Dark Is the Night and Green Is the Grass (Tumša nakte, zaļā zāle). 2023, Latvian folk song, SATB, 3’30”, in Latvian with English translation. Dedicated with gratitude, respect, and love to Christopher Walsh Sinka and the Riga Project Choir.

In Latvia in October 2022 for performances of The Arc in the Sky by the Riga Project Choir, Jackie and I were able to spend a good deal of time with the choir and with their director, Christopher Walsh Sinka. Highlights of the trip, beyond the fabulous performances, included post-rehearsal and post-concert parties at Chris and Māra’s place in Riga, filled with singing, mostly of Latvian folk songs.

We turned down the offer of a private car from Riga to Daugavpils and back, opting instead to travel with the choir by bus for that concert: that decision (Chris asked, “Are you sure?”) led to perhaps the highlight of the trip, the song- and liquid-refreshment-filled trip back to Riga with an almost unbreakable serenade of music (complete with guitar and accordion, which appeared as if by magic). When we entered the bus in the morning, looking for two seats together, many of the seats were already taken. We ended up very near the back (Chris, who saw where we were settling, asked: “Are you sure?”): this would be ground-zero for the festivities.

One of the most haunting, and to my ears, most Latvian-sounding of the folk songs is this one, Dark Is the Night and Green Is the Grass. When I told Chris that I would like to arrange a folk song for them as a gift, I was overjoyed when he suggested this one. I had forgotten the name of it, but it was of this that I was thinking. They already sing a setting by the revered Latvian choral composer and folk song collector Emilis Jūlijs Melngailis. It is gorgeous and they don’t need another. Yet for this, from me to them, each of the voice parts gets a chance to sing the tune. In the fifth verse the tune is passed among all the voices.

(It can be sung in Latvian or in English. Here is a Latvian pronunciation guide. Note that diphthongs in Latvian are sung differently than in English; each letter is pronounced. “Laidu” is sung la-ee-du: if a dotted quarter on lai, sing a quarter on la then an eighth on i. If two eighths on liela, sing one eighth each on li and e.)

1. Dark is the night and green is the grass,
I left my horse in the field. [repeat]

2. Now, God, it is your will,
Now, God, it is in your hands.

3. Now it is in your hands,
My good horse is in your hands.

4. So much fog and heavy dew,
I have lost my horse.

5. Fog falls away, the dew now falls away,
I have found my horse.

1. Tumša nakte, zaļa zāle,
laukā laidu kumeliņu,
tumša nakte, zaļa zāle,
laukā laidu kumeliņ’.

2. Nu, Dieviņi, tava vaļa,
nu tavāi rociņāi,
nu Dieviņi, tava vaļa,
nu tavāi rociņā.

3. Nu tavāi rociņāi
manis labis kumeliņis,
nu tavāi rociņāi
manis labis kumeliņ’.

4. Migla, migla, liela rasa,
man pazuda kumeliņis,
migla, migla, liela rasa,
man pazuda kumeliņ.

5. Nokrīt migla, nokrīt rasa,
es atradu kumeliņu,
nokrīt migla, nokrīt rasa,
es atradu kumeliņ.