A Little History
The Greeley Chorale was planning on traveling to some amazing international destination in the year 2000 and Italy was high on the list. China was a country that was just beginning to warm up to concert tours from the West at that time. An opportunity was presented to Dr. Carl Gerbrandt by way of Peter Lam, (who was working with Kingsway International Concerts at the time) for a singing engagement in China. Being the true trailblazer that he was, Dr. Gerbrandt convinced the Chorale that this was the opportunity of a lifetime and that plans should adjust accordingly. One year later, The Greeley Chorale was off to the exotic land of China!
"The traditional music and the vibrant, colorful costumes lent a unique authenticity to the performance that gave it that extra WOW! factor."
After a very long flight across the Pacific Ocean, with a small layover in Tokyo, Japan, the Chorale reached its first stop in Beijing. The city itself is vast beyond comprehension. The history contained in the region is astounding and overwhelming. We visited the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace and an impressively restore section of the Great Wall to the north. Our first 2 concerts were presented at the Beijing Concert Hall with an emotionally charged performance of the Mozart Requiem, accompanied by the Beijing Opera Orchestra. The room was filled with sweltering heat and humidity, and (at least the first night) not very many people. Along with the Requiem, the second half of the concert presented a variety of Americana tunes including Oh Susanna. It was remarkable to learn that of all the music that has come from America, this one tune was known almost universally by the Chinese people! Needless to say, word spread quickly of our performance and the second night’s performance saw the Concert Hall packed to standing room only accommodation!
Two more sightseeing stops took us to the Temple of Heaven (also known as the Harvest Temple) and the famous Hutong neighborhood near the Forbidden City. This remarkable rickshaw ride back in time allowed us see how life might have been during the dynastic periods of China rule. The people were so friendly and accommodating and the lunch experience we had there was truly memorable!
A plane ride from Beijing to Shanghai, and a 1-hour bus ride brought us to the Silk Capital and cultural center of China. This amazing city is also the Venice of China, with much of the city accessible by way of the Grand Canal waterways. These waterways are also used extensively to transport goods from Shanghai to region in the North and West. We took a tour on the Grand Canal and saw the charming life and the back waterways of this amazing city. We also visited several quintessential Chinese gardens while in this city, including the Master of the Nets Garden and The Humble Administrator’s Garden. Walking through these gardens and the museum buildings made one yearn for a simpler time when curating the beauty of nature was your heart’s desire. The gardens were breathtakingly beautiful!
We also visited a silk factory and watched the entire process of silk making; from seeing the silkworms spin their cocoons, to the extraction of the silk fibers, to the weaving of the fabric. This was truly fascinating! Part of this tour included a fashion show featuring all the haute couture in silk fashions. And, of course, there was ample opportunity to shop all the silk wares they had to offer!
Our concert in Suzhou took place at the Great Hall of the People and included a musical exchange with the Suzhou Normal University Choir. To be honest, my memory of this concert is a little fuzzy and the details escape me completely. I blame the rainy weather and the exhaustive touring with the group of 104 people and three buses!
The bus ride back to Shanghai from Suzhou was rainy, slow and with some stretches of stop and go traffic. I guess traffic jams are universal if nothing else. Once we arrived in Shanghai and checked into our hotel, we were off to explore the Jade Buddha Temple, the Yuan Yuan Garden and Old Town Shanghai.
The weather was extremely rainy that day, so the garden tour was difficult to navigate without being soaked by the downpour. I also cannot remember the Jade Buddha Temple at all, nor did I take any photos, which is odd. We did, however, attend the Shanghai Acrobat Show, which was amazing! It was a real treat to see this acrobat show in the native country of the performers (having seen some Chinese acrobats in the US.) The traditional music and the vibrant, colorful costumes lent a unique authenticity to the performance that gave it that extra WOW! factor.
The Bund / Nanjing Road district area gave us opportunity to do some shopping and walk along the river winding through this district. The architecture throughout shanghai is remarkable in that it has been heavily influenced by European style. There is also an area of this immense city that has Russian architectural flair as well.
Our final concert of the tour took place at the Shanghai Music Hall. We gave a robust performance of our Americana pieces to a warmly receptive audience. The Boyd’s Boys even performed one of there sextet numbers for this concert! After the concert, we enjoyed a farewell dinner at the hotel banquet hall and sent our tour guide, Gail, off to her future excursions with a standing ovation. She said that once she was able to travel to the United States, she would “storm to our door.” Gail, we are still waiting!
Respectfully Submitted by Michael Foerster, Tenor