One of the downsides of living in a foreign country is that it can be difficult to get involved with local community groups such as choirs. This is not the case in Shanghai, however, with the International Festival Chorus bringing together people from the foreign and domestic communities with one of the aims being to create great music.
From Bach, Stravinsky, Mozart and Rachmaninov to China's very own much-loved Yellow River Cantata, the chorus has performed a broad variety of pieces in some of China's top venues. These have included Beijing's Forbidden City Concert Hall and Shanghai's Lyceum Theater and the Oriental Art Center's Concert Hall.
"The IFC's composition is unique in the world," explains Kerrie Smit, IFC Shanghai's publicity director.
"It is a chorus that draws singers from many different backgrounds to combine the strong musical traditions of China with Beijing and Shanghai's diverse international communities."
Smit, from Australia, continues: "Due to the transient nature of our choir members, auditions are held throughout the year. We recently completed a round of auditions for our upcoming performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Buran in collaboration with the San Jose Ballet."
Explaining the origins of the choir Smit says: "The IFC was founded in Beijing and later expanded to Shanghai."
IFC is a not-for-profit volunteer group, founded in 2002 by Beijing-based British conductor Nicholas Smith with the aim of promoting choral music in China.
"The IFC's musical programs are selected to balance musical innovation with local musical tastes and sensitivities," continues Smit.
IFC performances have include Bach's St Matthew's Passion, Poulenc's Gloria, Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, Lambert's The Rio Grande and Thomas Tallis's 40-part Spem in Alium.
Smit joined the IFC in December 2006. With some classical training she was looking for a way of getting involved in a singing group here in Shanghai.
"Prior to auditioning and singing with the IFC, my knowledge of classical music was sketchy, I'm still in awe of some of the talent in our choir," she says. Now the 36-year-old works on a voluntary basis for the choir.
The IFC is run by a voluntary committee made up of both expat and local Chinese: "Together we handle every aspect of performing in Shanghai and we all sing too."
The IFC's next performance will be with the San Jose Ballet Company at the Shanghai Grand Theater on May 22-23.
"The IFC will be singing the music of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana and the dancers will perform the ballet. We need to present a choir of 70 singers for this performance so we're interested in inviting for audition those who have experience in singing this challenging piece," enthuses Smit.
Describing what they are looking for she says: "A good singer has a good ear and knows their own voice; they are also prepared to keep learning new techniques to improve their sound."
For auditions, singers need to present a prepared piece, sing some warm-ups and do a little sight-singing.
"Previous training isn't mandatory but it's advisable as it helps you to sing for hours without exhausting your throat; to project enough volume, where required and without straining, to blend your voice with the choir and to sing in a style appropriate to the era of the composition," she explains.
There is a team of coaches who refine the choir's sound as it rehearses for each performance.
The choir is now looking for new members, ideally those who have a vocal style that may otherwise be missing from the choir.
"And if someone auditions and they don't get through the first time, we can put them in touch with a singing teacher or refer them to other choirs to gain experience and then they're more than welcome to audition again," she adds.
The IFC Shanghai Committee feels strongly about the development of classical music traditions in China.
"When we present a concert, we aim to contribute to Chinese society much more than just the beautiful music."
The next general auditions will take place in June.
(Shanghai Daily May 7, 2008)