Back to Beijing: Rickshaw Tour, Market, Awards

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Like all of our days in China, our final day in China was a full one. We said goodbye to our friends in Zhengzhou this morning and took the high speed train back to Beijing. We went straight from the train station by bus to Old Beijing, an area with the last privately owned, one story homes in the city. The houses, made of stone, cement, or brick, are mostly facing interior courtyards, with business storefronts on the street side. It’s not apparent as you are driving through the neighborhood that these are homes.

First we split up into two’s and took a “rickshaw” (pedicab) tour of the area. This was a lot of fun, and a great way to really see what life is like in Old Beijing.

Afterwards, we split up into two groups of 21 and each group went to a private home where we were fed a home-cooked lunch. This was a real treat. Our group got to meet the husband and wife who owned the home. The man cooked for us and his wife served the food. The parts of the house we could see included a little kitchen that was kind of like an added covered porch area, a skinny courtyard/patio area, and two rooms big enough for 3 round tables. Our group of 21 easily fit for a sit-down meal. The man said their house was set up that way because his home served as a gathering place for the neighborhood and people liked to come over and play games around the tables. Surprising to us, the house did not have its own toilet – like many in the neighborhood, the residents used a community toilet and wash room at the end of the block.

Eating dinner in a private home in Old Beijing

Eating dinner in a private home in Old Beijing

After we finished eating, our host (with an interpreter) told us that he is a retired chef (thus the wonderful food!) and that the house had been in his family for generations. His grandfather had been a cook for the Emperor. He served us a treat that, he said, his grandfather had originally created for the Emperor, but that he himself had perfected over the years. It was a  little treat that tasted like deep fried carrot cake coated in a honey glaze.Very yummy!

After lunch we left Old Beijing and went to the Xiushui Market, a four or five story building of shops where you can buy everything from “Rolex” and “Gucci,” to small souvenirs like chopsticks and fans. This is a big tourist attraction and the prices here are supposed to be much better than at other souvenir stands, however, negotiating a lower price is an expected part of the process of shopping here, and that, for some of our singers, is not something they are comfortable with. Others accepted it as a challenge and had fun seeing just how low the sellers were willing to go.

We were at the market for quite awhile, but it was still a little early for dinner, so we decided to go to the restaurant early and have something to drink and hold the choir’s tour awards presentation – an OSU Chamber Choir tradition. Certificates were handed out for a variety of things – mostly related to funny things that had happened on our trip, particular talents, inside jokes, etc. It was an evening of laughter, fun, and happy tears.

After a final delicious Chinese dinner, we arrived at our hotel early enough to have much of the evening left to enjoy unscheduled. Some of the students explored the area near the hotel on foot; some went shopping for snacks, beverages and last minute souvenirs; some celebrated together at the hotel, some took advantage of the evening to pack and get organized for the long flight home.

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Luoyang City, Shaolin Zen Music Ritual Performance

We started our day with a 2-hour bus ride to Luoyang City, where we visited the Tianzi Jialiu Museum. Luoyang is the site of the capital city for the Eastern Zhou Dynasy (770 BC – 256 BC). The burial site here is even earlier than that of the Terra Cotta Warriors (Qin Dynasty, 221 BC – 206 BC). The small (compared with others we have visited on this tour) museum is built over the sacrificial pit area for the emperors in Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770BC – 256BC) and includes the burial site of the royal horse and chariots.

We also visited The Longmen Grottos, located in the south of Luoyang City, between Mount Xiang and Mount Longmen, facing the Yi River. It’s a stunning site, and the grottoes and caves here are regarded as some of the most famous treasure houses of stone inscriptions in China. The grotto was started around the year 493, when Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) moved the capital to Luoyang. They were built continuously for 400 years. The scenery measures 1,000 metres (about 1,094 yards) from north to south, where there are over 2,300 holes and niches, 2,800 steles, 40 dagobas, 1,300 caves and 100,000 statues. Most of them are the works of the Northern Wei Dynasty and the flourishing age of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

That evening we attended the Shaolin Zen Music Ritual performance, after a nice dinner at a restaurant near the performance site. Set in a valley between two mountains with a highly picturesque, natural backdrop, this outdoor theater show, we were told, was designed by the same individual who headed up the design of the opening ceremony for the Olympics in Beijing. China tourism sites claim it features:

  • the world’s biggest lighting system, consisting of more than 2,800 lights controlled by computers, stretching all along Mt. Songshan, from the foot to the summit at 1,400 meters
  • the biggest stage projector, which covers an area of five square kilometers
  • biggest man-made moon, which rises from the forest in Mt. Songshan. Also controlled by computers, it reaches a diameter of 20 meters
  • the world’s most difficult and highest fighting spectacles. The monks fly and tumble at a height of 80 meters
  • the world’s most magnificent monks’ chanting scene

The show is really like nothing we’ve seen in the U.S. It is highly musical and technologically and visually spectacular. But in a beautiful, natural setting. And it was full of surprises such as the live goats, including a baby.

