14 March, 2022

Growing Connections: DAIS Middle School Honor Choir Retreat

On March 11 our Middle School Honor Choir delivered the goods to Aunty Wang's and brought the joy of music to the nursing home. Students also spent time visiting with the residents and getting to know them. The Honor Choir then made their way to the Hard Rock to continue the Choir Retreat which was originally planned as a backup for the AMIS Festival scheduled to take place in Shanghai. The weekend finished with a culminating performance in front of the families of the 14 Honor Choir members.

The Association for Music in International Schools (AMIS) is an organization which puts together music festivals for international students all over the world. The selected students along with their music teachers prepare the challenging repertoire in advance of the festival so that when they get to the host school, they can work together with the other students from 10-15 other schools from various countries to perfect the music and to create a cohesive ensemble.

AMIS decided to take advantage of the relative calm of China, and they planned an all-China music festival in Shanghai. This event included an honor band, honor orchestra, and honor girls and boys choirs. Mrs. Gifford was selected to conduct this year’s middle school girls honor choir. She spent many hours of the summer vacation selecting just the right music pieces, and she put together a beautiful concert set around the theme of “light.”

But, unfortunately, in COVID times, not everything worked out as anticipated. With growing concern over travel and new cases popping up in various cities, our administration team decided to pull our school from the festival about six weeks before the departure date. We notified AMIS and the host school so that they could arrange for someone else to direct the girls honor choir.

With so many hours of rehearsals invested in learning the music for the festival, Dr. and Mrs. Gifford put a new plan in place. Knowing that it would not be the same experience as performing in a mass choir, they still wanted to honor the hard work that had gone into preparing for the festival. With the support of Mr. Macinnes who helped to coordinate logistics, and Mr. Reyna who stepped in as our local accompanist, we moved forward with plans for a local choir retreat.

Last weekend, right after the conclusion of parent-teacher conferences, Lizzy Gong accompanied them to Aunty Wang’s nursing home where they performed for the residents and delivered some much-needed supplies. This turned out to be a beautiful experience for our students. While the mass festival choir would have been performed in a glamorous auditorium with a live audience and a huge live-stream audience nation-wide, the intimate audience of elderly residents was cheerful and appreciative of the students’ musical gift. The residents’ bright smiles lit up the room as our students performed and visited with them.

After the nursing home visit, our honor choir students and their music teachers checked into the Hard Rock Hotel in Jinshitan. It seemed fitting to stay in a music-themed hotel with our student musicians, and they enjoyed their time there. After a yummy buffet dinner, the students performed a casual open mic night on the stage at the hotel’s club. 

Next morning, they enjoyed a little down-time at the pool before getting cleaned up for an intimate concert for their parents in the choir room at school. The parents and performers enjoyed a special cake made by our chef at the Hungry Scholar Café as we watched a slide show put together by Mrs. Gifford. We all agreed that this local trip was a worthwhile experience that we will remember for a long time. The girls honor choir performed three pieces about light and the boys honor choir sang three pieces about water. They concluded the concert with a lively rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” where the students truly lit up the room with their character and their passionate performance.

The AMIS acronym spells the French word for “friends.” The tagline heard world-wide at AMIS festivals is “Music is everybody’s language.” In our little contingent of AMIS, we certainly felt friendships growing stronger, and the gift of music making connections between people throughout this process, even though we didn’t get to do the festival. Let’s hope that the pandemic will come to an end and that our students will be able to participate in an AMIS festival choir, band, or orchestra before they graduate!