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha has more than 30 sister universities from around the globe, but it’s relationship with Lithuania and Siauliai university is a particularly strong one. Part of what fosters this strong bond is the sharing of music.
Much like Saule is doing this week, UNO has been sending groups to Lithuania to tour since 1998. Dr. Pete Madsen, coordinator of jazz studies at UNO, took his first trip to Lithuania in 2003. The tour took Madsen and the UNO jazz group not only to Lithuania, but also to Latvia, Estonia and Finland. Madsen says it was then he fell in love with the countryside, the people and the culture.
“Our Lithuanian hosts really went all out for us on that trip. We performed at the Klaipeda Jazz Festival, which is the biggest jazz festival in the Baltics. It is on the coast of the Baltic Sea and absolutely gorgeous.” Madsen said. “Our band opened up for Maynard Ferguson. We also visited the capital of Vilnius and quite a few other smaller cities and villages.”
Ben Tweedt is a music student at UNO, he went to Lithuania with the UNO jazz combo in 2013 and He says they got to hear Suale perform a couple different times during the tour. “It was really interesting…they played traditional music and wore traditional outfits. They are really good at what they do,” Tweedt said. Dr.
Thomas Roland is a music professor at UNO and he says international exchanges offer opportunities for greater understanding and appreciation with disparate cultures and people.
“Such broader understanding can foster personal and professional growth for individuals and hopefully more openness, acceptance, and peaceful interaction between cultures,” Roland said. “Both in my personal travels and travels with students I am always amazed and happy to see how individuals from sometimes very different backgrounds and cultures can connect, communicate and develop lifelong friendships.”
The interaction and growth of students and professors alike is an important part of this social exchange. Madsen says he really likes seeing the interaction that takes place between UNO students and Lithuanian students.
“We always try to figure out how to perform together and that’s a blast. Our jazz band has performed with their choirs, and UNO choirs have done joint performances with Siauliai University choirs,” Madsen said. “It’s a lot of fun and a great musical experience for students from both universities.”
Madsen says that the performances of the UNO jazz group in 2003 were some of the first ever jazz performances in Lithuania.
“That was only a decade after the Iron Curtain finally fell. Prior to the early 1990’s American jazz would have been frowned upon by the Soviet regime,” Madsen said. Siauliai University doesn’t have a jazz program or even an instrumental program like we do at UNO. But everyone sings and everyone dances.”
Saule Folk Ensemble was formed in 1972 and the group has performed all over the world. The group consists of more than 40 students, professors, ensemble veterans, lecturers and schoolteachers. The traditional repertoire of Saule mostly consists of love songs, wedding, youth and romance songs. In addition to the performance at UNO, Saule will be sharing a performance with the UNO jazz band at the dance for the Omaha Jitterbugs.
“Saule will take a set and teach us all how to do Lithuanian folk dances,” Madsen said. There is a tradition between Siauliai and UNO that every time their ensembles meet there is a friendly game of basketball.
Madsen is in charge of the itinerary for the Lithuanians while they are here and sure enough a basketball game is placed right into the scheduled events.
When the UNO jazz combo was in Lithuania in 2013 the Lithuanians were victorious, but now with the home court advantage the Mavericks might just have a chance.