Montreal Competition - Article

Lao Wai Nan Gao Yin at the Loto-Quebec 2009 World Choral Festival
By Steve McIntosh
July 28, 2009

With the anticipation of youngsters going off to summer vacation on a Cape Cod beach for a week, Zhang Senlin, my wife Qi, and I squeezed into my fully loaded Prius for the long drive to Montreal. A small vase of freshly picked daisies and a bag of grapes graced the front console adding a little romance, style and good fortune to the journey’s start on this sunny Wednesday morning.

Steve McIntosh, Dir. Qiao & Gao QiFor me, the ensuing Montreal days would be spent much like other chorus events—wondering what is being said around me—except that, in Montreal, I had French to bewilder me as well! Mind you, I’m not complaining. I love the music, have many friends and enjoy the events very much. In fact, I imagine my chorus experience is much like what my oldest daughter went through when she landed in the U.S., fresh from Beijing, to enter the first grade without understanding a speck of English. Her classmates still managed to communicate, befriend and play with her in spite of the vastly different communication protocols, much like you guys do with me, especially Zhigang and Jin who I rely on greatly (thanks again and again, guys!!).

Anyway, I'm a fast driver and we were making very good time through Vermont traveling well over the speed limit when a car zoomed past us going at least 10 MPH faster. "That’s Jim Sun," said Senlin. "Whoa," I murmured. Somehow, both Jim and I got past the police speed trap without being stopped but, at the border, the Canadian Customs line I got into was faster than the one he got into, and we caught up to him. In Montreal, I made the mistake of abandoning the Google Map I had printed out and followed Jim instead because I knew he had been to Montreal recently. It turned out that he was not looking for the hotel; he was actually looking for a deal again…this time a deal in monetary exchange…and perhaps got a little lost?

Speaking of deals, what a great deal the hotel was!

But back to the topic of driving. Having grown up driving in and around Boston, I was able to adapt to Montreal’s aggressive brand of driving very quickly, which was good because trying to follow Jiping in bumper-to-bumper traffic from Montreal to Laval required some decisive (perhaps a little dangerous?) driving maneuvers with accompanying hand gestures. We would assertively stay right behind Jiping until the last block and then zoom ahead of him, later boasting that we never really needed his GPS-guided leadership in the first place.

One personally satisfying moment came during the opening speeches. Since this was Quebec, of course, French was the first language so the speeches were delivered in French first, then in English. Sitting near Qiao Wanjun in the auditorium, I could see his mind wander as the incomprehensible French continued. So, I seized the opportunity to lean over to him and whisper, “Now you know how I feel” and he laughed.

Our spirits seemed to follow the weather. The first days were sunny as we rehearsed and performed. We sang perhaps the best I have heard us sing, or at least as good as we were in Xiamen three years ago. We performed well and were quite satisfied with our efforts. Our spirits and optimism ran high as we anticipated an award.

Then, the rain rolled in as we waited hours only to learn that we had not been chosen for the final competition. The stormy weather continued through the final competition as crashing thunder provided dramatic special effects to the performance free-of-charge.

But, you know what they say, behind every storm cloud is a ray of sunshine and, as the weather cleared, we learned that the full chorus had won two second prizes while the ladies had snagged a best-performance award. It was an emotional roller coaster that worked in reverse: the highest point was at the end of the ride. It was a peak made all the higher by the somber disappointment that preceded it. Suffice it to say, the restaurant in Chinatown chosen for the celebration had no doubt seen few parties as joyous and raucous as ours was. I'm sure there was more than a few utterances of "Tsk, tsk. Americans are so loud,” from the other patrons that night. “Just look at that guy toasting with a broken wine glass!"

On Sunday morning, we squeezed back into the Prius with the surprisingly still-fresh daisies and headed south again. As the border drew near, I mentioned that I still had a quantity of Canadian money and wondered if there would be opportunity to spend or exchange it. Just then, we passed an “adult entertainment” establishment and Senlin chuckled, "How about exchanging your money there?" Seeing several identical posters of only one lady on the outside of the building, I replied, "I would, but my wife would not like seeing you and me fighting over the only lady there." "I bet there is more than one lady" Senlin replied and added "but I don’t think it is the fighting that Qi would not like." I agreed and continued on back into the US with a wallet full of Canadian cash and a marriage solidly intact.

Merci beaucoup, mes bon amis. Votre chanson de Montréal sonnera à mon coeur pendant des années à venir! 
( Thank you, my good friends. Your singing in Montreal will resound in my heart for years to come!)