“One of my favorite parts of the trip was seeing the Shaolin Zen Music Performance in the mountains near the Shaolin Temple in Henan. It was completely outdoors, with the ‘stage’ (consisting of a creek, a bridge, several open areas, and some small buildings) located in a valley area between mountains, and the audience on padded bleachers facing it. It was something I had never experienced, totally unique, and I thought it was really neat. The show itself was fantastic, featuring dozens of performers (including about a dozen goats!) who would perform dances and skits set to Chinese music. There was even some Shaolin Kung Fu involved! And the special effects were cool too; spotlights would dance around, floodlights would change color and provide ambient lighting, and somehow, a giant moon appeared, peeking out above one of the mountains. The entire show was fantastic, very worthwhile to see, and it allowed me to gaze into some of the local performance culture, as well. It was truly a phenomenal experience.” — Terence Madlangbayan

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Henan Museum and Art Center

We were able to sleep in a little today, compared with other days, as our bus didn’t leave until 9 a.m. After breakfast at our hotel, we headed to the Henan Provincial Museum.

Henan Performing Arts Center & Museum, Zhengzhou, China

The Henan Museum is a human and natural history and art museum, housing more than 130,000 cultural relics from throughout the ages. The modern building, opened in 1997, occupies an area of more than 100,000 squre meters, with a total floor space of 78,000 square meters. The museum is also home to the Huaxia Orchestra, an ancient instrument performance ensemble.

It would have been impossible to see everything in the museum in the time we had, but Scott was familiar with the collection and led us through, pointing out and telling us about the most important pieces and displays, which we greatly appreciated.

After touring the museum, we went into an auditorium to see the Huaxia Orchestra performance. The ensemble performs traditional music in authentic costume and on authentic replica instruments. From the museum website: “The music instruments unearthed in Henan in recent years have drawn worldwide attention, because of the diversity and quantity. Especially, the instruments from the remote antiquity which account for over ninety-percent of the musical instruments found in Henan. They include the Jiahu Bone Flute, with a history of some nine thousand years, unearthed at Jiahu, Wuyang; the Pottery Drum and Pottery Xun; with a five-thousand-year history, the Te Chime that belongs to the Longshan Culture of about four thousand years ago; the Bronze Bells of the Xia Palace of three thousand years ago; the Serial Cymbals and the Fish-shaped Chimes of the Yin Ruins, Anyang. As well as the Chime Bells of the State Ying and State Guo and from the Western Zhou Dynasty, the chimes, bells, drums, se, xiao, qin and sheng. The instruments are not only of unique configurations, but also have diapasons and standards much like that of modern music.”

“When we walked in to the auditorium, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My knowledge of ‘ancient music’ was firmly limited in the western tradition–which I also know little about. Large sets of bells varying in size, filled the stage, pitched stones (I think it was jade), large drums, and two raised flat surfaced stringed instruments (I can’t remember the name, if I did I wouldn’t have the slightest idea on how to spell it); several wind instrument players also came on to the stage. The performers entered in what could assumed to be traditional dress, long red robes with jade ornaments for the women, and tall black hats for the men. Despite all of the music being performed without vocal parts, each piece was based on poetry from various Chinese writers. The performance brought moments of tranquility as well as despair. Coupling between the depth of the largest bells, as big as a yoga ball, and the large drums combined with light pings of the small bells and plucked strings, made for quite an engaging performance. It was interesting to watch the expression in the percussionisst’s arms flow gracefully between plucks of strings and strike on bells. After the performance our choir was invited to come on stage and play the instruments! While attempting to figure out how the bell and pitched stones were organized with the added challenge of a language barrier between the choir and the performers, it was solfege to the rescue! One of the percussionists said each syllable while striking the corresponding stone. Then, Kimber and the percussionist proceeded to exchange little tunes on the bells from Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to Fur Elise. That is one thing that has continued to amaze me over the course of the trip; our ability to communicate and share music while coming from vastly different languages, much less cultures. Music has its own language, its own culture, and this has never been clearer to me than throughout this tour.” — Grace Weaver


Our lunch was plentiful and representative of typical Zhengzhou cuisine, which is a little richer, heavier, more exotic than the food in Beijing and Xi’an. And it always includes a whole fish.

