University of Saskatchewan Greystone Singers 2010 Concert Tour of China

by Gerald Langner, Director

The University of Saskatchewan Greystone Singers concert tour of China was an amazing experience and a significant life event for us all. China is a remarkable, ancient country and there is an immediate and palpable sense of six thousand years of civilization, culture and tradition. This was going to be quite an experience for the vast majority of our choir – some of whom had never been outside Canada.

Greystone Singers with XJTU choir and orchestra in the XJTU auditorium in Xi’an, China

We started our tour in Shanghai where we had a very successful first concert in the Shanghai Little Companion Theater. The reaction of the local audience is somewhat different than what we are accustomed to at home: rather than listening quietly, there tends to be a general buzz of conversation during the performance, where people are politely commenting on the performance and interacting with their neighbors. Their applause, however, was familiar and most enthusiastic after our renditions of three Chinese folk songs sung in Mandarin.

The next leg of our tour took us on a flight to Xi’an, the city of Western Peace. It was the capital city and seat of power for imperial China for over a thousand years. After an afternoon spent riding bicycles on the top of the city wall, we had our first exchange with one of the University of Saskatchewan’s sister institutions, Xi’an Jiaotong Technical University. We sang a spiritual for them, which they loved, and then they had one of their sopranos sing a traditional Chinese folk song using some really amazing embellishments. She just beamed. Even though we couldn’t understand the language, we certainly understood the medium. The exchange was followed by a wonderful concert that included a group of XJTU students performing on traditional Chinese folk instruments.

It was quickly apparent that even though we were from cultures half a world apart, we formed a bond with each other through music; and we saw firsthand how basic human emotion is conveyed through choral singing. They are students just like us and they respond to music and expression the same way we do.

To begin the final leg of our tour, we took an overnight train from Xi’an to Beijing. After a late breakfast at the hotel, we visited Tiananmen Square, the Imperial Palace and the Forbidden City, and then got ready for our second exchange, this time with the Beijing Institute of Technology Choir. Their choir was a well balanced, auditioned group, and they sang with wonderful energy and emotion. Here, our choirs sang two pieces combined. Their concert set came with a few surprises: we had never heard Brahms sung in Chinese!

Our final concert, and a fitting conclusion to our performances in China, was in the Concert Hall of the Central Conservatory of Music, a historic building with a large stage and nine-foot Steinway. This audience was appreciative, knowledgeable, and much quieter and more subdued – more ‘Western’ – during our singing; however, they provided hearty applause after it.

What made our tour so memorable was sharing a choral experience with a group of such talented musicians with whom we were musically united but yet enfolding a wide variety of academic backgrounds and pursuits. Being able to see this unity and variety in action through choral singing and to be able to transcend culture to connect with our student counterparts in our exchanges with our sister schools was so extremely rewarding. Combining these musical experiences with the camaraderie, education and wonder of travel was life-changing.

As for what our Greystones have brought from China, my hope is that we all experience a unification through music – and choral music in particular – to transcend race, culture, and distance in a new age of concord and harmony. This has been a tremendous musical event for us – a life experience that will be part of us forever.

To learn more about China as a possible concert tour destination for your ensemble, please visit our China and Hong Kong destination page, or contact us