"New means of singing will play a part in our future development"
Interview with Mr LI Peizhi, President of the China Chorus Association
China was the first country in the world affected by the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic. As everywhere else in the world, this had an impact not least on the Chinese choral scene. In an interview with INTERKULTUR the President of China Chorus Association, Li Peizhi, comments on the situation of choirs in China and the future of Chinese choirs after the pandemic.
1. What impact has the sudden outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020 had for China Chorus Association?
The COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 has brought havoc to mankind and has greatly affected the lives of people all around the world. The pandemic has brought great disruption to peoples normal lives in China and globally, like a train running that comes to a sudden break. This kind of impact has caused tremendous inconvenience not only to people’s daily lives but also in special fields, for our case, the choral community and our choral life. To ensure the life and health of people, many activities have been suspended, and large choral events had to be postponed. Nonetheless, we have great confidence in defeating the pandemic. We will take advantage of previous experience and use modern scientific methods to overcome the pandemic and strive to shake off the shadow and restore normalcy. Although the choral activities in China has been given a sudden break, I believe that when everything has past, we will be back on the train heading to a bright future and the development of choral arts will resume its broad prospect.
2. What kind of choral activities were originally planned in China this year? What arrangements are there after the pandemic?
China Chorus Association started the annual planning at the end of last year and by the time at the beginning of 2020, we have the whole year planning and schedule established. Similar to past years, there were about 20 events - national and cooperation with regional government and choral foundations. All events has been suspended due to the pandemic: China International Chorus Festival, international choral festivals in Shenyang and Zhongshan, China Folklore Festival, the 2nd China Choral Directors Association conference, Voice of Beijing, the Yellow River Cantata Art Festival, Nie Er Choral Art Festival, home and abroad exchange programs, as well as cooperation with regional governments. The suspension of all the above events has had huge impact on us. Some of the activities can be resumed after the pandemic whereas others will have to be postponed to next year or two after. This depends on how the pandemic evolves and what the higher policies guides.
3. As of today, the pandemic has happened for nearly 6 months, what has China Chorus Association done in terms of choral activities?
Due to the overall environment influenced by the pandemic, China Chorus Association tried to support existing online activities within the reach in the past 6 months, such as supporting online workshops, virtual choirs and sharing basic choral materials. These activities conform to the requirements as they do not involve direct contact. During the pandemic, the suspension of large events is indeed a way of supporting the fight against the pandemic.
4. Ever since the outbreak, there have been numerous virtual choir creating songs about the battle against the pandemic. Which ones are most impressive and what are their characteristics?
Indeed there have been a great many choral pieces themed in the battle against the pandemic in China and in the world. I think this how the people, and especially musicians using their ability and power to express and pass on emotions and their will. There are certainly successful projects and we have all been deeply impressed. Yet due to the restrictions and limitations of recording conditions, some could not fully demonstrate the original idea. Nevertheless all of them are beautiful as the message they send out are all positive and showed the people the great power of music.
5. Virtual choir and online courses have become a new and popular means under the current special situation. What kind of influence will this have on the development of choral culture? Will it continue to exist as a normalcy in the future?
These new ways of singing and online lecturing are so popular all over the world right now. I personally think this is a special countermeasure during the special time, to fulfill the eager to sing. Choral singing is a fantastic way for people to communicate emotions, which requires contact and time for running-in so we definitely need to experience the artistic collision generated in real rehearsals for the beauty and charm of choral art to be revealed. The charm of choral singing lies in its dynamic to realize the beautiful and harmonious effect. I am sure everyone cannot wait to relive the choral singing life like before, face-to-face communications, emotional collisions, having friends and colleagues in the same room for rehearsals and performances. Besides the normalcy we are all familiar with, I would say the new means of singing and rehearsing probably will still play certain part in our future development.
6. The pandemic has been effectively controlled in China but still serious in other parts of the world. What should choirs pay attention to when taking part in such chorus activities?
When we talk about the current situation in China, like you said, even if it has been contained on a certain level, we still need to be careful and take caution in what we do. It is without doubt that during rehearsal, aerosol generates droplets and it is not quite possible to keep long distance between each singer. We have to understand and agree that the health and safety of all people should come first no matter what. So I would suggest choir leaders and conductors not to resume rehearsals until the situation in your region is fully contained with impeccable precaution. In the meantime try to activate the singers by using online materials and listen to great concerts online. Health and safety of people are above everything else.
7. The pandemic is still putting the world in a difficult situation. How would you predict and under what circumstances could international choral exchanges proceed normally?
I agree and support the decision INTERKULTUR has made previously [editor's note: the World Choir Games were postponed to 2021]. At least it will not be until next year for these kind of large international events to resume. According to the analysis of medical scientists, this will be a “protracted war”. We will consider and resume such large events only when the overall security precaution and health arrangements are ensured.
8. What do you say Chinese choirs can do under the current circumstances?
I think it is a great time for Chinese singers and conductors to take advantage of the time to study and recharge. You will see great improvement when you look back at the development of China Chorus Association in the past 30 years, yet there are quite a lot of basic problems and fundamental struggles that need to be solved. So I would suggest singers and conductors to take time to realize their weaknesses and practice. They can read, listen and learn online and in small groups, enrich basic skills in music cultivation, score reading, which will make big difference when they come back to rehearsal after the pandemic is over. Even though the pandemic is severe and seems to recurrent, but it will come to an end whereas choral arts will continue to move forward and a solid foundation is always needed.
9. With the rapid development of 5G network and internet connecting everything, what changes do you think the choral world will encounter? How should we react to that?
Surely the rapid development of 5G network, booming of internet and the interconnection of everything is attracting the world. Like I mentioned before, the charm of choral arts lies in the culture heritance, interpersonal communication and emotional collision. These can only be fully generated during an actual rehearsal or performance. That is not going to change. We expect to add more flavors to our choral life by using the new and popular ways through internet and maybe to achieve certain aspect that can only be done this way. What people are pursuing is the real artistic enjoyment during rehearsals and performances, this can indeed be well-balanced with some support of new technology as auxiliary means.
10. Do you have confidence and hope for the future of choral singing?
We do have full confidence and hope. The history of choral arts has been going on for nearly a thousand years and has also developed vigorously in China during the past decades. Its artistic charm and humanistic value is irreplaceable. Although the current pandemic has created obstacles in our path, it is only a brief moment in the long course of human history. I believe the tree of art is evergreen and the art of chorus is forever. We as a united world will certainly overcome the difficulties and soon we will be able to carry out the choral scene over the country and for the world to hear our voices. I believe that choral singing will have much better communication and development around the world by singing together to bring people around the world together.