After lunch we had a rehearsal at the Henan Art Center. This beautiful facility is situated on a lakeside and was designed by the internationally renowned architect, Carlos Ott. The complex features an opera house with seating for 1800, a concert hall with seating for 800, a multi-purpose hall with seating for 300, and some art galleries. There is also an outdoor stage and concert area with an interactive fountain for children. The egg-shaped building were apparently inspired by ancient Chinese musical instruments. Our rehearsal and this evening’s performance were in the 800-seat concert hall.

Between the rehearsal and our concert, we were fed a “snack” of Zhengzhou style fast food. This consisted of rice and small amounts of several other dishes served in compartmentalized trays with lids, and disposable chopsticks. Because it is the time of the Dragon Festival in China, for the second time we were served the special treat people eat during the Dragon Festival: Zong Zi. Basically this is sticky rice with a sweet Chinese date, wrapped in bamboo leaves, tied with string and baked or steamed.

After our snack we were treated to a private tour of the galleries, which were actually closed at this particular time, however, the doors were opened just for us, and we were given a private tour. The galleries housed a beautifully displayed children’s art show, a show of prints made from rubbings of ancient hyroglyphics carved into stone, and a “behind the scenes” display and pictorial history of the Henan Opera.

To our delight, the concert hall was pretty full by our performance time. We were told that the Department of Culture officials working with us sent information to people who sing in choirs throughout Zhengzhou, so much of our audience was made up of singers of all ages.

“The concert was amazing. From the very beginning, the choir sang in a way I hadn’t heard us sing all year long. The audience was incredibly appreciative, which was really neat. But the choir really came together for that concert. The way we sang our pieces, at least in my opinion, changed completely. But my favorite moment of the concert was when we began singing ‘Molihua.’ I probably watched the audience more during that piece than I should have. But there was a woman in the second row, who, as soon as we started singing, clasped her hands to her heart. When I watched the way she reacted to that song, it sort of underwent a transformation for me. We were singing a song that is so special to the people of China that it became so much more special to me. Many parts of that concert were better musically and emotionally than our previous performances.”Anna Patch

The concert was followed by another wonderful Chinese hotpot dinner, hosted by our friends in the Department of Culture. Eating hotpot is a very social experience and takes a long time, so it’s really kind of an activity. We felt great about our concert and dinner felt like a celebration of our relationship with the people in Zhengzhou and of a successful performance. Everyone seemed to have a really good time that evening.

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Xi’an to Zhengzhou

Today before leaving for Zhangzhou, we quickly visited two more important sites in Xi’an – the Shaanxi History Museum and the Wild Goose Pagoda. We also had time to visit a nearby Starbucks, which was a bit of a treat for those of us who have been craving American coffee. And we had to say goodbye to our wonderful Xi’an guide, Siao Mae.

Then we took a two hour train ride to Zhengzhou where we met the government officials who are hosting us while we are here. This included our friend Kan Jie, who is a Deputy Director of the Ministry of Culture in Zhengzhou and Nan Nan, a staffer at the Ministry and Kan Jie’s Assistant.

“Four years ago I had the opportunity to visit Zhengzhou with the Chamber Choir. Zhengzhou was the first city we visited on that trip and I remember two things: the mass amounts of unique food and the welcoming atmosphere. We made many friends during our stay and connected again when they came to visit OSU the next year. When I found out that we were coming back to Zhengzhou, I was incredibly excited and asked Dr. Zielke if we would be seeing our friends there. The first person I saw when we got off the train was Nan Nan. What was great about seeing Nan Nan was the embrace between her and Melissa Simpson when they saw each other again. You can tell that the friendship and connection remained from the last time they saw each other. Just like the last time the Chamber Choir stayed in Zhengzhou, we were welcomed with open arms, taken care of, and fed extremely well. The choir learned that the relationship between OSU Music and the Department of Culture in Zhengzhou has been going strong for 15 years. The relationship still feels as if it is in the honeymoon phase. Here’s to 15 more years!” — Cole Haole-Valenzuela

Seeing old friends from the Ministry of Culture and meeting new friends in Zhengzhou.

Seeing old friends from the Ministry of Culture and meeting new friends in Zhengzhou.

We also met Mr. Wong, also a Deputy Director of the Department of Culture and we met Mrs. Yng, the Director of the Department of Culture. And we met our new tour guide, Doris, who has worked with OSU representatives on past trips. Finally, we checked into an Aloft Hotel for our stay in Zhengzhou.


