Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Expo: Cultural Learnings of China for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Ireland

So, Expo is over. Well really it'll be going on until October, attracting approx 400,000 visitors a day, so for a good few million people, Expo is not over. Of all those millions, a few thousand saw Irish International Youth in Chorus. Of those thousands, about 12 were Irish, I'd wager. And those were probably the only Irish people in the world who knew what the hell was going on. For something arguably bigger than the Olympics (I kid you not-this thing was more expensive for China), quite disappointingly few people seemed to know what it was about at home. But whether it's a good thing or not, that sort of unawareness is kind of our choir's thing. Our mascot really ought to be a question mark.

As some of you may know, I have spent the last 3 months of my life preparing for this trip with the other 18 girls, as well as one we made to Hungary in late May. This type of thing does not really faze us, at least those who have been to Japan, Lithuania and Liverpool. What's been a little saddening is that our work and the work of our amazing directors and creative team hasn't always been recognised. Japanese people funded one of our trips because the Irish government wouldn't. We couldn't even get funding to keep up rehearsals, even after representing our country and its young people abroad. When we were told in 2008 that Cork Children's Chorus was no more, I was inconsolable. Our conductor had once told us before going on stage to a half-full Opera House that art was about putting time, energy and love into something continuously only to exhibit it for mere hours, potentially in front of a handful of people. My favourite performance of ours was in a beautiful concert hall in Liverpool, where I could count the people in the seats, most of whom were parents of the Liverpudlian brass band kids or Japanese executives (most significantly, a certain Mr. Mistubishi ), but that didn't matter. It was unforgettable; a life-affirming moment for me. Call me romantic, but that's when I knew I needed this feeling, this community, to be a part of the rest of my life. Feel free to throw that in my sell-out face if I become a lawyer or something...

Anyroad, this time things were a little different. The Nameless Homeless Choir (formerly known as Cork International Girls Choir, formerly known as Cork Children's Chorus) were actually getting quite a bit of attention. For people who'd only ever graced a corner of a page in the Echo (no offence intended!), it looked like we were going somewhere. At least, that's how the kick-ass citizens of Shanghai would have us think. Walking through Expo, streets and markets, handing out flyers for our shows, they were all so eager to take them from us! Being asked for leaflets certainly made a nice change from begging people to take half-price opera tickets. In four days, we made the Shanghai newspapers, international TV, featured in the official Expo 2010 3D movie, and, how could I forget, did a shoot for TG4 *big whoooop!*

But enough about fame, and lack thereof.
Shanghai, eh? Don't quite know where to start...China is not somewhere I would ever go if it were not for choir, but I don't think I'd go back there any time soon. Obviously it's freaking amazing, super high-tech, skyscrapers and bright lights galore; in a word: surreal. Chinese people are not as conservative as I was led to believe. They were not in the least bit afraid to come right up to us and take a picture of our shiny red little faces in the manky heat. One woman tried to steal our stylist's baby...but that's another story. We were lucky to get to see both end of the age spectrum in China - we did Tai Chi in a park at 6am with some incredibly nimble and totally zen old folk, and also went to the Shanghai 'Experimental School'...where we were delighted with performances by a flute duet, guitar ballad....and somewhat inappropriate choreography to Britney's classic 'Doo sum'iiinn'. Intriguing. Shanghai is a lot more Westernised than I expected. Being a sucker for culture, I'm on the fence on that one.

My most important lesson from Shanghai was to appreciate Irish tradition. Is that unbearably sappy? I've never been one for the sean-nós, or turf, or rain. But seriously, stepping into the Irish Pavilion from the hot air and the smog was the most relieving sensation ever. There's such a sweet smell in the air in Shanghai, and for once in my life I longed for the smell of a damp Irish day. In the National Conservatory of Music, an internationally acclaimed female voice choir sang a programme of really interesting modern music by American composers, art songs, Hungarian songs, and even a piece based on an Irish poem. And then we had to get up and perform our 20 minute traditional set, full of grief, hardship, womanhood, joy, hope, love. At first, we were nervous. Then we remembered, 'we've got something they haven't got'. Not slightly nerve-wracking movements, not different coloured hair and skin, not even the only male in the room! We had Irishness, as our ole pal Yeats mighta said. We had pride, and humour. Even if this was to be our last ever concert, and even if no one else heard of us at home, we wanted to tell as many people as we could what it's really like being from Ireland; to act on their behalf to change their views of abandoned castles, and fields, and leprechauns and sheep. And looking into our audiences, we could see on their faces that we did have something worthwhile to show. Looked a little like this


No comments:

Post a Comment