Whenever I look back on a whole week of classes and events, I often struggle to encapsulate the said week into a brief, interesting synopsis or even determine which events to highlight and which to dismiss. However, it was not difficult for me to choose the prominent highlight of the week – namely, our foreign musical performance in front of hundreds of Chinese students.
Prior to the grand event itself, which was to be on a Wednesday night at a satellite campus in Huangdao, my class chose our performance routine based on our nationalities. The largest group, the Russians, chose to sing a Russian folk song; the Korean contingent chose to incorporate some dance moves into their version of “Nobody, nobody but you …”; and Marco the Italian chose not to express his musical ability in front of several hundred Chinese students. So, I was left with the distinct privilege of either singing the American anthem or playing some American song on the piano. After debating this decision for a lengthy five seconds, I thought it would be wise to choose the latter option. Besides these performances, we also collectively practiced singing a famous Chinese love song, “Lao Shu Ai Da Mi,” for the foreign performance. Within a two-week period, I believe we sang this song at least 100 times. So if we initially pronounced anything incorrectly, we had it permanently ingrained into the grooves of our brain by the end.
Once Wednesday arrived, we spent most of the morning rehearsing “Lao Shu Ai Da Mi” as well as the Russian and Korean songs. Then after lunch, we crowded onto a school bus and headed to Huangdao for the university’s satellite campus. After our arrival, we entered into the building that functioned as the school’s performance center. Nothing terribly impressive. In fact, I thought the place looked a bit dumpy from the outside. Inside, the center seated about 800 people including the balcony seating. The performance stage, a wooden semicircular platform, had a plethora of lights. Plenty of overhead lighting, some lights affixed to the edge of the platform, and other light stands just in case the stage wasn’t bright enough. And they had a couple of gas jets that emit some a sort of misty fog, which further adds to the ambiance.
The performance began officially at 7 pm, which translated into Chinese means the actual performance will likely begin at 7:30 pm or later. Prior to the performance, my class practiced each of our songs, and I attempted to practice my piano piece, “My Heart Will Go On,” the classic tearjerker in “Titanic” on an upright piano. After practicing, we ate a quick KFC dinner before the grand foreign performance. Because of my clearly unacceptable performance dress (black sweatshirt, T-shirt, sweatpants, and tennis shoes), I thought it wise to stop by my apartment, get my pinstripe suit, and head back to the university. Thirty minutes later, I was back at the Performance Hall, pinstripe suit and all.
As I expected, the performance didn’t officially start until 7:15 pm or thereabouts. I was a bit distressed to discover that the hall was packed out with Chinese students, not just in the seats but along the aisles too. So much for a little crowd. After an unnecessarily lengthy introduction by the president, the performance began. There were some solo acts, nifty choreographed dances, and comedic acts before our turn came. As the act before ours began to end, we lined up backstage and then walked onto center stage in front of the massive audience. Thankfully, the blinding stage lights prevented me from seeing more than a couple feet beyond the stage or else I may have either locked my knees or bolted for the backstage door. We first sang the Russian song, then the Chinese love song, and served as a backdrop for the Korean dance. Each time we received resounding applause for our performances (whether we deserved it or not).
Unfortunately I still had to play my piano piece. After waiting backstage for an Asian dancing act to end, it was time to perform, clammy hands, violently beating heart, and all. The stage hands rolled the piano onto center stage, and I rapidly walked onto the stage, sat down on the wooden chair, and opened up to my song. The song went well, but the sound quality was poor at best. Upright pianos do not amplify sound well, and I discovered that fact after some stage hands started bringing handheld mikes onto the stage and shoving them near the piano. At first, I thought they wanted me to incorporate singing into my performance, which would have turned it into a comedic act. Apparently, few people could hear me beyond the first few rows of seats. With several measures left in the song, the speaker system kicked on, and people could actually hear me. All I have to say is that’s how performances go in China. Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.
So that’s how my first foreign performance went in China. Two-thirds of the song were heard by a handful of people, and the other third was heard by the whole audience. A school of at least 15,000 people could not offer a grand piano for performing in front of hundreds of people and a nice leather bench, just a simple upright piano and wooden school chair. At least I can say I played in China, and it was a great experience. For the next foreign performance though, I plan to be the spectator not the entertainer. Thanks for your interest in this blog, and I hope I didn’t ramble on aimlessly for that long. So long until next time.