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Mares: Singing in Asia

06/21/11 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST)  Recently, commentator Bill Mares had the opportunity to catch up with old friends at a reunion that had a distinctive musical theme.

(MARES)  I've just returned from the 50th Reunion of my college singing group's tour of Asia. Thirty-eight of the fifty living members attended the gathering in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One even flew in from Australia, and another from Hong Kong,

In the summer of 1961, we came, we sang, and musically, we conquered Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, India, and Greece.  We gave 36 formal concerts and numerous informal ones in sixty days. We performed for crowds of 2 or 3,000 in concert halls and for small groups on street corners or in train stations. We sang IN the Taj Mahal, and at the BASE of the Parthenon. For our repertoire of 100 pieces we prepared two folk songs for every country, a practice which earned us extra applause at every stop.

Like most reunions, this one was built upon the slippery foundations of parallel memories.  To anchor our face-to-face exchanges, we had each contributed pictures and recollections to a bound volume which we received upon arrival.  Oh, how we pored over its pages, like high school students with new yearbooks.  And like a high-school student, I went around and had every attendee sign his name in my book!

But the gathering was much more than twice-told tales.  Over two days, we practiced four hours for a "concert" for family and friends. By e-mail, we had "voted" for our five favorite songs from the tour.

Then one of the tenors, a choral director in his own right, chose 30 songs, which we distilled down to 20.  As we sang our warm-up scales, the scales of age on faces and vocal chords fell away. We were back in Tokyo singing a joint concert with Japanese university students.  We were in the Philippine countryside singing in a village school.  We were in a Korean palace before 7,000 people.

What we lacked in youthful vocal range we made up for in aging warmth.

Most of us have never left music.  Two-thirds of us are still singing in serious choruses.  One is a composer.  Two are professors of music.

Unlike many reunions that try (and fail) to recreate the past, we could, in the words of the Christmas carol, "...repeat the sounding joy."

The concert opened with a 16th century motet in honor of our deceased members.  And then we did 20 songs, in nine languages, broken into halves so that we could add spoken recollections to our written ones.
  
We closed with the choir's unofficial theme song, "Glorious Apollo," which contained these words, "Thus then combining/Hands and hearts joining... Long may continue our unity and joy/ Our unity and joy."

Throughout the  the tour's 25,000 miles and this reunion, I felt the enduring power of performance..  It is better to give than to receive.
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