United Nations Singers in China
by Douglas Rose

For the UN Singers, the honour and thrill of an invitation to sing at the opening ceremony of the UN Pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai was to be matched only by the actual experience itself. The initial invitation extended to us by China Telecom for a one-week, concert-filled stay in Shanghai would inspire another equally exciting offer: to spend four days in Beijing, hosted by the Red Cross Society of China. All we had to do was get there.

Bleary-eyed after nearly 20 hours of air travel, we stared in disbelief.  It was 1 a.m., and crawling along a narrow alleyway with inches to spare, our bus had come to a sagging cable that threatened to snag the roof!   Chinese ingenuity saved the day, as a pair of legs disappeared up through the hatch. We held our breath as the cable was lifted and the driver inched forward.  Fnally we were clear and our hotel soon came into sight.  It was of traditional design with an ornate roof and red columns, and adorned with a special banner welcoming the UN Singers to Beijing.

Morning came all too soon.  After a buffet breakfast, we headed on foot to a nearby Tibetan Buddhist temple.   The narrow alleyway now throbbed with traditional daily life – workers and shoppers struggling with unwieldy loads and tradespeople pushing handcarts or pedalling bicycles, mixing incongruously with cars, motorbikes and scooters, all vying for a narrow space totally unsuited for modern life.  Still reeling from culture shock, we soon reached the Qing Dynasty temple.  

In the afternoon, the Red Cross Society of China held a reception for us.  Their representative, speaking in Chinese with English  interpretation, welcomed us.  Replying, the UN Singers President, Charles Appel, expressed deep appreciation to our hosts for their kindness.  Gifts were exchanged.   During the preceding months our hosts, in liaison with Pengfei “Micky” Mi, our resident bass hailing from Shanghai, had worked hard to make our visit enjoyable and productive, and volunteer guides would accompany us each day to make things run smoothly.

There followed a visit to the UN Office, where we gave a mini-concert to the assembled staff, followed by a reception and a chance to socialize.  Our first day was rounded off with a welcoming dinner at a local restaurant, where our hosts regaled us with delicious food and multiple toasts.

During the next two weeks a whirlwind round of rehearsals, concerts and visits enabled us to meet and interact with the Chinese people and gain a brief insight into their culture and way of life.   One afternoon we divided into two groups:  one went to a hospital to visit children with leukemia, while the other was welcomed in joyful song by the children and teachers of a kindergarten.  At Beijing University we gave a concert and intereacted with the students; and at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, we performed a joint concert with two Chinese choirs.   We paid unforgettable visits to the ageless Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Ming Tombs. Our four days in Beijing culminated in a bracing climb up on to the Great Wall and a memorable farewell dinner.

A two-hour flight then took the UN Singers to Shanghai, a city that has burst upon the twenty-first century like a giant firecracker.  A new forest of futuristic structures marks a city that is inviting the world to its Expo 2010.  This vast site, open until October, offers an amazing array of national pavilions of every design and shape, ranging from China’s gigantic inverted pyramid through Australia’s “Ayers Rock” and the United Kingdom’s “Seed Cathedral”  to Japan’s giant silkworm.  Despite the fierce sun, large crowds queued for hours to get in.  At the UN Pavilion, a more modest structure, we performed on successive days.   China Telecom, our sponsors in Shanghai, did everything to make us feel at home.  They invited us to ascend the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, a giant spike piercing the sky from the Huangpu riverbank, for a sumptuous buffet dinner in the revolving restaurant and an unnerving view through the glass floor of the glittering lights of Shanghai hundreds of feet below.
 
Some events will live long in our memories. We fondly recall a heart-warming visit to an old-people’s home – listening to their hearty singing and performing for and with them, followed by a lesson in making dumplings which we then had for lunch.  At Zhou Zhuang, a picture-perfect traditional village west of Shanghai with Venice-like canals, gondoliers, and fascinating craft shops, we performed on a circular stage under a starlit sky in a colourful show with an array of other performers.  Another highlight was a visit to Micky Mi’s parents’ home outside Shanghai to enjoy their openhearted hospitality and an impromptu musical interlude, followed by a brief visit to their next-door neighbours.

If one thing stands out, it is that such interactions demonstrate how much the peoples of the world have in common, if only we can meet each other more often so as to overcome suspicion and rancour and to share each other’s culture.  In their own small way, the UN Singers have been doing that ever since their founding in 1947 by their example of seeking harmony through the language we all have in common  – music.

china trip

Day 1 | 26 AprilRed Cross Society of China/Chinese Red Cross Foundation

In the afternoon, the Red Cross Society of China held a reception for us.  Their representative, speaking in Chinese with English  interpretation, welcomed us.  Replying, the UN Singers President, Charles Appel, expressed deep appreciation to our hosts for their kindness. There followed a visit to the UN Office, where we gave a mini-concert to the assembled staff, followed by a reception and a chance to socialize.  Our first day was rounded off with a welcoming dinner at a local restaurant, where our hosts regaled us with delicious food and multiple toasts.

