The Belt and Road World Choir Festival: looking back, looking forward

Fuqing Education Bureau Overseas Chinese Children's Choir | 2018 Belt & Road World Choir Festival

The inaugural Belt and Road World Choir Festival, which took place in Hong Kong in July 2018, was programmed and presented by the World Youth and Children Choral Artists’ Association (WYCCAA), the leading international organisation based in Hong Kong. We present a round-up of the event.

The distinguished choral director and educator, Professor Leon Tong, is no stranger to developing and presenting ground-breaking, large-scale, international choral events. As the founder of the World Youth and Children’s Choral Artists’ Association, he has presented The World Youth and Children’s Choir Festival in Hong Kong since 2005, and in 2019 is organising the first World Choral Conducting Competition, also in Hong Kong.

Professor Tong explained the background to the Belt & Road event in an interview with Chorally before the 2018 Festival:

‘After the launch of China’s Belt and Road economic initiative, I wanted to contribute to this idea from a musician’s perspective so I began to build the Festival as a platform for music lovers to explore the history and cultural heritage of the countries along the Belt and Road route through choral arts.

Professor Leon Tong
Professor Leon Tong

‘The Belt and Road initiative advocates the exchanges of trade and business and the development of infrastructures between the countries along its route. Along with increased economic connections between these countries, I believe there will surely be more cultural exchanges. Choirs from these countries as well as other interested countries will converge on the Festival to exchange musical and cultural ideas. This aligns perfectly with the mission of the World Youth and Children Choral Artists’ Association as well as our commitment to the musical world. Through this ‘top-tier’ platform of the ‘Belt & Road’ Festival, we hope to share and celebrate peace, love and cultural diversity.’

The Belt & Road Festival combined three main elements: a performance festival involving both visiting and local choirs, an extensive choral competition across a wide range of categories, and a programme of workshops and seminars for aspiring choral leaders, which took place concurrently with the performances and competition.

The atmosphere throughout the Festival was one of partnership, openness and celebration of diversity, together with a palpable sense of joy at participation – particularly among the younger singers. The event was international, with a wide geographic spread among the participating choirs; but, at the same time, because of the proportionate number of choirs from China, had a strong Asian feel and unique character. For any choir from outside Asia considering taking part in a future WYCCAA Festival in Hong Kong, the experience is one not to be missed, for singers and music leaders alike.

Choirs waiting to go into the 2018 Belt & Road World Choir Festival prize-giving ceremony
Choirs waiting to go into the 2018 Belt & Road World Choir Festival prize-giving ceremony

The diverse programme of workshops, seminars and masterclasses, led by members of the team of adjudicators and involving participating choirs, was a ‘hidden gem’ within the event – a professional conference in its own right. Many sessions we attended were standing-room only, reflecting a combination of the international reputations of the speakers with the enthusiasm and energy of the attendees.

Last, but by no means least, warm congratulations are due to the WYCCAA’s events team. Planning and executing such a multifaceted event across many venues, with myriad, diverse sessions and involving huge numbers of performers, presented a formidable challenge to the organisers.

Choirs of all ages, directors, accompanists, adjudicators, workshop leaders, audiences, supporters – not to mention members of the media – were not just flawlessly managed and co-ordinated, but welcomed (in multiple languages), energised and inspired throughout the Festival.

They, and we, left ‘with a song in the heart’, eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to witness the magic worked by the World Youth & Children’s Choral Artists’ Association in Hong Kong.

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