That day last October that we sang the national anthem for the signing ceremony in Fort Worth, we would never have thought that later in the year we would be standing on the other side of the planet singing in front of an official assembly in Guiyang. This morning’s signing ceremony we sat across from the beautifully dressed chorus from Guiyang University. Although we worked on singing the Chinese national anthem, we were very glad to find out that there would be a proper Chinese chorus to do that honor. They sang it very strongly and proudly and then it was our turn. We traveled thousands of miles and several days to sing this anthem and represent our country and we sang it very well with much expression. It felt very good to sing this anthem in China. More than that I thought it was a great honor to sing both anthems side by side showing that both China and the United states are at a point in their relationship where we could join together and celebrate a friendship of cities like this.
As quickly as the ceremony began, it was over and we were on to the people’s square…
Tonight we entered the ballroom on the 3rd floor of the Sheraton Hotel and were seated around round tables similar to what we experienced at lunch. This time one large wine goblet was filled with Coke, a smaller goblet had some sweet red wine and then a tiny shot glass contained the national drink of the region.
There were several speeches including one from Guiyang’s mayor Li. Mayor Li gave each of the choir members a long box containing two beautiful traditional Chinese flutes. At our table we met a married couple from Guiyang. Their names were Boni Jiang and Katie Scott. She was originally from America and actually graduated from the University of Texas in 1998. Boni grew up in Guiyang, but they both met in South Africa working for the peace corp.
The mayor provided us many live musicians who played us with traditional Chinese music. First to perform was a man playing the Golden bamboo flute. This is the flute that the tower in square we visited was patterned after. He danced exuberantly around the stage blasting us with the distinctive sound of his instrument. They were exceedingly helpful in explaining the cuisine and customs. It was great to speak with an American living in Guiyang.
They had a boy and a girl at home with his parents so they could attend the dinner. Katie explained that in Guiyang it is traditional to give many toasts and she supplied no shortage herself. Several of our party were feeling very ‘toasty”.
Another performer of note was the leaf man who sailed around the room playing – a leaf. There was nothing particularly special about the leaf, but he somehow made it sing between his lips in a sound similar to a saw. He comically offered leaves to Becka and Dr. Bierschenk so they could play along. Unfortunately, leaf playing is an art lost on both of them, but they tried very hard.
This was yet another example of how wonderfully we were treated. Katie and Boni really did a wonderful job of making us feel welcomed and special. They explained that our visit really was a big honor for their city. It would take us a while to get used to be treated so royally. This is not something college musicians are used to. But we were embracing our treatment and falling in love with the warmth of the Guiyang people.
Our next stop was at the Grand Theatre of Guiyang to rehearse our pieces. It was on this trip that I realized we had a police escort in front of our caravan of busses. This police presence would remain throughout our stay and from the way our bus driver honked his horn, we were apparently entitled to the right-of-way regardless of anyone else’s needs.
We walked up the steps to the performing arts center and entered the huge building. We were then ushered into the audience of the concert hall where we were to perform. The Guiyang Symphony Orchestra performed a piece from their program as we watched. They sounded great and the acoustics were well suited for instrumental chamber music.
We then took the stage for what we thought was our own rehearsal. We sang a couple songs and worked a few things before we realized we were doing a dress rehearsal of the concert.
Since the acoustics in the hall were not as sensitive as Martin Hall I encouraged the chorus to up their dynamic levels on Water Night in order to “ring the room”. The choir complied beautifully and I could here our voices ringing off the walls.
Following our extremely warm reception at Zhucheng square, we took a short bus ride to the Gold Lusheng Restaurant to feast on authentic Chinese cuisine. The scrolling marque out front read “Welcome Fort Worth Delegation”. A chorus of girls dressed in traditional Miao regalia greeted us as we entered and were escorted to our table.
The huge round table our group was seated at had a lazy susan on it and the waitress continued to bring out dish after dish of mostly unrecognizable food. We were each poured a large glass of coke to drink and the food just kept coming dish after dish. One plate had a pyramid of bacon. Another was some very interesting tofu shaped like an egg. Luckily we had prepared for this uncharted territory and bravely tried almost all of the dishes presented to us. We also gave chopsticks an earnest try as well.
As the tour bus pulled up to Zhucheng Square we could see kites flying in the sky and crowds of people gathered. As we got off the bus we heard the amplified voice of a woman speaking in mandarin. A male voice followed her translating what she was saying. As the delegation started out towards the center of the square we could see a structure in the center of Guiyang’s square. It was a giant tower supported by what looked like golden bamboo flutes. There were even more reporters at this event and tons of security/police who kept the bystanders at bay while our delegation moved toward the tower.
At the base of the tower there were several golden porcelain eggs. The leader of our delegation was invited to smash one of the eggs with mallet. Inside was the key to the tower. Our delegation then climbed the 87 steps to the top of the tower.
When we reached the top we could see an enormous bell suspended to the ceiling of cut out arrows. The whole thing was beautiful. Once we were all assembled, we were asked to close our eyes and make a wish while a short poem/prayer was read. At the end of this ceremony the leader of our group was allowed to ring this giant bell three times.
