This has been quite the day! We began with a welcome ceremony at the “old” campus of the Henan Art College (we are staying in a hotel on the newer campus). It was delightful to watch (and hear!) their response to seeing Dr. Staheli walk in; he went up the aisle and greeted many of the choir members, who loved having their hands shaken. This was much more a homecoming than a new city. We are beginning to think of Dr. Staheli as a rock star in China! We had no idea.
Several professors shared their joy at having such an esteemed conductor and choir on their campus; it is obvious “Professor Doctor Sta-hay-lie” (as they call him) made quite an impression when he worked with them two years ago. The translator was kept busy with all of their comments, then Dr. Staheli’s gracious response, and the short but warm welcome from Professor Chen.
Two big screens on each side of the stage showed portraits and bios of each conductor, along with a choir biography and welcome to BYU. A sign across the back of the stage says, “A warm welcome to BYU’s choir for coming to our university and performing.”
The Henan Art College Choir next took the stage, singing a lovely arrangement of “Shenandoah”, a symphonic piece telling of the Chinese heroine Mulan, and finishing with Rutter’s “What Sweeter Music”. After they performed the last piece, conducted by Dr. Staheli, he proceeded to rehearse the piece with them for an hour, bringing Singers up on stage to help reinforce the ideas he was teaching. It was a very productive and energetic session despite the heat on stage.
Singers then rehearsed for a while, fine-tuning a couple of concert pieces for tonight.
Immediately upon finishing the rehearsal the Henan choir surprised Singers and all the leaders with beautiful gifts that were different for everyone. Of course everyone immediately whipped out their phones to immortalize the occasion of meeting new friends, and selfies and more normal photos were nonstop until we were gathered to return to our hotel for lunch. Samsung and Apple could have filmed some good footage at that frenzied photo session!
We had a buffet line for lunch, and it was a good way for everyone to take just what they wanted. There were lots of happy faces. After a very brief “rest”, most of us loaded the bus and the van once more to return to the old campus to see more of it. There are some beautiful buildings, including the iron Pagoda. It is so called because of the colors used when it was rebuilt in 1049 after a lightning strike. Up close you can see the colors of red, brown, blue and green—but from a distance it does resemble iron.
After a short time to rest and dress for the concert, we had another good dinner and were off for the concert. This is the first concert in a while that was not shared as the audience wanted to hear Singers as much as possible.
The concert was completely sold out with chairs set up in the aisles. Some of our leaders gave up their seats so others could hear the concert. And it was a splendid concert, indeed. From the first notes of “Wade in the Water” the audience was enthralled, and was carried along by the music. They loved “Voice of the Earth”, the Palestrina, the Mawby, “Colorado Trail”, and “Seinn O”. After the intermission came “What a Wonderful World”, “Leonardo Dreams”, “Ubuntu”, and all three of the Chinese folk songs. Those songs made the audience go crazy—they recognized each piece with just a few notes of the introduction, and were already murmuring with excitement when the voices came in. That always causes a small roar; perhaps they don’t really believe the choir can sing in Chinese!
If the choir’s most fervent fans and alumni were all at the same concert (much like our reunion concert last March) it would be very like the feeling that was in the concert hall tonight. It was a little piece of heaven with these new friends so excited by the singing, and so very appreciative. Chinese audiences don’t really give standing ovations; but they do shout approval, yell for encores, and clap rhythmically to show admiration and respect. Singers ended up singing three encores again, and the audience would happily have stayed for more. It was a remarkable concert, and an evening those present will always remember.
Gifts were exchanged after, and then another flurry of photos until we boarded the bus. We leave tomorrow morning with very fond feelings for Kaifeng. There are many more photos than I can possibly post here, but perhaps your favorite Singer will share.