The National Day Singing Competition - Zhejiang University of Science and Technology, September, 2009
note: this post is from 2009, a few weeks after I came to ZUST to teach full time and I was still awed by most everything. As it turns out, there were no more singing day competitions. This one was part of the celebrations of 60 years since the founding of the PRC. Still, an impressive event.
One of the emcees wore a black tuxedo with diamond - I wanted to say rhinestone- studs along the collar and piping. The other wore a white tux with black piping. The women emcees wore serious prom type dresses, or serious I-am-a-grownup-take-me-out-dancing dresses- a slinky reflective gold long dress for one, a more demure white for the other.
The rhinestone reference kept running through my head because the between performances music was the theme song from Ponderosa.
This was the annual singing competition between departments at ZUST. Each school department- economics, marketing, civil engineering- puts together a group of about 50 students, generally about half and half by gender, and practices for weeks before the big night. So for days before tonight, it was like walking past the music building at Northwestern, and hearing beautiful voices floating out from classrooms. Except these were 50 voices, and lots of the men sounded like men- deep voices and big and almost scary.
I am not going to keep you in suspense. I am pleased to report that for the 5th year in a row (?), the computer science students beat every other department, including the architects (who came in second this year).
Every department has money in their budget for clothes for the singing competition. The standards vary a little, but generally tuxedos for the boys, fancy dresses for the girls, and all the same for each department.
The competition started about 6:00, and ran until 8:00. Each department did one number, generally a song built around love of country or home. One was about the Qiantang River, in Hangzhou, as having come from very far away, and being the mother of all Chinese. Another was about someone climbing a tree, and when I asked for clarification, I got back a finger pointing at a dictionary entry, "guerilla," and I didn't want any further clarification. But it is still not clear.
Every department sounded as if they had practiced for a long time. The men were forceful, the women sweet and a nice counterpart to the men. Everyone on stage- this was on a temporary staired stage in front of the library entrance- sang, and loud. No one looked embarrassed or too cool to sing. It was a competition.
There were stage lights, a lot of them, and videos, and a couple of the groups had small sparklers or fireworks as part of their song and a couple of the groups had some slight choreography, as much as they could do while standing on temporary stands under hot lights outside in big clothes. The judges sat at tables in front of the stand, and hundreds of students were behind the judges, standing on small chairs and on planters at the library entrance. The library has a six story covered entryway between two buildings, so we were shielded from the light rain and there was plenty of room for hundreds, and the voices carried. I could hear the groups clearly from my apartment, across the lake from the library and a good quarter mile away. Somewhere, someone was selling or handing out t shirts inscribed with "music has no borders" and "nations without foreigners."
At the end, after the awards, the winning group came back for an encore and brought in the front row another twenty or so students in ethnic costumes, mostly from the west of China, and an American student from NYC who I know, and one of the German students who is in my urban economics class. The song was about love of country, and everybody sang.
So for Scott, and Jim, now you understand how the Chinese government IIT students have such wonderful voices, and use them, and how they can put on such performances for spring festival. They have been doing it every year since they were small, and they practice, and they believe in the value of it. So much for individualism and do your own thing. One of my students in the urban economics course said she had heard some things about the development of economies, from slavery to feudalism, to capitalism, to socialism. But, she said, socialism did not have enough money to do good things for people, and capitalism helps. But she was worried that capitalism might harm the socialism in China. I said that was a good question, but that no country was purely capitalist or socialist. In the US, we have a socialized safety net for health care for the elderly and poor, for people who get hurt on the job, for retirees, for housing for poor people, and for schooling. China does not have any of those in a nationally uniform way. But they can really sing, and when they get together to do something, it works. I read an article yesterday expressing fears about the China future- you know, economic stimulus and corruption and too much infrastructure spending and no democracy. One of the comments to the article provided the usual "it's all a sham, and it will collapse any day now" view. Another commentator noted that in his experience, the people who claim the sham argument have invariably never been to China. Or heard them sing, organized, for fun, in a competition just for themselves.
I wish Rachel were here. She would have loved it.