Shaanxi History Museum and Wild Goose Pagoda

“As an art major and someone who is extremely interested in art history, it has been amazing for me to visit a country with such a rich and untouched history, and to see the historical influence throughout modern chinese architecture and culture. Some of the highlights for me on this trip were visiting the museums and art historical sights throughout China. It was incredible to see artifacts up close and to explore the Chinese bronze age, seeing how advanced such an ancient civilization was artistically. Something really special about China is its calligraphy, and it was a privilege to see and study such a specialized and beautiful art form. My favorite experience was visiting the site of the Terra Cotta Warriors. It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness something I’ve only read about it art history text books. This trip has not only been a great experience for me musically, but also a once in an educational lifetime opportunity to see what I have been studying up close.”  — Shae Williams

“As we walked up the steps of the Pagoda to view the giant bronze Buddha, I noticed people stopping at a stand in front where very large sticks of incense were supported in a box of sand. They would take out one to three sticks and hold them and appear to pray and then bow three times and put the incense back. An older Chinese man saw me watching and handed me a stick of incense and showed me to put my hands together and bow three times. So I said a little prayer to myself for the safety and health of the choir as they traveled, and did the three bows, and when I did this, ashes fell off the large incense stick and got all over me. In a kind way, the man brushed off my shoulders and took the incense from me and stood it back up with the others. Then he gave me a nice a smile and a little nod and walked away.” — Erin Sneller

In the evening  we were fed a lovely banquet at the hotel and were joined by our new hosts. We exchanged some gifts, as is custom, and finished the evening early. Some of the singers took advantage of the nice hotel pool, some gathered in rooms to socialize, others took advantage of the early night to catch up on sleep.


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Terra Cotta Warriors and Xi’an Concert

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Wow. What a day. We continue to pack in as much as we possibly can each day and today was no exception.

We began with a visit to a factory that creates replicas of the Terra Cotta Warriors as well as other items. While it is called a factory, it is really a place where Chinese artisans create hand crafted items. The terra cotta replicas are made of red clay that is worked by hand, manually pressed into a mold, removed from the mold and left to dry on racks, then stacked into an outdoor brick kiln, and fired. There were warrior replicas of every size, from a few inches tall to life size. At this factory, other craftsmen/women also made lacquer furniture, pottery, and other items. This was a great place for souvenir shopping, and we were given a special discount as part of the tour.

After visiting the factory, we went to the site of the excavation of the Terra Cotta Warriors, now referred to by the Chinese and others as the Eighth Wonder of the World, and we could truly understand why. It’s difficult to explain how huge this site is. There are several “pits” — tremendous excavation areas that are now the “floor” of these large buildings.

“When we walked into Pit Number 2, I felt about it similar to the way I felt when I saw the 9/11 Memorial in New York. I looked over at how far away the people standing on the other side were, and how tiny they looked and I just could not believe the size. I just had no idea it was that huge. It’s mind boggling how large just one pit is, and there were several. And so many warriors!” –Erin Sneller

“I’d always heard about the Terra Cotta Warriors, but what struck me was the sheer immensity of the first pit.  The building that housed it could have easily housed a football field, and other than the walls of the passageways, all of the floorspace was taken up by the stone statues. There must have been hundreds!” –Eric Zittel

Taking all of this in and walking the exhibition helped us to work up an appetite, so after seeing the warriors, there were noodles. Oodles of noodles. Noodles are a specialty of Xi’an and we were served a wonderful noodle lunch at the restaurant right at the museum, where fresh ramen and other noodles were hand made by chefs, right before our eyes. These college students may never be able to eat Top Ramen or Cup o’ Noodles again!

After lunch we headed to the Xi’an Conservatory campus for a very special performance and cultural exchange with an adult community choir. This was something that I think all of us will remember and cherish as a highlight of the trip. First we sang for them. Then they gave each of our singers little gifts and took many photos. Then they sang for us. Then we sang together. Then many more photos were taken with our students. We couldn’t speak to each other, but it didn’t matter. It was a warm and happy exchange. Afterwards we all remained on stage for quite awhile, sharing smiles and laughter and taking photos. The photos and videos really tell it all.

