Concert day! (Pictures coming soon)
The morning of our first concert, I woke up feeling sick. Again. This has been an unfortunate theme of Harvard Glee Club concerts for me during the past year, but there it was. I had a breakfast meeting with the tour manager and the treasurer to work out financial details for the rest of the trip, and then with our native Korean speaker, who was helping to organize logistics with the Gunsan Civic Chorale. After our meetings, I did a little more tour work on my own before it came time to load the buses to the concert hall. We packed up our tails, music, tour t-shirts and CDs, looking forward to exploring the National Concert Hall.
To gain entrance to the hall, we were each given a green ticket with our name. Security was surprisingly tight for a concert hall; all the doors to the exterior courtyard were locked except for the one that we entered, and they had a strict protocol for who was allowed to be on-stage. This made me feel all the more privileged to stand on that stage, but also a bit sad that other people aren’t able to share in the experience.
It’s a great performance space. The sound travels well, and the hall’s enormous organ pipes, surrounded by dark wooden panels make an incomparable backdrop. The seats and the two tiers of balcony seating are designed to optimize acoustics, so they have a more angular, modern look compared to the rest of the hall. The entrance and lobby are also wonderfully ornate, with a curved double staircase up to the main orchestra seating entrance and a mural depicting the folk music and instruments of China and Taiwan.
After our sound check, I returned to the green room and took a nap, which helped me feel a little better. For dinner we had an interesting collection of sushi-shaped food. There were a few traditional sushi rolls, like the shrimp and egg nigiri and a spicy tuna and roe maki, but also some maki which had cucumber and pork sung inside of them. After dinner, we got into tails and lined up in our concert standing order.
As we took the stage, the audience applauded respectfully, and gave our conductor and accompanist even more appreciation. We (the Bass 1 section) started our first song, the other parts joined in, and soon after that the first song of the Harvard Glee Club East Asia New Year’s Tour was over. We had started a bit tentatively, but found our footing and hit all the major notes our conductor had given us during our sound check. As he lowered his arms to signal the end of the piece, our conductor gave us a small smile.
Silence. Not a single audience member clapped. Confused, our conductor gave a vague gesture, which we all interpreted as a sign to open our music folders. He then asked our accompanist to give the chords for the next songs, which we sang well, but which were also greeting with a stony silence. This time, our conductor stepped down from the podium, to signify the end of the set, but still nothing. He walked over to the microphone, announced our next songs, and got back on the podium. With a bit of a shrug, he asked for another chord, and we sang the next three songs well, given that we didn’t know why the audience hated us.
Finally, at the end of that song set, some one in the audience started clapping, and the rest of them joined in. This was a relief, and got us back on track for the rest of the first half, which concluded with Biebl’s Ave Maria. During intermission, we found out that the audience will only applaud when the conductor acknowledges that they are allowed to do so. Reassured by this knowledge, we listened to Lite perform their set, then marched back out on stage in mixed formation for the next set.
In mixed formation, I stand at the front left corner of the choir, and from that position I was able to hear the rest of the choir much better. From where I stood, we performed “We Are” well, were a bit shaky on the folk songs, but pulled off a good “Glorious Apollo” and the Football songs. We got a good amount of applause when we took our final bows, but I don’t think anything could have wiped the memory of those terrifying first few song responses from our minds.
After the concert, I met up with extended family who live and work in Taiwan. I hadn’t seen them in person in over 5 years, so it was nice to catch up with them a little bit, even though their kids had almost no memory of me. We chatted about how I was doing, and the family, and commiserated over the constants in high school life, college applications. We took a photo, said farewell, and I hopped back on the bus to the hotel.
I changed into street clothes, then walked a short distance to the karaoke bar our host had reserved for an after party. I sang along with some pop tunes – Bad Romance, Let It Be,All the Small Things – and enjoyed the iced tea and food they provided. Eventually, it was revealed that we had an important guest with us: Peter Lee, a Taiwanese pop singer and graduate of the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins. He sang a song for us in Mandarin, one which was on the karaoke machine. He had a great clear voice,especially compared to our raspy post-concert croaks, and shaped every phrase just so.
After that unexpected treat, I went back to the hotel to pack. The next morning: Korea!