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Rural children's choir sings its way onto Olympic stage
February 11,2022   By:Xinhua
-- Exuding confidence with crystal-clear voices, a choir of 44 children sang the Olympic Anthem, in Greek, at the iconic "Bird's Nest" stadium during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 4.
 
-- Starting from scratch less than four months ago, the children learned the composition note by note and the Greek lyrics word by word, before presenting to the world a moving rendition of the staple program of Olympic opening ceremonies.
 
-- "Their singing seemed like music from heaven. I sensed exactly what I have been looking for -- the fragrance of the earth," said Zhang Yimou, director of the opening ceremony.
 
BEIJING/ATHENS, Feb. 11, 2022 -- Before athletes from around the world began competing for the highest honors in winter sports in Beijing 2022, a group of Chinese kids from a remote mountainous village had basked in their own Olympic glory.
 
Exuding confidence with crystal-clear voices, a choir of 44 children sang the Olympic Anthem, in Greek, at the iconic "Bird's Nest" stadium during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 4.
 
Starting from scratch less than four months ago, the children learned the composition note by note and the Greek lyrics word by word, before presenting to the world a moving rendition of the staple program of Olympic opening ceremonies.
 
"This is my first visit to Beijing and the Bird's Nest is really grand," said Xi Qingru, 11, a member of the Malanhua Children's Choir. "I am excited to have the opportunity of letting the world hear us sing."
 
JOURNEY TO BEIJING
 
In late September 2021, after Ma Xiaojing arrived in Fuping County, Hebei Province, with the task of auditioning performers for the anthem, she was immediately arrested by the innocence and sincerity of the local children.
 
"You can see the curiosity in their eyes; they were very keen to strike a conversation with us but were too shy to do so," said Ma, performance management supervisor of the opening ceremony.
 
At Malan Primary School, retiree Deng Xiaolan had been teaching local kids music for 18 years and formed a children's choir. "I love music. I use music to spread happiness among the children," said Deng. "All I hope is they stay happy and healthy."
 
Ma picked a preliminary roster of performers by choosing members of the choir and kids from other local schools, and shot a video of them singing.
 
"This is it," said Zhang Yimou, director of the opening ceremony, after watching the video. "Their singing seemed like music from heaven. I sensed exactly what I have been looking for -- the fragrance of the earth."
 
Once the performers were chosen, help poured in for the remote village nestled deep in the mountains to make the near-impossible mission of teaching the young amateurs to sing in Geek a reality.
 
"We sing to express our true feelings," said Zhang Hongyu, dean of School of Music and Dance of Baoding University and one of the music teachers. "Using the simple and innocent voices of the kids to express our love for the Olympics is a goal we can achieve."
 
From the very beginning, the teaching group had reached the consensus that teaching the kids to sing should never come at the cost of dampening their enthusiasm for music. They devised many fun activities, from voicing and breathing practices to music notation learning, to help the kids grasp the singing techniques.
 
Greek teacher Qin Yezhen from Beijing Foreign Studies University and his assistant Lin Jiahao arrived from Beijing to help kids pronounce Greek. They also translated the lyrics into simple Chinese to help the kids understand the meaning of the Olympic classic.
 
In the following months, the children practiced the song whenever they could. It was as if the Olympic tune had permeated every corner of the remote village -- the homes, the creeks and the mountains.
 
After 12-year-old Li Zhengze was enrolled in the choir, he aspired to sing in the Bird's Nest. To get an idea of what it was like, he repeatedly watched videos from the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, an event that even predated his birth.
 
When they arrived at the stadium for rehearsals in January, Li and his fellow choristers were all overwhelmed by its vastness and grandeur. Many of them sang in shivering voices during the first rehearsal. "The stadium is very different from the one I saw in the video. How can it be so big?" Li said.
 
But the children from the mountains had their own way of overcoming the nervousness. "When on stage, we just see the spectators as if they were trees on the mountains and stars in the sky," said one chorister.
 
ECHOES FROM GREECE
 
The choir's performance has drawn applauses from audiences across the world, including Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics.
 
Evangelos Kokkoris, artistic director of the Philippos Nakas conservatory, one of the best-known conservatories in Greece, and a fan of winter sports himself, was impressed by the performance.
 
"What was impressive was that a choir of young Chinese, with great stability in their voices, sang it in Greek and with clarity of speech. This honors our country Greece," he told Xinhua.
 
"Many congratulations to China for the achievement of these children learning within three months this anthem. It was not easy at all," he added.
 
Noting the significant status of the anthem, Kokkoris, who is also a teacher of the history of art, said it is a unique property of the modern Games.
 
Composed by Greek composer Spyros Samaras and written by Greek poet Kostis Palamas, the Olympic Anthem was first performed at the start of the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, the first modern Olympics.
 
Foteini Baxevani, who studies piano at the conservatory, watched the choir's performance online with great interest.
 
"It was a very nice gesture and it definitely moves people. They sang it very clearly, so beautifully," she commented.
 
Aggeliki Toubanaki, a vocal educator at the conservatory, noted that despite the choir being amateurish, the children sang in a voice that showed unity, emanating their emotion and power.
 
"They really were like angels. They were like stars. It was as if all these voices were joined together and the heavens opened," she said.

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