“The choir exchange was one of the most heartfelt ones I’d ever done. After we finished our set, the members of the other choir rushed the stage, giving each of us a small gift. Several older women gave me hugs, held my hand, and spoke to me in Mandarin. I will never know what they said, but I’m certain it was nice because they were smiling the whole time. There’s something remarkable about hugging and holding hands with complete strangers while sharing emotion through music, transcending all language barriers.” –Mariah Waite

“I truly enjoyed singing with the local choir at the Xi’an Conservatory. Though we were separated by such high cultural and generational barriers, our shared enthusiasm for music allowed us to communicate so freely. This is something that we do on a regular basis as artists, but I think that the far-removed setting really enforced how powerful that force of communication is.”    –Mason Cooper

After the performance we had a little bit of down time to freshen up at the hotel before heading out to a theatre/restaurant for a fantastic dumpling dinner and a traditional Chinese performance – The Tang Dynasty Dancing Show. The hand-made, fresh dumplings were amazing and the show was a real treat.

“This day was all around amazing. Everything from the terra cotta soldiers, to the welcoming exchange with the Xi’an choir, as well as the DUMPLINGS, left me in awe of the wonderful culture and people around me. ” –Kristin Finch

Here are some additional reflections on our day from singers:

“The concert yesterday was such a special experience. It was amazing to sing for the Xi’an choir and watch their faces as we sang as well as see the love for their culture and music. The ladies in the front row were mouthing along with us, just watching our vowels and copying them. It was not because they knew the songs we were singing, but because they wanted to engage with us. They also began to clap along to songs that no audience has ever clapped along with. They just wanted to share music with us. It reminded me that music is such  a powerful thing that can truly connect people together.” –Annie Kubitschek

“The whole day was great. I was so amazed by everything. The food especially was a highlight for me. We had lunch at the Terra Cotta museum and I enjoyed every dish, but especially the handmade ramen noodles. I got to watch one of the chefs create the noodles from scratch, from the making of the dough to the stretching and forming of the noodles, to the boiling and making of the broth. Then the waitresses served us various samples of local teas, explaining what the meaning behind each one was. At the dinner, we were served 16 different types of dumplings filled with various veggies and meats and each one was a good as the next. The amazing quality and culture surrounding their food is something that I will always remember.” –Taylor Fahlman

“We had such a full day yesterday, and it is one I will remember forever. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the Terra Cotta Warriors. That was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Then singing at the Xi’an Conservatory was so special. Our audience was so excited to have us that they clapped for us when we entered the performance hall… before we had even changed into our concert attire or began to sing! After our performance, they sang several traditional Chinese pieces. It was so cool to see and hear this Chinese choir. After their performance we joined them back on stage to sing a traditional Chinese folk song. They did not know the arrangement we knew, and  because of this, it might not have been the most beautiful performance, but it was so meaningful for all to sing this special song together. After the concert, we enjoyed a dumpling feast and Tang Dynasty Dance show. The dinner and show were both so incredible. It was definitely a day to remember.” –Melissa Simpson


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Traveling to Xi’an

The majority of our day involved getting to Xi’an. After breakfast at the hotel we traveled across Beijing by bus to a train station where we caught a bullet train for the five hour ride. Traveling through the train station in a group of 44 with all of our luggage in a city with a population as huge as Beijing is an experience in and of itself. Scott and Z. of course were great at making sure we were all accounted for as we navigated through turnstiles and escalators among the huge, fast -moving crowd, and Eric Zittel has taken on the role of picking up the rear, and checking for or waiting on stragglers.

We filled a little more than one car on the train. The ride was mostly spent snacking and napping and taking in the scenery. The train traveled over 200 mph, and was amazingly quiet – very different from the click clack of Amtrak in America. The longer ride enabled us to get away from the city and see a variety of scenery. The terrain was mostly low, rolling hills. There was a lot of agriculture, including rice paddies and other crops, but nothing that looked like a large production farm, just groups of small plots that appeared to be managed entirely with manual labor. There were communities of high rise apartment buildings, there were some factories with nearby apartment buildings. We saw several nuclear power plants. And we saw miles of buildings that were in rubble. It looked as if this area had experienced an earthquake, but we weren’t sure if that was the case, or if these were just “ghost towns” – factories and apartments that had been abandoned and partially torn down.

When we arrived at the train station in Xi’an, and got off the air conditioned train, we realized it was even hotter here than it had been in Beijing, probably closer to 103 or 104 degrees. Also, the air quality had been poor in Beijing until this morning, when the sky had cleared. It was the first time we’d seen true blue skies in Beijing. But as we headed away from the city and towards Xi’an, we traveled back into the smog.

