by Julia Maier-Fuersattel
“Where people sing you can safely gather,” goes a well-known German song that comes into my mind while I am on the way to my first rehearsal with the International Women’s Choir (IWC) Shanghai. For years I wanted to join a choir again, but somehow it was never the right time. So I am quite excited about today! “Meet new friends while enjoying singing,” I read about IWC on the SEA webpage. That sounds like my kind of choir!
Today's rehearsal takes place at Jill's apartment. When I enter, Jill comes over and greets me warmly, “Are you soprano or alto?” “Soprano, I think...,” I answer reluctantly. In seconds Jill organizes a chair and walks me over to the soprano singers, who greet me with encouraging smiles. Still, I am a bit nervous. After all, I have not sung in a choir for more than 10 years. Can I still do it? And then to start with Antonio Vivaldi, I think, while I look at the sheets of music in my hand. But there is no time for second thoughts, this is our cue. “Gloria, gloria,” the sopranos starts singing....
After rehearsal I get to talk with Theresa, who is busy handing out new scores. We met at the SEA Festive Coffee Morning last November where she conducted the choir. Theresa was born in Taiwan, studied in the US and moved to Shanghai 25 years ago. She has been a member of the choir ever since it was founded back in September 2012 by Jeanie Grifiths, the former US Consulate General's wife. “We are a no-audition required group,” she explains. “Everybody with a passion for music and signing is welcome to join!” And numbers have been growing. “Recently we see many new faces. Even I am astonished. I'd say we are around 20-25 ladies from around 10 different nationalities now,” Theresa tells me.
Charlotte, who is our conductor today, arrived in Shanghai seven years ago. A couple of years later she joined the IWC, first as a singer and eventually she started to conduct the choir. “I was not very confident at first,” she admits. That is hard to believe, seeing how effortlessly she manages to rehearse the challenging Vivaldi piece with us. She takes turns with Theresa and Monique, another member from “Day 1” to conduct the choir.
I like this very open and democratic attitude that allows everybody to play an active part in the choir community, be it singing, accompanying the choir on the piano or other instruments, or conducting. And all IWC members can suggest new pieces of music to sing. So, it is no wonder the repertoire is as diverse as the choir itself. A good example is today's rehearsal that started with Vivaldi's Gloria and ended with Your Song by Elton John. In between we sang a song called Sing by Joe Raposo. It is a very cheerful piece about, you guessed it, singing. The tune is so catchy it stayed with me throughout the week and uplifts my mood whenever I'm humming it. The atmosphere during rehearsal is focused, but also relaxed. Between the songs there is time for small talk. I ask Tamara, who is sitting next to me, where she lives. She points behind her. “Me and Jill are neighbors,” she smiles. “We both, together with other members, take turns hosting the rehearsals.” Tamara arrived from Germany last year, and soon after joined the choir. When the rehearsal stops after 90 minutes, I realize how much I had missed singing with other people.
Now it is time for the new members to introduce themselves. We are three newbies in total and get a very warm welcome and applause from the others. Rehearsal might be over, but most ladies stay on for social time, which is just as important it seems. Bowls filled with warm broccoli soup and freshly baked bread are passed around. “Usually every time someone brings some food to share,” Tamara tells me. The singers gather in little groups and engage in vivid conversation.
The choir seems to be more than “just” about the singing. It is a very familiar community that plays an important part in members’ lives. They proved this very practically, when, after the pandemic lockdown last year, the choir first started to take up rehearsing again in May. Some members were still outside of Shanghai, so – et voilà! - they joined the choir rehearsal online. Music really knows no boundaries!
And it seems, for many members the weekly meetings with the choir became even more important during this difficult and most challenging of years. “Usually, we would have a long summer break when many of us would travel or visit family back home. But in 2020 most of us were here in Shanghai, so we just kept rehearsing throughout the summer,” explains Theresa. “So, instead of two semesters in 2020, we had three. In spring we usually rehearse famous songs from musicals, and in autumn Christmas carols. Last summer we also practiced Chinese Pop songs like Mojito by Jay Chou that we performed at the SEA Coffee Morning in September.”
While we sit and eat the delicious broccoli soup we get to talk about this and that. Annick from Belgium is a new member like me and connects personal memories with one of the songs we practiced today. Elton John's Your Song was her wedding song 30 years ago! Jill, who is from the Netherlands, tells us that she joined IWC only about a month after she moved to Shanghai last year. Since then even her husband, a passionate piano player, has participated in one of their performances. “Last December, during IWC's Christmas Concert at the Shangri-La Hotel, he played a Christmas medley on the grand piano of the hotel,” she remembers.
“We are a warm, big family,” says Jasmine Ye from the U.S., born in Shanghai. She has been a SEA member for 20 years and joined the IWC about three years ago. And when I look around this room full of women, who are singing, eating, chatting, and laughing together, I feel that she is right.
Want to join the International Women's Choir or get more information? Please contact SEA@shanghaisea.com.
IWC’s next performance will be at the SEA Coffee Morning on March 8, 2021.
Rehearsals take place in various members’ homes every Tuesday from 12:30 to 2 PM, followed by 30 minutes of social time.
Julia Maier-Fuersattel is from Bavaria, Germany and formerly worked as an editor for an art magazine. In 2018, she and her husband together with their two kids (4- and 6-years old) and three cats moved to Shanghai. They are on their second expat assignment to China. The family enjoys exploring Shanghai, and the city's vibrant, international atmosphere. Julia became a SEA member last year, and recently joined the International Women's Choir.