I moved to Latvia in 2015 because of its rich musical tradition, its high standards for performance, and the passion of its people for choral music. As a conductor and singer, there was nowhere else in the world where I could find such a thrilling place to make music. My fiancee moved to Latvia in 2013 for a different reason - as the granddaughter of refugees who fled Latvia after the Second World War, she came here to fulfill a dream that was impossible for her parents and grandparents for almost 50 years.

As I have become a member of my fiancee’s family, I have learned about the experience of her father, her grandparents, and their peers. Mara’s grandparents escaped the Soviet occupation in search of a better life; they each spent time in displaced persons camps in Germany before meeting and raising their family in the United Kingdom. Thousands of others found new lives in countries throughout the world: the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Venezuela. They adapted to their new nations and became leaders in their fields: Vaira Viķe-Freiberga was a refugee; Vilis Vītols was a refugee. But all the while, they hoped for their homeland - freedom from occupation, better opportunities for those still at home, and the chance to return to an independent Latvia.

The experiences of Latvian refugees in the 20th century have echoed throughout history, in the experiences of Algerian refugees in the 1980s, Cubans in the 1990s, and Syrians today. With nowhere to turn and no recognizable home, they are forced to flee in search of a better life. And in the experience of Latvia’s refugees and in world’s response, we can see a model for how we should react today. The world opened its arms to Latvian refugees in the 1940s, and the Latvians took the opportunity to use their skills and talents to benefit their new nations. In opening our arms to those fleeing war in the Middle East and Africa, we open ourselves to the benefits of their intelligence, skills, and rich cultural backgrounds. While there are of course careful considerations to be made in the process, the benefits of helping these immigrants are limitless.

In a new musical project together with the prominent British composer Gabriel Jackson, we hope to show the universal nature of the refugee experience by comparing texts from Syrian refugees with texts from exiled Latvians in the mid-20th century. This new work, to be performed by four talented singers in Riga in 2017, will challenge audiences to consider what the world’s response was to the refugee crisis in the 1940s, and what our response should be today. And while the piece will tell the story of Latvian refugees, it will have a universal message, one which will be later performed throughout the world in those places most affected by the refugee crisis.

We have a lot to learn from the stories of these Latvian refugees, and Gabriel and I hope that this new project will help to spread this important message. But this project will not happen without public support: there is a substantial cost to create, rehearse, and perform a new piece of music on this scale. We ask you to consider supporting the project by making a donation to our crowdfunding campaign. Your contribution will allow us to tell these beautiful, challenging stories to audiences throughout the world, and to help in some small way to bend the world toward love, empathy, and openness.

Thank you for reading, happy holidays, priecīgus svētkus,

Christopher Walsh

Christopher Walsh, 19.12.2016, People, History, Society