Upon our arrival, we were met by our tour guide for Xi’an, Siao Mai. Scott is still with us, but Siao Mai is especially knowledgeable of this area. Like Scott, she is an excellent guide and is sharing history, custom, and teaching us Chinese. Xi’an, Siao Mai says, is considered a city that is “not too big, not too small – just the right size” (five million – relatively small by Chinese standards.) It’s major industry is tourism, and because it is much less expensive to live here than in Beijing, it has become a popular place for young people to move to after they finish at university. We made a quick trip to the Xi’an City Wall. This is one of the most well preserved walls in China. The wall encloses the entire downtown area of the city now. Because of the heat, we were relieved to hear that climbing to the top only involved 70 steps – much different from hiking up the Great Wall, but we still walked along the top and enjoyed the view.

After arriving in Xi’an, we immediately went to a beautiful restaurant for a dinner buffet and then checked into our hotel. While the hotel in Beijing was very nice, we were very surprised by the hotel in Xi’an. It is incredibly upscale. The rooms are huge and beautiful – all suites with marble floors, glass showers, separate tubs, fancy bathroom amenities, lush robes and slippers. We are up on high floors, such as the 22nd, and some of the rooms have a view of the Xi’an City Wall, which is decorated with lit Chinese lanterns at night. We were in for the night early, and I think most of the choir chose to stay put and enjoy the lovely accommodations.

Xi'an City Wall at night from our Hotel.

Xi’an City Wall at night from our Hotel.

Tomorrow we have a big day. In the morning, we will visit a factory where they make replicas of the Terra Cotta Warriors, lacquered furniture and pottery – all by hand. Then we will see the actual Terra Cotta Warriors. After lunch the choir will rehearse and then we have a public performance at 3 p.m. at Xi’an Conservatory of Music.








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New Friendships

Our day was again packed full with visiting significant historical sites and viewing artistic treasures, and there will more about those later, but we are compelled to begin by telling you about the end of our day – our rehearsal and concert at the Central Conservatory of Music.

We arrived on the campus in the late afternoon, and during our hour and a half rehearsal, a thunderstorm moved through, which helped to alleviate a bit of the humidity and clear the air. Chamber Choir rehearsed the full program for the evening, and as our choir rehearsed, Central Conservatory choir members trickled in to the concert hall to watch and listen.

After Chamber Choir’s rehearsal, the two choirs rehearsed together. The program called for two pieces with the combined choirs: “Jasmine” by Reed Criddle, conducted by the Central Conservatory’s choral director, Jian Ying, and “The Battle of Jericho” by Moses Hogan, conducted by Steven Zielke.

As is often the case, music proved to be a universal language, and the experience of singing on stage together was a natural and successful ice breaker. When rehearsal ended, Z. told singers they could take some time to rest and relax before the concert, but they remained on stage with the other choir, introducing themselves, naturally breaking into smaller groups, asking questions, taking selfies, teaching each other words and phrases in their respective native languages, laughing and appearing to have a lot of fun. This exchange probably lasted for at least 30 minutes and even in that short time, friendships were made.

Learning some Chinese:


That fun had to come to an end when our choir’s dinner arrived (individual pizzas from the familiar American franchise Papa John’s) but not for long, because as soon as the pizza was devoured, a “Chinese vs. The Americans” half-court pickup basketball game began near the courtyard where we were eating. If music is the first universal language, certainly sports is the second! It was a lot of fun and a great way to relax and alleviate pre-concert jitters.

The Central Conservatory of Music provided a full house for our concert and the all-ages audience seemed delighted with the program. “Messages” by Roger Treese and Bobby McFerrin (solo by Alec Chase) “Nyon, Nyon” by Jake Runestad, and the “Usuli Boat Song” (sung in Chinese by soloist Chuck Gidley) seemed to be particular favorites and the powerful “Battle of Jericho” finale was a strong finish that received a standing ovation and calls for an encore.


After the concert, the choirs again mingled, exchanged emails, took pictures and made promises to stay in touch across the miles. These connections are apt to be the most memorable and special part of any international tour.

I should note that this afternoon rehearsal, friendly exchange and evening concert, all took place after a very full day that included many miles of walking in 100 degree heat and high humidity. It is amazing what these students pack in to a day on tour!

The day began with a bus ride to the Forbidden City. We gathered in Tienanmen Square,  where we had time to take photos and do some people watching, and then entered through the famous gate with the giant photo of Chairman Mao, so familiar from movies (“The Last Emperor”), news, and television; then walked miles of the Imperial Palace grounds.

