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Friendship on Song at Choral Festival

"Hey, Jude, don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Remember to let her into your heart, then you can start to make it better."

It was around 11 pm in Wuxi, East China's Jiangsu Province.

In the coffee bar at a corner of a hotel's lobby, several Israeli women sat singing the above famous Beatles' song to the light accompaniment of a piano.

Gradually, more came into the bar and joined in the singing. One mother brought a little baby. The woman next to the mother played with the quiet baby who sat in the pram.

A few Chinese sat at other tables. They talked quietly, drank and enjoyed the songs while the singers enjoyed themselves with one song after another.

The light songs made the scorching summer night beautiful and cool.

It was the third day of the Seventh China International Chorus Festival which took place in Wuxi from July 26 to August 1.

Every day, members of the Israeli Na'ama Women's Choir reluctantly returned to their rooms after their concerts. Refusing to stop, they would continue singing in the hotel lobby until late at night.

Na'ama was one of the 66 choirs from around the world participating in the biennial festival organized by the Ministry of Culture and the China Arts & Entertainment Group.

With "For Tomorrow -- Peace and Friendship" as the theme, more than 3,300 people from Poland, Israel, the Bahamas, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Latvia and China sang in the scenic lakeside city of Wuxi. They competed for medals, performed at the open-air squares and gave master classes and workshops.

First for Wuxi

The China International Chorus Festival started in 1992 and has become one of the major musical events in the country. The previous six festivals were all held in Beijing and this is the first year that it was moved to Wuxi.

"A decade for an international arts festival is not a very long time," said Zhang Yu, president of the China Arts and Entertainment Group.

"For the China International Chorus Festival, these 10 years have been filled with happy memories. Through choral music, we promote friendship and mutual understanding, we pray for peace and for the future of the world," said Zhang.

Sharing Zhang's sentiments, choirs from both home and abroad bring their songs and leave many smiles.

It was the second time that the Na'ama Women's Choir has taken part in the festival, where they won the gold medal.

Choir member Carmel Ronen, who is also in charge of the marketing and promotion of the choir, said: "We had a very, very nice experience two years ago in Beijing. We fell in love with your country and your people.

"Since then we have wanted to come back and we are happy to have the opportunity to return to the festival," Ronen said. "It's great to perform together and communicate with other choirs from all over the world. We are longing for friendship worldwide and for a long-time relationship with Chinese people. I make this wish now, to come here once more."

Ronen, 36, is the mother who brought her son to the festival. She said two years ago she brought her second son and this time the third boy.

During the festival, singers from different countries and cultural backgrounds met, communicated and made friends.

Na'ama did not feel lonely at the hotel. Some nights, after the performances, the Bahamas National Youth Choir, who stayed at the same hotel, joined in the singing.

One choir's style was lyrical and light, while the other was warm, rhythmic and involved dancing, the two very different approaches met around the piano.

Combining the rich flavors of Latin and African music and a unique choral style which combines singing and dancing, the Bahamas National Youth Choir has been enchanting audiences both at home and abroad for 21 years.

The choir's repertoire focuses on Bahamian folk and popular music, but also includes traditional spiritual and classical selections that have been appreciated in virtually every corner of the globe.

Choir director and founder Cleophas Adderley said the high-caliber performances and the choir's worldwide reputation are the result of a steadfast labor of love spanning two decades.

He describes the choir as a group of remarkable young individuals whose talent and dedication are the driving force behind its success. "Once the music has captured them, they become hooked," says Adderley. "They are so talented naturally. I'm just bringing out what God has given them."

Since its establishment in 1983, the youth choir has toured Canada, the United States, England, Scotland, France, Russia, China, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The choir can sing in 18 languages, including Japanese, Mandarin and six African tongues. They performed the Chinese national anthem at the festival, winning applause from the jury and the audience.

"We have a standard which we have set high enough to perform on a level that's exemplary, no matter who's in the audience," he says.

Chinese choirs gave wonderful performances at the festival. Four of them won gold medals. The Shanhe Choir from the host city won a silver and a bronze medal.

Founded in September 2000, Wuxi Shanhe Choir has 80 members with an average age of 59. "The members include bosses and blue-collar couples, but what they have in common is that they love to sing," said Xu Peihua, director of the choir.

Xu is a retired union chairwoman. She launched the choir and brings its members together every weekend.

One of the jury members, Eugeniusz Kus, artistic director and conductor of the Poland University Choir of Szczecin, thinks highly of the Chinese choir's performance.

"I once heard Chinese choirs' singing in Poland and was impressed by their passionate and harmonious voices. This time, I heard more and most of them have their own characteristics."

Yang Hongnian, another jury member, the conducting professor of the China Central Conservatory of Music, also praised the fast development of Chinese amateur choirs.

"I have served on the jury many times in the past. In the first few years, we mostly had women's choirs and children's choirs. Now we have more and more composed of men and senior citizens. And their artistic level has been greatly improved to sing without accompaniment."

Feng Wanzhen, secretary-general of the China Federation for Choral Music, said: "In the first few festivals, the Chinese choirs had very limited repertoires. Now they can sing a rich variety of songs, including some foreign songs."

Whether in madrigals or choral symphonies, opera or oratorio, religious songs, sea shanties or rugby songs, choral singing is central to music.

While certain styles obviously require a solo performance, others seem to call out for the joining together of many voices. The chief element is a unanimity of spirit and emotion which a group of people can only express by making music.

(China Daily August 11, 2004)


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