Hitting the High Notes with the National Youth Choir of Great Britain
Former pupil Lauren travelled to China this summer with the National Youth Choir of Great Britain on a trip partly funded by the Spinney Memorial Trust (the Old Clayesmorian Charity). Lauren is off to study Music at Royal Holloway this September. Here are some excerpts of her diary:
“After spending the past six years as a member of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, I was privileged and excited to be invited to tour The People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong with the main choir this summer. I kept a short diary of my adventures:
Whilst standing at Heathrow Terminal 5, I felt a huge mix of emotions; excitement, nerves, but primarily I was thrilled to be embarking on this musical adventure with the NYCGB. During the twelve hour flight, I managed to settle down to begin learning some of the tour repertoire, as well as catch up with 70+ NYCGB friends and snatch a couple of hours sleep before landing in Beijing!
BEIJING AND TIANJIN
Stepping out of the plane at Beijing airport, we were hit by a wall of heat and humidity and it became swiftly apparent that the People’s Republic of China is vastly culturally different to anywhere I have visited previously.
The first five days of the tour were spent in intensive rehearsals at Harrow International School perfecting repertoire and strengthening our vocal technique, and despite lingering symptoms of jet lag, we achieved everything we hoped we would. Our rehearsals and performances were both inspiring and rewarding for us, with a fabulous repertoire of a wide variety of music, ranging from traditional English choral music to Chinese folk songs!
For the next few days, we experienced almost everything Beijing had to offer, including a day trip to Tianjin and performing concerts in the Tianjin Concert Hall and Beijing Concert Hall. We learnt a huge amount about China, particularly from our Chinese tour guides, one of our favourites being Jennifer, who explained what it was like to live and study in China during the cultural revolution, how much China has changed, and how extraordinary it was for their country to accept a British choir to come and sing in some of China’s most prestigious concert venues. For the performances, our conductors, Ben Parry and Greg Beardsell, embraced the Chinese culture and learnt some Mandarin, resulting in some amusing introductions between pieces. I was back in one of my most favourite places, singing in my NYCGB family.
Overall, the food was wonderful, although on arrival back in Dorset, I decided I could never face sticky white rice again! It really is back-to-back Chinese food – even for breakfast! Meringue filled with spinach was a bit of a surprise at 8am. Another hugely memorable part of the tour was the incredible sightseeing opportunities. I walked around Tiananmen Square learning about Chinese political history, visited the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven, dined in local restaurants, experienced the Peking Opera, but probably the most exciting was climbing the Great Wall of China. Though physically challenging as it is steep, it was probably the most memorable experience I have ever had; stunning views, and a sense of awe at it’s sheer scale.
Following a surprisingly comfortable journey on the modern overnight train from Beijing to Shanghai, we were rehearsing and performing somewhere new! Shanghai is a beautiful city, and as soon as we arrived our tour guides were keen to show us The Bund, where on one bank of the river, skyscrapers towered over us, juxtaposed with the grand old buildings on the other side, which represented different eras of Shanghai.
Overwhelmingly, NYCGB had become quite a tourist attraction, and all through Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, we were regularly stopped by locals and other tourists who wanted to include us in their photos!
In Shanghai, we had another successful concert in which Ben Parry surprised us by emerging from backstage to conduct sporting a Chinese silk suit purchased at the silk factory we had visited previously! As in Beijing, the sightseeing did not disappoint us, the major highlights being the stunning Jade Buddha Temple and a nighttime boat tour along the Huangpu River. Some of us also made it to floor 88 of the Jin Mao Tower to be met by outstanding city views.
After a somewhat bumpy flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong (typhoon season in Hong Kong makes UK storms look tame!) we had reached our final overseas destination of the tour, and it became apparent that Hong Kong was more westernized than anywhere else we had been on tour; it was the first time we had seen knives and forks for two weeks (although we weren’t ready to put down our chopsticks just yet!) More sightseeing was on the agenda, including a trip to Victoria’s Peak, where we had stunning panoramic views, the Stanley Market, and the Aberdeen Fishing Village which we viewed from the water on charming working fishing boats whilst meeting the happy locals.
Perhaps most exciting aspect was joining forces with the Hong Kong Cantoria Choir to put on our final concert in China; the audience was hugely appreciative and we felt we sang better than ever. It was a very proud moment.
Sadly, our tour was coming to a close, and we celebrated a successful run of performances with dinner on our final evening in Hong Kong. We shared our favourite moments, sang in the restaurant, and enjoyed spending some time together before flying back to the UK to record some of our tour repertoire and perform a homecoming concert as part of the Snape Proms series at the beautiful venue of Snape Maltings near Aldeburgh in Suffolk. I felt immensely privileged to sing Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia in his very own concert hall.
Our tour to China and Hong Kong was an unforgettable adventure, and I have benefitted so much from my experiences, both musically and as a result of opening my eyes to a completely different culture. It has fuelled me with confidence and inspired me to work hard studying music at university this coming year. Working with the National Youth Choir teaches me extraordinary life skills, such as professionalism, team work, and the importance of commitment, and I cannot thank the Spinney Trust enough for all their support that enabled me to make the most of this experience.”