We are fortunate to be in China during the 90th anniversary year of the funding for the Palace Museum, so we were able to see a rare and ancient art exhibit featuring a collection of ancient scrolls, porcelain and other items that won’t be on display again for nine years. Once again, Scott gave us an amazing tour, sharing his impressive knowledge of Chinese history and making sure we saw and received information on specific pieces of rare art. It was really a treat. We are so fortunate to have him guiding us.

After visiting The Forbidden City, we traveled by bus to the Temple of Heaven, a Tao Temple, which, according to Scott, is widely regarded as the most important religious architecture in all of China. This is the site where emperors came to worship heaven for a bountiful harvest, and it is absolutely beautiful. Today, it is a popular spot for Chinese brides and grooms to have engagement and/or wedding photos taken, and there were four or five such photo shoots going while we were there. Choir member and newly graduated Photographer Shae Williams captured some of the brides beautifully.


Other highlights of our day were another delicious Chinese lunch and shopping at a supermarket, where snack items and beverages were purchased to take home, and for comsumption in the hotel tonight and on tommorrow’s bullet train ride to Xi’an.






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Singing at the Great Wall, Eating the Ducks for Dinner

What a wonderful day we had today! Our hosts Scott and Hailing, the owners of Present China, have set up such a wonderful experience for the choir and are taking such good care of us.

Our second day in Beijing began with a feast. The students couldn’t believe their first look at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. It seemed to go on for miles, and at least expanded into several rooms, with an enormous selection of Chinese and American breakfast delicacies. Many

Great Wall of China

Great Wall on a very hot and hazy day.

of us were relieved to find that the hotel has good coffee – a necessary way to start the day!

After breakfast we piled into the coach for our concert and opportunity to climb the Great Wall of China. The Badaling Great Wall in Beijing is one of the best preserved areas of the wall and has become a national symbol of China and is classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Wall itself is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. During the bus ride, Scott shared all sorts of wonderful Chinese history with us – he really makes the tour interesting, always pointing out landmarks along the way, such as the Olympic Village site and “Bird’s Nest.” Such interesting architecture!

When we arrived at the Great Wall we were delighted to find that Scott and Hailing had arranged for a welcome arch over the staging area where we would be singing. Wow! There’s our name on a huge arch at the Great Wall of China! Beaver Nation truly IS everywhere!

The choir performance was well received by the crowd of mostly Chinese tourists. Many people took photos and videos and selfies in front of the choir, and the end of each song was met with enthusiastic applause.

Clarissa at Great Wall

Clarissa at the Great Wall. We do experience some “celebrity status” here in China. All day long, various singers were asked to stop and be in selfie photos with the local people. Female singers with blond hair seem to get the most attention and have been asked to take photos with both men and women.

The heat and humidity are high, as is the level of smog. It was a sunny day, but the air was not clear, even when we got away from the downtown Beijing area and out to the site of the Great Wall. The combination made the steep climb especially difficult for some, and singers stopped and turned around at different points, but there was a group that proudly made it all the way to the highest point. Those who turned around took advantage of this time to hit the tourist shops at the site, purchase cold sodas, exotic fruit ice cream bars  and souvenirs.

After visiting the Great Wall we were treated to another Chinese meal for lunch at the largest Jade Museum in China. Following the delicious meal, we were given a short, funny and entertaining presentation (in English) about Chinese jade, the differing qualities, and the meaning of many of the symbols and statues you find carved in jade, and then we were given time to shop with a special discount that Scott had arranged for the students.

Jade Museum

Jade Museum








Our afternoon was filled with walking the beautiful 700-acre Summer Palace. This was the garden of the imperial family during the late Qing Dynasty. It was built by the “Dragon Lady” of China, mother to the Little Emperor, for her own birthday celebration. It’s history is very controversial, yet now it is China’s largest and best-preserved royal garden. It’s a peaceful and beautiful place. Again, Scott gave us so much history about the garden, always adding engaging stories about cultural traditions, legends, and beliefs.

Following our visit to the Summer Palace it was time for yet another wonderful Chinese dinner. This was the special dinner of Peking Duck, carved and served by a chef near our tables. Many of us found this particular dinner to be the best yet and couldn’t help but feel just a little bit of satisfaction at the idea of eating ducks! Go Beavs!

Peking Duck

Peking Duck



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Day 1: Oregon to Beijing

Hello from balmy Beijing! We are so excited to be here!

We had a smooth travel experience. All of our singers arrived at the airport on time, our flights were on schedule, and all of our luggage arrived with us!

