Shanghai was the first city that I visited on the Mainland. With a population of more than twenty four million (as of 2013), it is a behemoth that a friend of mine referred to as “the city that never ends.” Also a municipality, Shanghai is bordered on the north, west, and south by the provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu, and on the East by the (East) China Sea. The history of Shanghai is unique among Chinese cities, as it has played a role internationally, and it is impossible to talk about any aspect of the city and its Shanghainese culture without also taking into account its history, especially its role during times of war, when it was a safe haven for immigrants from Europe, Russia and the Middle East. Shanghai is the economic hub of China and commerce is its life blood. It is home to many shopping centers, malls, markets and with an abundance of commercial streets – some of which contain store after store of one commodity. There is a “shoe street”, a “music street” and even a “stationary street.” It has been said that there are more shoppers wandering about the Nanjing Street shopping district at any given time, as there are people in Times Square on New Years Eve. I will take a look at many aspects of this fabulous city, seen from the perspective of my musical and teaching activities.
Rehearsing an ensemble in Shanghai can be challenging. As a new ensemble, the Shanghai International Choral League is comprised of singers that come from a number of participating choirs, ranging from school ensembles to community groups, to church choirs. The ethnic makeup of the choir is diverse as well, as about two thirds are native Chinese and one third expatriates. These expats come to Shanghai, most often to work for international companies. Young people also come for the thrill of experiencing the city. English speakers can earn a livable wage teaching English as a second language in one of the many language institutes. Finally, some come to Shanghai seeking adventure through teaching, learning Chinese, attending university, or just to experience Chinese culture.
One of the primary challenges rehearsing a choir that is as diverse as the SICL is simply finding common rehearsal time. Because the singers’ schedules are variable, it requires some creative problem solving to insure that rehearsals are productive, and to provide enough of them so that the musicians feel comfortable with the music. As these are mostly untrained singers, finding common ground musically has necessitated that I be more flexible with the rehearsal schedule in order to accommodate as many singers as possible. In addition to the weekly rehearsals, I have had the help of the directors of the individual choirs, who will organize extra informal rehearsals that facilitate note learning so that, upon my arrival, most of the foundational work is already done, and we can begin work on more musical aspects of style, refinement and communication.
The single most gratifying thing for me is that the singers are willing to work hard and are eager to learn.
In 2012, I proposed a concert program for the Shanghai International Choral League called “Baroque Choral Pearls”. This reference has a couple of meanings; the first being that the word “baroque” comes from the Spanish word for “misshapen pearl”, and … Continue reading
Being passionately interested in the performance practice of old music, and spending considerable time playing with period instruments, I have developed an ear for the sound that these particular instruments add to the music of earlier eras. As a specialist … Continue reading
Rehearsing and conducting Haydn’s Oratorio, The Creation was an immensely enjoyable experience for me. Although I have directed other works of similar length (more than two hours), I was amazed at how quickly this work moves. Part of the reason … Continue reading
On Sunday, November 13, 2011, I conducted the first concert given by the recently-founded Shanghai International Choral League. The concert took place in the He Luting Concert Hall at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. There was a capacity crowd, (about … Continue reading
In 2011 I began a two year stint as Music Director and Conductor of the Shanghai International Choral League, a consortium of choirs with different constituencies ranging from native Chinese to Expatriates from many different countries. All of the choirs … Continue reading