Then we continued on along a path by the river that runs through Guiyang all the while being escorted by the media and police. We felt a real energy of excitement and all felt like absolute royalty. It truly felt like a hero’s welcome and it immediately made the long and arduous trip completely worth the time.
When we landed on the Tarmac in Guiyang a swarm of television cameras, reporters and photographers where there to greet us. Also three Guiyang women adorned in traditional dress greeted each of us as we came off the plane. A tv reporter took several statements on camera and we boarded a waiting tour bus.
On the bus we met several university students who were very friendly and helpful. I spoke briefly with a post grad student in English whose name was Yo Yo.
As we drove into Guiyang we were each given a security pass and a white baseball cap with “Cool Guiyang” on it. A student named Jackie told us about some of the history of Guiyang.
But the real fun was waiting for us in the city square…
It has now been 36 hours since Dr. Fisher and I left the Wesleyan campus in search of Guiyang, China. After a 13 and a half hour flight to Beijing from Chicago, we easily passed through customs and were delighted to arrive at the truly world class, Langham Place Hotel. Although we only had 3 hours to shower and sleep, the accommodations were terrific.
I was able to contact my wife and three kids for a brief, but sweet FaceTime (video chat) conversation. It was fun telling my kids that I was literally on the other side of the world.
This morning several students took the opportunity to get to know some of our fellow delegates from Fort Worth whilst enjoying very tasty Danish treats provided by the Hotel. Then we dashed to our bus to the airport for the third flight on our journey. After spending an hour on the tarmac we departed about 2 hours late. Hopefully this wont mess up our schedule to bad. At this point we’re just about finished with the traveling required and all look very much forward to getting to know the people and places of Guiyang. We are all very excited about our upcoming reception lunch, rehearsal at the Guiyang Grand Theatre and the much anticipated Banquet in our honor tonight thrown by the government of Guiyang.
Today, I am one of 28 students and 2 faculty from Texas Wesleyan embark on a trip to Guiyang, China. We join 37 other Americans as official delegates to Fort Worth’s newest sister city.
After a brief voice lesson, I hopped in the car of John Fisher, head of the Wesleyan music department and we began our trip to the airport. He and I had a great time sharing our stories of travel misfortune.
Check in at the airport was a breeze and everyone seemed to be excited about our upcoming adventure.
Unfortunately it’ll be 18 more hours before the real fun begins, but in the interim we all took the opportunity to get to know one another better.
It’s two hours to Chicago and then 16 to Beijing and then the adventure truly begins.
I’m hoping to publish blog posts at least every day. This truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity that we are all ready to begin.
A couple weeks ago we had a meeting with Irene Chase about the final details of our upcoming trip to Guiyang, China. We learned at this meeting that we needed to prepare to sing the Chinese national anthem at the signing ceremony. Not wishing to cause an international incident I volunteered to find an arrangement we could use.
It turns out there is not an edition of the Chinese national anthem written phonetically for us westerners to attempt. Perhaps we should have taken this as a hint. However, I was able to find a phonetic version of the lyrics and with the help of a mandarin speaking friend of mine, I assembled both a four part choral arrangement and a simple melody version for us to use. I play piano for the Weatherford college jazz band and they have a trumpet player who is actually from China and is a native mandarin speaker. He was kind enough to record a video for us to use as a guide while learning to pronounce the mandarin necessary for singing the Chinese anthem.
His own modesty prevents me from sharing these videos publicly, but they were of huge help to us all as we learned this piece.
Tomorrow evening we perform our farewell concert at Texas Wesleyan’s Martin Hall in which we will attempt to sing one piece in Mandarin as well as another which is written by a mandarin speaker in a very eastern style. I have a loud and ridiculous solo in this piece which I accidently auditioned for. You see when we first sang through this piece , I didn’t see the word solo printed above these few measures and I sang it at the top of my lungs. I became the default singer of this rather flamboyant solo. Video will follow.
I also learned about a month ago that I would have the privilege of conducting a piece for this concert as well as the concert in Guiyang. I selected a piece I recently performed on my senior concert. (VIDEO HERE) The opportunity to conduct this beautiful piece overseas in an exotic Chinese theatre makes me so excited I can’t even put it into words.
The concert is tomorrow evening, Tuesday 4/10 at 7:30 at Texas Wesleyan’s Martin Hall. If you can make it, it should be full of excitement as we showcase music we’ll be performing in China as well as featuring a guest chorus from Nolan HS.
In October the Texas Wesleyan Chamber Singers sang for signing of the declaration of Fort Worth‘s sister city –Guiyang, China. The mayor from Guiyang then invited our choir to be his guest at the signing in his home city. Thanks to a generous donation and the efforts of our Dr. Bierschenk (our director), Dr. Fisher (department chair),Dr. Slaback (University President) and many others, we were able to accept his offer and will be joining him in China this April.
As this adventure unfolds, I will be blogging about this huge opportunity to get to know the people of Guiyang. We are all extremely excited to have this opportunity.