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Reflecting on the World Choir Games

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Jul 19, 2012 - 9:29:06 PM in commentary_2012, reviews_2012

Closing Ceremony, 2012 World Choir Games, U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio (Peace Bell in foreground)
The 2012 World Choir Games wrapped up with ceremony, singing and a Cincinnati Pops concert July 14 at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati.  The site of the 2014 Games was announced (Riga, Latvia), the Peace Bell was rung and Cincinnati's One in Song Choir sang the official 2012 WCG song, Kirk Franklin's "I Can."

The concert, titled "Spirit of the World," featured music representative of the worldwide community, with selections by John Williams ("Olympic Fanfare"), Jonathan Larson (from "Rent"), Stephen Schwarz ("Wicked"), Tan Dun ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), Giuseppe Verdi ("Brindisi" from "La Traviata"), Luis Bacalov ("Credo" from "Misa Tango"), David Fanshawe ("Sanctus" from "African Sanctus") and Edward Elgar ("Land of Hope and Glory").  Topping it off were "Jazz Hallelujah," "O Happy Day," an International Medley and "We Are the World."

Pops maestro John Morris Russell shared conducting duties with Hungarian Gabor Hollerung (a co-founder of the World Choir Games).  Soloists were Broadway's Idina Menzel, gospel great Marvin Winans and cast members from Cincinnati Opera's "La Traviata" (opening July 26), with the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus and a World Choir Games mass choir.  It made a joyful noise, indeed, and there was even dancing in the aisles.

It marked a signal end to a signal event in Cincinnati's cultural history.

Sponsored by Interkultur of Pohlheim, Germany, a non-profit organization devoted to bringing people and cultures together through musical competitions, the biennial World Choir Games has been dubbed the “Olympics of choral music.”  Begun in 2000, it has taken place in Austria, South Korea, Germany and China.  This is the first time it has been held in the United States.  Opening serendipitously on the Fourth of July, the WCG brought an estimated 15,000 visitors to Cincinnati.

World Choir Games Peace Bell at U.S. Bank Arena
The national media were largely absent, with the exception of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” which sent a crew to Cincinnati July 9 to shoot a waving, cheering crowd on Fountain Square.  In fact, it may have been a coming of age for Cincinnati, which showed itself eminently capable of hosting thousands of visitors speaking dozens of languages with civic aplomb. Even the Peace Bell -- a new one is crafted for each World Choir Games -- was made in Cincinnati.  The casting of the bell by the 170-year-old Verdin Bell Company on March 20, 2012 can be viewed at http://www.verdin.com/video/worldchoirgamespeacebell.php

Logistics were perfect, with all seven competition venues within a walking grid in downtown Cincinnati.  One of them, the Erich Kunzel Performing Arts Center in Cincinnati Public Schools’ new School for Creative and Performing Arts, honors the late Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel.  Kunzel was instrumental in bringing the World Choir Games to Cincinnati and was named honorary president and artistic director of the 2012 event after his death from cancer in September, 2009.

interactive fountain in Washington Park, Cincinnati, Ohio
Nigerian chorister on Fountain Square
Great American Tower, Cincinnati, Ohio
Not only were the competition venues easily accessible on foot, but there were Metro buses specially routed to move participants from site to site.  There were volunteer greeters, translators and facilitators of all kinds, and the city sparkled physically, from the “tiara” atop the Great American Tower to the Tyler Davidson Fountain on Fountain Square.  Coincident with the event was the re-opening July 6 of Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine, where 134-year-old, landmark Music Hall stands.  Here neighborhood children could frolic through an interactive fountain and visitors could enjoy the shade trees, both of which helped alleviate the heat that dogged the city for much of the 11-day event.

Philippine flag passes by in the "Celebration of Nations" parade, July 10, 2012
Even the heat – up to triple digits during the first week – did not keep people away.  Most of the eight “Celebration Concerts” were sold out, even at 3,516-seat Music Hall, a venue notoriously hard to fill.  (The “Celebration Concerts” featured participating choirs in different aspects of choral music, such as sacred, popular, folk, etc.)   Fifth Street was thronged with spectators for the “Celebration of Nations” parade July 10, led by Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer/Cincinnati native Bootsy Collins.  (See “Parading the World Choir Games” in “Features” and “News” on this site.)  The Closing Ceremony at 15,000-plus U.S. Bank Arena was also sold out, despite a simultaneous Cincinnati Reds home game in adjacent Great American Ball Park and a popular music festival on the river front.

In all, 364 choirs from 48 countries, six continents and 22 states took part, competing for the title of “World Choir Games Champion,” with prizes including trophies and gold, silver and bronze medals and diplomas.  Choirs competed in 22 categories:  Young Children’s Choirs, Children’s Choirs, Youth Choirs of Equal Voices, Young Male Choirs, Mixed Youth Choirs, Mixed Chamber Choirs, Mixed Choirs, Female Chamber Choirs, Female Choirs, Male Choirs, Male Chamber Choirs, Musica Sacra, Music of Religions, Musica Contemporanea, Jazz, Gospel, Spiritual, Barbershop, Popular Choral Music, Folklore, Scenic Folklore and Show Choirs.

South Africa and the USA tied with five champions each.  U.S. champions included the Choraliers of Fairfield High School, in Fairfield, Ohio, named champion in the Show Choir category.  They were followed by China with four champions, the Netherlands with two and Canada, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Latvia, Switzerland and Venezuela with one each.  The USA excelled in the Mixed Chamber Choir, Gospel, Spiritual, Barbershop and Show Choir categories.  For a complete list of winners visit http://www.interkultur.com/competitions-festivals/world-choir-games/cincinnati-2012/results/

2023 WEorld Choir Games mascots, Whirl and Twirl in "Celebration of Nations" parade, July 10, 2012, Cincinnati, Ohio
There was pride of country during the competition, but nothing in the way of the nationalistic fervor that can infect international events.  Choirs cheered and waved flags for one another, and the smiley face itself seemed as much a symbol of the WCG as the official costumed mascots, Whirl and Twirl.  There were over 60 free Friendship Concerts during the event (all over town and across the river in Northern Kentucky) and information and assistance were easily available at WCG headquarters in Duke Energy Convention Center downtown.

Aeolians of Oakwood University, Huntsville, Alabama, Champions Concert, Music Hall, Cincinnati, July 14, 2012
For this listener, highlights of the 2012 WCG are far too numerous to mention, but would have to include the Aeolian Singers of Oakwood University (Huntsville, Alabama) in "Steal Away,"
sung nearly inaudibly but with uncanny projection; the Newman Sound Men's Choir of St. John's, Newfoundland (Canada) channeling Walt Whitman's verses in Stephen Chatman's "Reconciliation"; the Cincinnati Children's Choir in the Russian tongue-twister “Véniki” (“Brooms”); and anything sung by the Latvian Voices.

Choraliers of Fairfield High School, Fairfield, Ohio, Champions Concert, Music Hall, Cincinnati, July 14, 2012
Add the Choraliers of Fairfield High School with their matchless song and dance; the sassy vocalizing of Indonesia's Vocalista Angelista; the Stellenberg Girls’ Choir of Cape Town, South Africa, whose ability to sing or sound anything beggars belief; the Kearsney College Choir (also South Africa), whose "King Shaka, Father of the Zulu Nation" brought down the house at the July 14 Champions Concert  . . . .

To hear and see for yourself, visit http://www.choir-tv.com/ and enjoy.

Congratulations are due to all of the organizers, sponsors, supporters and participants in this uplifting and inspiring event, which has brightened the city’s luster for years to come.