My brief blogging hiatus is over, after my most recent endeavour, which has had me chasing my tail for the last two months, came to an end yesterday. At the end of October I was accosted in the canteen by a fellow teacher (or so she told me- I had never seen the woman in my life) and asked to join the school choir. As a woman of the world I have many talents. Singing is not one of them. As my charming other half put it so aptly “Your voice isn’t, like… unpleasant or anything”.
Of course I politely declined, which this persistent woman took to mean “I’ll think about it”, and asked me each day for the next three consecutive days. “We’re just short one female”, she pleaded. My recent Glee binge and ‘there’s always a story to be had’ attitude made me finally give in to her persistent efforts on day four and I was whisked away to rehearsal shortly after.
On Day One I was presented with sheet music with accompanying lyrics. My current Chinese reading level is that of an alert seven-year-old. Whilst painstakingly examining the lyrics I realised there were more than a few characters I didn’t recognise. Paired with my inability to read music, sing, or speak dialect (which was particularly prominent with the female vocalists as they are all local ladies)- this choir thing was turning out to be quite the conundrum.
I was doomed.
At least everyone was aware of my struggle, as the teacher would explain at rapid speed something to with pace, rhythm, beats and counts, and somebody would chirp up on my behalf:
“Are you sure everyone understood that?”
“Huh…Who didn’t understand?”
Followed by a loud chorus of “Hannah!!!!”
If only my expressions weren’t so transparent.
Apart from language, the other obvious difference between me and my choir, is our body types. The dresses had not yet been finalised, but a number of large pink, what can only be described as cupcakes had been bandied around as potential winners. I tried to reassure myself that cupcake or not, I would still be considered the “exotic beauty” and shouldn’t worry too about how large, pink or generally ridiculous the ensemble may be.
The measuring took place in the rehearsal room, with the rest of the choir watching closely as the measuring tape was stretched around my wide Western hips. The measurer yelled out the number to the note maker. She moved upwards towards the goods. “If you could not shout out my chest size that would be gr-” …Ignored.
Shouts of “Woww, MASSIVE BOOBS” rippled through the choir room, along with some claps and cheers. There’s a phrase in Chinese, “没办法” , which literally means “no method”, or in Irish terms- there’s feck all you can do about it.
I took a bow, and with a slightly redder face, returned to my chair.
Rehearsals became longer and more tedious. Our rehearsal space moved from the safety of the choir room to the spotlight of the main steps of school, where students gathered around to eyeball what their beloved teachers were getting up to on their lunch break.
We had two songs to perform at the competition, which was fast approaching. It wasn’t a great sign that I was still humming parts here and there. At least I had both tunes down. Hoping I could just hide in the back and my errors go unnoticed, I was informed that as the “speciality” of our choir, my position amongst the forty something bodies would be…Front row, centre stage. Fantastic.
Our first song, 在太行山上 “On the Tian Hang Mountains”, was a song written in 1938 and is about the Guerrillas fighting in the mountains against the Japanese.
The second song 在希望的田野上 “In the Field of Hope”, a song written in the early 80s is about the people of rural China’s labour in the rice fields and the development of the country.
To sum it up, I just had to remember: first song- serious face, second song- happy face.
On the day of the performance the twenty-six women in the choir all piled in for hair and make-up… To the three make up artists. The mission was clear- make everyone more white. I explained the equally bizarre routine of Irish girls fake tanning themselves to the other choir girls- telling them their darker was complexion was a much coveted one in the Emerald Isle. They paid no heed and continued enviously whinging about how they wished to be as pasty as me.
After two and a half hours hanging out in my tracksuit and my before face-it was time for my make up.
Chinese women are entirely shameless about their selfie taking, and what may just be a swift snap or two in the Western World, becomes a full on photo shoot in China.
For a nation known for their shorter height, the dresses had been made senselessly long and tripping was the worry of many. Luckily, precautions could be taken.
We wiggled to the bus with dresses tied like so, and after a few warm ups on the bus- we were ready for action.
After fumbling my lyrics for the last week, forgetting which hand to move where, when the big moment arrived my language, memory loss and general coordination struggles somehow faded into the background. I’d watched Disney’s Mulan that morning for inspiration, and our wee choir placed 4th our of 18 schools.
I had to smile and abide the many phones pointed in my direction as people slowly made the differentiation between me and the other members of the choir. I was told my face appeared that evening in many of their newsfeeds as the only foreigner in the competition.
Not the fame I had expected in life, but there we have it.