It is very hot and humid here. Everyone tried to keep a sense of humor while standing in a very long line to have our visas and passports checked at the Immigration counter upon our arrival. The airport was not air conditioned and it was very busy. We arrived in Beijing around 2:30 p.m., but because of the long wait at the airport, we did not go Tiananmen Square, which our final itinerary called for. We were tired and hungry, so after meeting our tour guide, Scott, we traveled about 30 min. by comfortable coach to a beautiful restaurant in downtown Beijing, where we were fed a wonderful, multi-course Chinese dinner. After that, we checked in to the Beijing International Hotel, where the plan was to shower and try to stay awake long enough to avoid jetlag and acclimate ourselves to Beijing time.

Overall, it was a successful day of travel. We will have another opportunity to see Tiananmen Square – it is only a 30 min. walk or a quick subway ride away from our hotel. Tomorrow, we start our day with an American and Chinese breakfast in the hotel, followed by an excursion to sing and hike to the top of the Great Wall.

Looking down at courtyard from hotel room on 13th floor.

Looking down at courtyard from hotel room on 13th floor.

View from one of our hotel rooms in downtown Beijing.

View from one of our hotel rooms in downtown Beijing.

Cute Chinese school girls posed for us as we were leaving the restaurant.

Cute Chinese school girls posed for us as we were leaving the restaurant. They were facinated with watching our large group from America pile into the coach.


Beautiful statue at restaurant.

Beautiful statue at restaurant.

Dinner! The food was plentiful. More than we could eat.

Dinner! The food was plentiful. More than we could eat.



Scott, our wonderful tour guide, giving us practival advice about traveling safely in Beijins, as well as some information and history about the sites we'll see.

Scott, our wonderful tour guide, giving us practical advice about traveling safely in Beijing, as well as some information and history about the sites we’ll see.

Which line are we supposed to be in? Waiting at the Beijing Airport.

Which line are we supposed to be in? Waiting in line to have our visas checked at the Beijing Airport.


Which line are we supposed to be in? Waiting to go through Immigration at the Bejing airport.

Oh! It’s THIS line! Trying to keep a sense of humor in the heat.

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Voyages: Follow us as we perform and explore in China.

The theme for the June 6, 2015 President's Concert was "Voyages."

The choir premiered the program for the China tour at the June 6th President’s Concert in Corvallis, titled “Voyages.”

Since 2000, Oregon State University music faculty and students have participated in a dynamic cultural exchange with performing arts ensembles and educational institutions in the Henan and Sichuan provinces of China. More than 500 musicians and performing artists, including students and faculty, have contributed to and benefited from this bilateral relationship. Throughout these 15 years, several Chinese performing arts groups have come to visit and perform on campus; faculty exchange scholars and international students from China have come to participate in OSU academic courses and performance ensembles, gaining valuable knowledge and expertise on the American music education system; and OSU music faculty, students, and ensembles have traveled to China to teach, conduct, perform and learn more about Chinese culture.

Poster advertising concerts during Chamber Choir's 2011 tour.

Poster advertising concerts during Chamber Choir’s 2011 tour.

In just four days, the Oregon State University Chamber Choir will embark on a ten-day performance and cultural exchange tour of China. Directed by Dr. Steven M. Zielke, Chamber Choir is the premier choral ensemble on campus. The auditioned ensemble is comprised of 40 carefully-selected students who perform the finest in choral music repertoire. The choir tours regionally or internationally every spring and has been invited to perform at regional, national, and international conferences and festivals. Recent tours have included Hawaii, Canada and New York — where Chamber Choir, Bella Voce and the OSU Meistersingers performed in Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The choir last toured China in the summer of 2011.

mchinaThis upcoming tour takes the choir to Beijing, Zhengzhou and Xi’an, and will include an informal concert at the Great Wall (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), an evening concert at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and an evening concert at the Xi’an Conservatory of Music. It will also include visits to the Summer Palace Royal Garden, the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, Big Wild Goose Pagoda, the Xi’an City Wall and Terracotta Warriors, the Shaanxi History Museum, and more.

Funding for this tour has come from a variety of sources. While student course fees for the year partially cover the cost of the trip, the rest of the expenses are funded through the choral music program, student incidental fees (SIFC) money, fundraising and endowments such as the Robert Walls Fund for Choral Excellence and the Ron Jeffers Fund for Choral Innovation. For many of our students this is a first time experience traveling abroad. Some of our students have never or rarely traveled out of state!

We are so happy to share this exciting voyage with you and look forward to updating this blog with photos and information on our trip as time and internet access allow.


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