Choir performing at the World Choir Games © Kathleen Kennedy

20 years of World Choir Games

A simple vision and yet a powerful idea

World Choir Games 2021

An important journey starts very often with a simple and intriguing idea. Choir Olympics was one of these ideas already from the first draft. An open stage for the whole choral world with the most important but simple aim: Participation is the highest honor!

At the end of the 20th century the world had changed and was more connected than ever. Eastern and Western Europe were again one continent and choirs from both systems had already opened their stages for each other. International events, especially international choir competitions, started to be popular in many countries and the number of participating choirs was growing from year to year. The choral scene was indeed calling for a global event.

The 1st Choir Olympics staged in July 2000 in Linz, Austria answered that call, connecting choirs from all over the world for the first Olympic event of choral music. A unique experience for the choral pioneers. At the same time, the organizers recognized that the Choir Olympics were much more than a bigger choir competition. The event was already on the focus of politics and media and the Olympic movement of choral music embraced the opportunities of the time. The international jury and the international guests of the first Choir Olympics gathered to formulate a Resolution of the International Choral Music handed over to the Secretary General of the International Music Council at the closing of the event. Expectations and targets were set for a long successful way.

The international acceptance and the global reach of the event was very well visible already at the 2nd edition of the event 2002 in South Korea. The Opening Concert of the Choir Olympics was broadcasted live on the Korean Television and marked a new record for the media visibility of choral competitions in general. The diversity of international choral music now became the focus of attention and the event acquired its distinctive colorful image.

Singing together brings nations together

The Choir Olympic idea was born in Germany, but did not come home until the third edition of the event in July 2004. This home event was the starting point for the creation of a grand finale event called “The Choral Fireworks”, culminating today in a Festival Stage Choir with hundreds of singers from around the world. In the third edition of this major global event, the underlying aspiration to bring together people and nations united by song in a peaceful competition was once again manifested. The international understanding and the peacemaking role of choral music became very well visible when choirs from South and North Korea joined the stage for the first time at the 2004 Choir Olympics. Another big step in the development and history of the World Choir Games took place in 2004 as a group of jurors, educators and international guests came together to form a consultative network called the World Choir Council. Representatives of the (choral) nations of the world met for the first time and formed henceforth as the highest advisory committee of INTERKULTUR and the World Choir Games, supporting and promoting the exchange, progress and development of choral art and culture worldwide.

The World Choir Games were born – and conquer the world

The first edition of the event in China, 2006 in Xiamen, was the first one with the new title The World Choir Games. The choir Olympic movement was now a real global event with a record in participating numbers and visibility.

Milestones of the following years were the premiere of the gala TV show “We are the world”, recorded during the World Choir Games 2008 in Graz, Austria, the highest number of performing ensembles with 472 choirs at the World Choir Games 2010 in Shaoxing, China and the premiere of the Games on the American continent in Cincinnati 2012.

The US Games were nominated as the Event of the Month by the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, and ABC’s “Good Morning America”, the No. 1 rated morning news program, broadcasted live from the World Choir Games on July 9, 2012.

Coming back to Europe for the 2014 World Choir Games was much more than the simple due event change after two editions in Asia and America. The World Choir Games 2014 were hosted as the major event of the European Capital of Culture festivities in Riga, Latvia. 15,000 singers at the historical stage of the Baltic Song and Dance Festivals in Mezaparks in Riga and around 25,000 people in the audience set a new, until today unbroken record in the history of the World Choir Games.

The next edition of the Games, which took place in July 2016 in Sochi, Russia, was highly affected by the many conflicts of the time. The crisis in the Ukraine, the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and Istanbul and the coup in Turkey on the last day of the Games had a major impact on the world and its most global choral event.

The cultural-political significance and relevance of the Games were once again in the spotlight this year.

The 10th edition of the World Choir Games in 2018 also marked the event‘s premiere on the African continent. Tshwane in South Africa delivered an unforgettable, colorful celebration of the world‘s choral cultures unlike anything seen before, a first for guests and hosts alike.

Current challenges and a resounding future

The path to the 11th edition of the World Choir Games scheduled in Flanders for July 2020, could not have been more challenging. The event was designed as the most inclusive Games and the unprecedent number of 570 registered choirs was the best result reached so far. As many events of 2020, the World Choir Games were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and had to be postponed to 2021.

This pandemic has raised many questions about the feasibility of major events and their future. Choirs in particular have been hit hard by the restrictions and bans on contact, and the stages of the world have had to fall silent.

Despite the difficult situation worldwide, however, it is a great joy and affirmation that the World Choir Games continue to attract new host cities with extraordinary visions for the world‘s leading choral competition. In 2022, after 20 years, the Games will return to South Korea, this time to Gangneung, located in the Gangwong province. And it is also already certain that the World Choir Games after that will have another fantastic premiere in store for the choral world - after more than 20 years, they are now also conquering the 5th continent with the 2024 World Choir Games in Auckland, New Zealand.

It is a very good and encouraging signal in these times of crisis that the World Choir Games have now already been awarded for three consecutive events in advance. This long-term planning will be extremely helpful and motivating for all choirs planning their next performances after the pandemic.

The colorful stage of the World Choir Games is set for the future!

(by Gent Lazri)

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