Day 2 | 27 AprilChildren's Tomorrow

The UN Singers launched a harmonious charity campaign "Children's Tomorrow" aimed at helping severely sick children in Beijing. The Blue Belt Foundation wanted to get more people involved in helping severely sick children as they had never received unified or coordinated help from the government or social organizations. The afternoon we divided into two groups:  one went to a hospital to visit children with leukemia, while the other was welcomed in joyful song by the children and teachers of a kindergarten. The singers also gave a concert and speeches at Peking University, sharing their experiences as peacekeepers in Afghanistan, South Africa and Haiti to get Chinese students to know more about global humanitarian work.

Day 3| 28 AprilOne day in Beijing

We paid unforgettable visits to the ageless Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. In each attractions, the Singers were asked to record a music video "Love without borders", which is also the theme song of the new Charity project "Children's Tomorrow" aimed at helping severely sick childrenaimed at helping severely sick children and launched by the Blue Belt Foundation of Chinese Red Cross Foundation. At the Beijing Foreign Studies University, we performed a joint concert with two Chinese choirs that night.

Day 4 | 29 AprilSong of peace over the Great Wall

As the saying goes,"He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man." On the last day in Beijing, the Singers finally visited the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall, which is one of the "Eight Wonders of the World" and is enlisted in the World Heritage Directory. Due to the private tour of French President Nicolas Sarkozy that morning, the Singers had to record the music video and climb up the Great Wall in an hour. Even though, the Singers sang several songs on a signal fire platform, surrounded by hundreds of visitors from many countries.

Day 5 | 30 AprilA city where history meets future

Followed by a two-hour flight the night before, the UN Singers arrived in Shanghai, a vigorous and energetic international metro-polis, welcomes people from all over the world to enjoy its special atmosphere. This modern metropolis with its rich heritage of ancient Chinese culture has much to see and do. The Signers dipped into the history of the city on our first day in Shanghai. We visited the Shanghai Museum and Yu Gargen, which is the largest of Shanghai's ancient gardens with Ming and Qing architectural styles.

Day 6 | 1 MayONE EARTH ONE UN unveiled at Shanghai Expo

on 1 May, the UN Pavilion was finally revealed to the public and media for the first time in a ribbon cutting ceremony. Ambassador Reed and Mrs Tibaijuka were shown round the pavilion by Dr Behnam and treated to a moving performance by the UN Singers with the world premiere of Preamble for Peace, which is based on the Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations in 6 official languages.

Day 7 | 2 May"United Nations Choir hits all the right note "

"The UN Singers wowed an enthusiastic audience at a concert held in the UN Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo on Sunday." Reported by China.org. From 1 to 6 May, the UN Singers gave eights concerts inside the UN Pavilion and attracted thousands of visitors from around the world. The UN Singers also broke their record which was created in Spain - to perform four concerts in a single day (2 May).

Day 8 | 3 MayZhou Zhuang, Venice of Orient

Zhou Zhuang, one of the most famous water townships in China, situated in Kunshan City which is only 80 kilometers southwest of Shanghai. It is noted for its profound cultural background, the well preserved ancient residential houses, the elegant watery views and the strong local colored traditions and customs. We performed on a circular stage under a starlit sky in a colourful show with an array of other performers.

Day 9 | 4 MayOne day in Shanghai

We fondly recall a heart-warming visit to an old-people's home – listening to their hearty singing and performing for and with them, followed by a lesson in making dumplings which we then had for lunch. At Donghua University, we performed a joint concert with the university students, followed by a brief visit to the houses of local people. The Singers are also invited to ascend the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, a giant spike piercing the sky from the Huangpu riverbank, for a sumptuous buffet dinner in the revolving restaurant and an unnerving view through the glass floor of the glittering lights of Shanghai hundreds of feet below.

Day 10 | 5 MayChina Telecom

China Telecom, our sponsors in Shanghai, did everything to make us feel at home. They invited us to the "magic ball", which is the headquarters of Shanghai Telecom at the heart of Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone. In the Info Space, the Singers explored the fascination of the future life enriched by the advanced ICT with our own experience. We also talked with the young staff members of the China Telecom in a cultural exchange event.

Day 11 | 6 MayOne world, volunteering expo

A "One world, volunteering expo" gala concert was held on the last night of the trip. The UN singers performed Mo Li Hua, Veniki, A faraway place and Shenandoah for the Expo volunteers and millions internet users arount the world. Expo volunteers play an important role in ensuring the smooth operation of the 184-day event. More than 610,000 people, including 3,001 foreigners, have signed up to be volunteers at the 2010 World Expo. A total of 70,943 people have been recruited to work inside the site.


UN Singers in the News