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Young singers lift their voices in choirs of angels
By Li Anlan

Echo Chamber Singers of Fudan University was founded by students in May 2009 and last December, it cooperated with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra in its Chamber Concert series.

The founder is Zhu Peitao, a third-year graduate student in plant science, who also chaired the university's chorus in 2008. He promotes performances and competitions. Zhu, a bass, sometimes plays the piano to accompany the choir.

Conductor Hong Chuan, a doctoral student in sociology at Fudan, helps with training.

The chorus has more than 40 members, undergraduate to doctoral students, have diverse backgrounds and none is a music major but a number have studied musical instruments.

The name Echo is self explanatory. "We want our singing to resound in the concert hall and appeal to the audience," Zhu says.

At first Echo was one among the school's choruses. "We didn't have big, long-term plans," Zhu says. It was just a group of people who wanted to sing, but the school chorus had more limitations such as on the program. "But if we do it ourselves, we can do something we really want, with more choice to perform the music we like."

After a year it broke away from the school organization, to become a completely independent chorus. The group does everything themselves, marketing, designing posters, designing program notes.

In October, 2011, Echo performed in concert with the French jazz band "Life Is Not a Picnic" at Shanghai Oriental Art Center. It was their first public appearance outside university and the first time tickets were sold.

The ensemble has been growing steadily and winning honors, including the silver medal in the 11th China International Choral Festival in Beijing in July 2012.

Every year, Echo recruits singers, mostly with no previous experience in chorus.

Hu Danqing is a member of Echo, but he's no longer a student. After graduation, he studied in the United States and returned to Shanghai to work, and to sing with Echo.

At Echo's recent performance at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, many of its former members attended, some even flew back from overseas. The atmosphere was lively.

"The hardest times are over, when there were many challenges and many things were not settled. Now it's ideal," Zhu says.

While Echo struck out on its own, the 93-member VIVA chorus at East China Normal University also takes choral music to a new level.

In the "China's Got Talent" episode on December 15, 16 members of VIVA performed a cappella "The Flight of the Bumble Bee" by Rimsky-Korsakov, usually played on musical instruments.

The chorus mostly had been singing a cappella and folk songs, and "Bumblebee" poses definite difficulties, because the melody moves in semitones, and the speed and mimetic words are difficult, says Chen Xinyun, the leader of VIVA. "We picked this particular piece because it's interesting and difficult at the same time."

"So we keep challenging ourselves and it took a whole year for us to conquer it."

All members practiced and 16 were chosen for the talent show. They advanced in the competition.

Chen, a senior in international commerce, graduates in June this year. "We joined purely because of the interest in music," she says. "It's hard to say good-bye."

The performance on "China's Got Talent" was a surprise. Chen thought they were there to perform and entertain, not compete, but someone had signed them up.

"Just before the show, we were told we were there to compete, so we did our best," she says.

All four judges said "yes" to their performance. Judge Gao Xiaosong, a famous song writer, said the student performance was better than professional versions he had heard.

The chorus gives concerts for the school, attends national and international competitions and music exchanges.

The Shanghai Jiao Tong University chorus last year gave four performances in Dresden, Germany, for the International Children's Choir Festival of 2012. The chorus was founded in the 1920s, according to Tang Yizhong, secretary general of the art education committee.

It has more than 60 members, mostly undergraduates and none of them in the arts.

"We Are Brothers and Sisters" was composed and performed by the chorus itself. It was made into a music video broadcast as the anthem for the Shanghai Blood Donation Association.

The voice of the golden youth sang by the chorus enthusiasts is not just the notes and lyrics.

The passion and dedication brought by all who love music is what makes the choruses shine on bigger stages.

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