Local choir charmed by China

The Beijing Olympics wasn't the only event in recent weeks in China to inspire sold-out crowds and international enthusiasm. The Los Angeles Children's Chorus — which involves 61 youths from across the Los Angeles area, including about a dozen from the Foothills — recently returned from a two-week pre-Olympic tour to China.

While in China, the young people performed with the Stanford University Symphony Orchestra, in a collaboration conducted by Beijing native Jindong Caii. Chorus members also traveled to various historic landmarks and performed to appreciative crowds across the country.

“It was amazing,” said Ryan Schiller, 13, a student at La Cañada's St. Bede the Venerable Catholic School. “My favorite part of the tour was the Great Wall. It's amazing — so vast and big.”

Schiller also said he was impressed by visits to a silk factory in Shanghai; Tiananmen Square; Hong Kong; and, the Terracotta Army, in Xian, where nearly 10,000 clay soldiers, dating back to 210 BC, guard the mausoleum of Chinese Emperor Qin.

Several of his preconceptions of China were debunked during the trip, Schiller said. “Everyone thinks the country is impoverished and that there's so much pollution, but I didn't see that at all,” he said.

Rachel Murphy, 13, a freshman at Crescenta Valley High School, also came home with some new insight into the people, history and culture of China. “It was really good to experience [Chinese] culture,” Murphy said. “China is really pretty and so different from our country.”

One difference is evident in dining there, she said. “They have lots of animals with their heads still on them on the tables. That was kind of hard to get used to,” she said.

Hand gestures also had to be kept in check, she said, noting that the way in which one holds a teapot can be regarded as the equivalent of a derogatory finger gesture.

But, an appreciation for music transcended cultural boundaries, she said.

“We had a lot of good responses to our performances,” Murphy said. “There were a lot of encores for the orchestra especially. The people were so happy to have us there performing for them.”

A highlight of the tour for Murphy was a performance in Hong Kong, she said. “I loved Hong Kong, it was like a tropical New York — like a city in a rain forest,” she added.

For Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy student Stephanie Wetzel, 16, the trip was “very exciting.”

Visiting the city of Shanghai was Wetzel's favorite portion of the trip. “”Everybody was so friendly and they treated us like celebrities,” she said.

Because she's a blond, Wetzel received additional attention from China's natives. “Everyone wanted to take pictures with me,” she said, with a laugh.

Singing at the Great Hall of the People in historic Tiananmen Square also was a novel experience.

“We were the first children's choir to sing there,” she said, adding that the president of China was among the audience at that historic concert. “It was a great honor,” she said. “The whole trip was amazing.”

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