How did you spend Pioneer Day? Sixty kids from the Utah-based International Children's Choir spent it on the Great Wall of China, singing an arrangement of "Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise."
"It was awe-inspiring," said Dr. Kathy Sorensen, the choir's director. "It was just a little misty, and to see the kids with the view of the wall behind them, singing that — it was very surreal. It was Pioneer Day back home, and here we are, Utah people, singing Mack Wilberg's piece on the Great Wall. I think that is probably one of the things that no one is going to forget."
It was a magical moment — a moment preceded by the memorable experience of winning a bronze medal in two categories at the World Choir Games.
The International Children's Choir traveled to Xiamen to join with more than 400 other choirs from 80 nations in an Olympic-style setting.
"The competitions were exciting, of course," said Sorensen. "There were choirs from all over the world. And everyone was friendly and excited to see each other and taking photographs. That was the general atmosphere."
She said that in the morning, the choir members traveled an hour by bus to rehearse in the hall and do sound checks. That only lasted five to seven minutes, and it was timed — including getting on and off the stage. Then they returned later in the day for the competition.
The International Children's Choir entered two categories: "Music of the Religions" and the "Children's Choir." After the first round of each, Sorensen said, participating choirs were awarded gold, silver or bronze diplomas. Only those receiving a gold diploma were allowed to go to the next round.
Fortunately, the International Children's Choir was not only awarded a gold diploma in both categories, but it also received a bronze medal at the end of the second — and final — round of both categories.
One of the biggest challenges of the competition, said Sorensen, was dealing with the stifling heat and humidity. The temperature, she said, was about 94 degrees, with about 98 percent humidity.
Another challenge was getting into a competitive mindset. "It was very hard to get into the groove of competing because we generally don't do that. The thing that we enjoyed the most was seeing the other groups and the costumes."
The medals weren't the only honors bestowed on the International Children's Choir at the Choir Games. The group was also chosen to represent the American continent during the opening ceremonies. Five continents were represented — one choir for each continent.
Also, five soloists were chosen to represent each continent. Keller Seamons of the International Children's Choir was the soloist representing North and South America in the opening ceremonies — replayed over and over on TV in Xiamen. "I hardly ever looked at the TV," said Sorensen, "but if you just punched the button, it would be on."
One of the songs they sang at the opening ceremonies, "Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise," turned out to be something of a hit in Xiamen. Sorensen said when people in the group took taxis, they would come back and report that the cab driver had been listening to it on the radio.
The International Children's Choir was also chosen to sing at a gala concert in the prestigious Gulangyu Concert Hall.
In addition to singing in the World Choir Games, Sorensen said the group went on a cruise of the Li river before the competition and had a short concert tour after the competition. They visited the Great Wall of China and the city of Xian and got to see the Terra-cotta Warriors.
"Xian is another ancient city with a wall," she said. "They had a big red carpet from the wall out to the street. They had a dignitary there, and he gave his speech, and I gave mine." They then presented Sorensen with a key to the city and then led the entire group inside the wall, where they were welcomed with a dance presentation — complete with ornate costumes and authentic Chinese drumming from ancient days.
Of all the fantastic sights they experienced, however, Sorensen said it was a rice farmer's home that was the most touching. "We saw how very little they had — no running water, no electricity, no sanitation, no windows. And yet they were so happy. I'm glad the kids got to see that. That is real China, and a lot of everything else is tourist China."