Whilst visiting Shanghai in September, 2013, as members of the NZCFS Cultural Delegation, Dunedin branch members Colin and Viv Child heard about the Shanghai Spring International Music Festival and pricked up their ears. With their musical and choral interests, they realised what a great opportunity it would be to organise a Dunedin youth choir to take part.
The Festival was to take place from 9-25 May 2015 and would be an ideal opportunity to reflect one of the basic aims of the NZCFS – to enable the youth of our two countries to meet in a cultural capacity. They immediately set about contacting Shanghai Youxie to arrange a meeting with the Festival organisers and subsequently received a reply from the Choral Festival organiser, Wei Zhi, thanking them for their enthusiasm and stating that she had added the choir into her plan for the event.
The Childs then contacted Otago Boys High School music master, Robert Duffy who showed interest in the venture, particularly as he has wide experience in taking school choirs on tour. The combined Otago Boys and Otago Girls choir, ‘Barock’, under the direction of professional conductor, Karen Knudson, performs to a high standard and Rob began to get the project underway. Both schools already had active sister-school links with schools in Shanghai and Dunedin had already celebrated its 20th anniversary as a sister city of Shanghai.
Both schools were really keen to enter, especially after participating in and becoming joint winners for best performance of a song with Maori text at the ‘Big Sing’ contest in Auckland in August 2014.
However, the venture hit a snag some time later when letters to the organisers requesting further details were not replied to and so Dunedin branch member, Annie Zong, was called upon to help with writing to Shanghai. Shanghai Youxie then managed to track down the organiser who was asked for the necessary requirements for selection. These were a copy of the conductor’s CV and a 45-minute DVD of the choir’s previous performances and these were sent off, well within the deadline prescribed. The choir received confirmation of their acceptance, but programme plans from Shanghai remained vague.
In the meantime, the choir threw themselves into fundraising activities such as sausage sizzles, suppers, raffles, etc, and Rob Duffy applied for (through the Dunedin Society branch) and received grants from both the RAFE Fund and Simon Deng Li Fund. The choir acknowledged their appreciation for this funding even though other applications from other sources proved unsuccessful. By now, many parents of the singers decided the costs were too high and began to withdraw their support and the project began to look a little shaky. When the choir contacted travel agents, they were keen to make early bookings but the response from Shanghai was still ambiguous, declaring that the Festival dates were not yet finalised.
By October, 2014, however, the responsibility for the Festival was transferred to a different organisation which led to further delays and date changes, etc. To further disrupt progress, hosting arrangements and performance plans were still not put in place, further creating insecurity for parents and putting tremendous pressure on music directors at the schools to try to confirm participants. Promises, that the details would be sorted by Chinese New Year, did not eventuate. Meanwhile Rob and Annie continued to try and liaise with Festival organisers and sister-schools in Shanghai.
Finally in March, 2015, assurance came from Festival organisers of their support even though the itinerary had yet to be changed again providing more insecurity for parents. By April 2015, there was a flicker of help from Steven Joyce, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, who announced that the two schools would be among 20 NZ schools to receive a portion of the NZ-China Sister Schools Fund established during President Xi Jinping’s visit in November 2014. Now the project began to solidify and the itinerary settled – ‘Barock’ would arrive on 14 May in Shanghai!
The final group consisted of 9 Otago School boys and 8 Otago Girls High School girls with one Year 10 girl from St Hilda’s Collegiate and 3 teachers and 6 parents.
They now had a full schedule to fulfil including performances at Minhang District Mass Art Centre Plaza, Meilong Town Plaza Show, Xinhong Campus of Wenlai Middle School, with visits to sister-schools, Eighth Middle School in Shanghai and Guangming Middle School and, of course, visits to well-known sites such as the Summer Palace in Beijing. Another memorable visit was to St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Beijing where they sang ‘Set me a Seal’ by Karen Knudson. Then it was down to the business of participating in the Choral Arts Week in Shanghai, held over 5 days including 20 international choirs from 10 different countries.
Rob Duffy wishes to thank the generous hosting of the Shanghai Audio Video Publishing House who were the sponsors of the 2nd Choral Arts Week of the 32nd Shanghai Spring International Music Festival. They provided 5 nights hotel accommodation for the entire group and coach transfers to and from the airport/train station and Festival venues, along with an English-speaking guide. This support and hosting was very much appreciated and certainly made the trip possible.
Rob also says that despite the initial setbacks, the experiences the children gained were invaluable, providing as they did several different types/standards of accommodation including hotels, hostels, bunk rooms on overnight trains and hosting for the students individually with families from the sister schools, Number 8 High School (OBHS) and Guangming High School (OGHS), both in Shanghai.
The students also were able to perform to many different audiences in a variety of venues – a large city theatre, community music theatres, school venues, outdoor venues including on The Great Wall of China. They met teachers and pupils in three different schools and experienced many aspects of Chinese culture and customs – all valuable for understanding such a culture so very different from their own.
They got the chance to view much of the countryside from the train when travelling between Beijing and Shanghai and see many features of Shanghai and Beijing from coach, metro, local bus travel, and on foot. They bartered in markets and engaged in conversation with people in several different choirs from several different countries. Perhaps most importantly, they could appreciate the many different styles of music and performance from other choirs in the Festival and experience exceptionally generous and warm welcomes by Festival hosts and the schools they visited.
Rob emphasised that it was not a competition, there were no awards – simply a festival for choirs – in the 2nd Choral Arts Week of the 32nd Shanghai Spring International Music Festival and felt that, despite the initial setbacks, the whole trip was an enormous success.