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Singing for 30 years: the Peking University Student Choir

APR . 25 2017
Peking University, April 23rd, 2017: The Peking University Student Choir was established in September 1990. It has been thirty years since then. In the 19th century, the student choir not only united the students who loved to sing and were passionate about music, but also brought up the musical trend among the Peking University’s students. Recalling the moment when Que Qiang, a 91' undergraduate student at the School of Biology and one of the first members of the student choir, was struggling to ask Professor Wu Lingfen to help with choir affairs, there was no doubt that it had been a long journey. So much efforts and hardwork had been paid by the students and teachers to organize and set up the performances, whose worth has now been proven by the success achieved by the choir.
In the autumn of 1990: Everything always starts with difficulty

Starting from the 50s, after the chaos and wars, many recreational activities, clubs and communities were activated continuously at Peking University. However, because of the lacking of advice
and guidance from professions, some students’ organizations weren’t able to expand their sizes.
In 1986, Peking University decided to employ some professional music lecturers, and established an arts research center, which is now known as the College of Arts. And, in 1987, under the recommendation of the China’s famous opera vocalist, Shen Xiang, Hou Xijin, who graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music, majoring in vocal opera, came to work as a teacher at Peking University.
Hou Xijin later offered a public elective course, named as “vocal music”. This was the moment when the story of the singing choir of Peking University began, as the first president of the student choir at Peking University, Que Qiang, came to get close to Hou Xijin by joining her classes. “I can still remember vividly, in one afternoon, Que Qiang came to find me as he had something to talk about. We spent the whole afternoon walking beside the Weiming lake. Que Qiang gave his suggestion and persuaded me to help him establish a formal choir in our school by pointing out that it would serve as a community for students who loved music to communicate and explore.” said HouXijin. Sharing the same opinions and thoughts, Hou Xijin agreed with Que Qiang’s suggestion, and decided to be the vocal teacher of the singing choir.
In its early days, the singing choir went through a tough period. Lacking strong financial support, students could only handwrite their chords on the stencil papers first and sent it to mimeograph. To some of the music beginners, as they were not familiar with the chords, they used to make a lot of mistakes in their work. Although these just wasted a few pieces of stencil paper, it still made the students and teachers frown upon it.
Besides that, to search for suitable places to practice, students used to carry Hou Xijin with their bicycles around the school campus. The fifth president of the student choir at Peking University, Sa Beining, used to joke that the choir was a professional artistic team loaded by bicycles.
A team couldn’t be successful without a commander. In 1991, with Que Qiang, Wang Weiguo and many students’ endless efforts, they successfully invited the director of the Capital University Student Choir, Professor Wu Lingfen, to become the director of their choir.

Professor Wu Lingfen

In the early 90s, the arts education resources available for students were very limited. The music accomplishments of most students were low. They had never seen a piano, had never learnt any vocal singing techniques before. Only a few of them recognised the staff. Therefore, Professor Wu could only start from teaching the basics, such as the chords. And, the challenges became more difficult, when the quality of the music score couldn’t be ensured because of the stencil printing. ”It was a really easy song, but they just couldn’t sing the semitone well. She was pretty annoyed, and stared at me, like passing me a message that ‘I wasn’t being a good teacher.“said Hou Xijin.
1997: Singing and walking fearlessly
In the winter of 1993, an 18-year-old young teenager, Sa Beining, went to the interview held by Peking University to discover new talents. With his special performance of singing a song named “Xiao Bai Yang” (Little Aspen), he stood out in the interview and was successfully enrolled into the university. He soon became the fifth president of the Peking University Student Choir.
The year 1997 was the third year since Sa Beining joined the choir, and they travelled to Spain to participate in the 43rd International Habanera and Polyphonic Music Choir Competition. They won the gold award. It was the first international competition in which China’s student choir participated and the very first award that they won.

The 43rd International Habanera and Polyphonic Music Choir Competition
The opportunity to take part in this competition was really precious. At the beginning of the year, when Spain’s choir experts came to China to choose the participating teams, they were very amazed by the performance of the Peking University Student Choir. The Choir performed “The Half-moon is Climbing Up”, and decided to give them a chance to take part in the competition. This made everyone feel very excited at first. However, soon a very serious question came up to everybody’s mind: who were going to support the travel fares for them to Spain?
Luckily, the then vice president of Peking University, Wang Yiqiu, approved Hou Xijin’s request, that the school would be responsible for all the travel expenses. Nevertheless, this was not the end. There were still so many problems that were waiting for them to overcome, such as learning to recognise the staff, to pronounce Spanish lyrics, to sing the apical trill and to interpret a brand new musical form.
“We used to practice five times every week, which means that we had practiced more than four hundred hours in half a year. And, the most difficult time while preparing for the competition was the period when Hu Xijin was eight-months pregnant. But she still decided to climb the five floors of staircases in Yi Yuan during every practice, until a month before she delivered her baby.” saidLi Yuxia, the seventh vice president of the choir, a 99’ undergraduate student who majored in English,.
As the competition between the opponents was intense, they didn’t have much expectations. During the announcement of the winner of the gold awards, among the lines of Spanish, a word, “China”, suddenly popped out. Everyone was stunned, along with the tremendous applause from the crowd. The choir members were so surprised thatthey laughed, screamed and hugged each other. Tears dripped down from their eyes as this was the significant moment when their hard-work paid off.
Today: Looking back at 30 years of singing
The friendship between Hou Xijin and the students from the choir still lasts after thirty years. To the choir members, Hou Xijin is not only their teacher, but also their close friend and family member. Although she went to Oberlin College in the United States to do research last semester, she did not lose touch with the choir. They still communicated almost every week in order to update her on their learning progress. Sometimes, she even gave the choir some remote guidance. Last November, on HouXijin’s birthday, Jin Zixuan, the assistant director of the choir and a graduate student from the College of Arts, specially composed a four-vocal-part birthday song for her to show his appreciation.

The Choir visiting Europe in 2002
Singing birthday songs while increasing the singing speed gradually was an old tradition which is celebrated in the choir. Students always started to get closer with each other after their weekly practices. ”The best memory that I had in the choir was during the summer holiday in 2012, while we were hiking in the E’mei Mountain, someone played a tune, and all of us started to sing a song called “In the Still of the Night” together cheerfully. After the song, the tourists who walked beside us clapped astonishingly.” said Su Chenfeng, a 18’ graduate student of the College of Arts,.
Some of the students who joined the choir even found their important life partner in the choir. “There are too many couples in the choir.” said HouXijin. Many of them get to know and fall in love with each other through music.
Every Friday, at 6:30pm, some familiar voices calling out “Let’s go! The practice is going to start soon!”can be heard in 441 classroom of the New Sun Students’ Center.
Written by: Tan Yen
Edited by: Xu Liangdi
Source: PKU Youth (in Chinese)