Thursday, August 07, 2008

Beethoven in Beijing

Here is Alice, fourth row from the back, fourth in from the right, at the Great Hall of the People last month. Ready to sing Beethoven's Ode to Joy and a new piece by Zhou Long in honor of the Olympics. She said the audience liked best an encore piece they did of a famous Chinese folk song about a jasmine flower.
But, a month later, what sticks in Alice's mind about that afternoon of practices and an evening performance is the Janitor-Banana Man. Under the stage by the performers' dressing rooms and don't-go-there-you-don't-want-know bathrooms, was a man handing out bananas from Del Monte cartons. Most everyone wanted one. Alice remembers getting one, saying thank-you in her best Chinese, and him looking at her like a sheepdog would a wolf while guarding a flock.
A bit later, some fellow singers got trapped on the "wrong" side of the Hall while looking for clean bathrooms for the audience VIPs. Three layers of uniformed soldiers prevented them from getting backstage despite their performers' passes until Mr. Janitor Banana found them and escorted them backstage. Alice does not think he is simply a Janitor.
The Great Hall of the People will always remain in Alice's mind as the Domaine of Mr. Janitor Banana, the savior of some fellow singers, and a man who outranks all soliders there.
Tomorrow, Ode to Joy will be sung at the Bird's Nest. Perhaps some of the singers from Peking University and Tsinghua who sang with Alice that night will be in the Olympic chorus? And maybe also with some of the wonderful soloists they had: Don Mingxia, Zhu Quiling, Chi Liming and Yang Xiaoyong.