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World Youth Choir Brings Together Singers from Many Countries - 2002-08-21

Every year, dozens of young people from throughout the world come together to sing. Members of the World Youth Choir spend two weeks in lengthy rehearsals, followed by several performances in their host country. This year, the choir met in Chicago.

To hear the World Youth Choir sing, you might think its members have been practicing and performing together for months. But Michael Anderson of the University of Illinois-Chicago said many of these young had not even met just a few weeks ago.

He explained, "They are from 32 different countries, ranging from several of the European countries, Eastern Europe as well, we have singers here from South Africa, South America, North America and all over Asia."

Mr. Anderson is a vice president of the International Federation for Choral Music, one of the groups behind the World Youth Choir. The choir got its start about 13 years ago in Sweden. Since then, it has met in a different host country each year. This year's conductor, Tonu Kaljuste, pointed out that about half the choir's 83 members are new, and half reinvited from last year. They come from 32 countries.

"Everyone has his own musical language," said Mr. Kaljuste. "When we start to sing the pieces like the ones we sang tonight, it is quite interesting for them."

For 24-year-old Vladimir Opacic of Yugoslavia, this is his third time with the World Youth Choir. "We are the same but so different, because there are so many different cultures in one place," he said. "We are learning from each other and at the same time, making the unique thing together. If you hear us, you do now know that we are from 32 countries in the world. You can not know the difference."

The United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) calls the World Youth Choir, "Artists for Peace." "We try to reach the highest level, musically speaking," said Jean-Marc Poncelet, who is the choir's co-director. "But also, we try to deliver a message to the world. The choir shows it is possible to live together. We have 32 countries and 83 singers and there is no conflict or tension among the singers."

Members of the World Youth Choir have to be between the ages of 17-and-26, and have basic English skill. They are nominated by the national choral organizations of their respective countries. An international jury chooses the final group of singers. Participants came spend two years in the choir before having to re-audition.

Twenty-two-year-old Jin Hin Yap is a first-time member. He already teaches and studies music in his home country, Malaysia, and calls this the experience of a lifetime. "In my country," he said, "I do not have this kind of opportunity to join this kind of great choir, at an international level."

This is the sixth time in the choir for Lhente-Mari Grimbeek of South Africa. She is also pursuing music as a profession at home, but says being a member of the World Youth Choir is as much or more about personal and cultural experiences than it is about singing.

"Every time you leave this project, you take so much with you: making friends, having new musical opportunities, learning new things about cultures and the country where you are hosted. To get this opportunity to travel and go back and see these people again," she said. "You make lifelong companions and experiences that you gain are tremendous."

Ms. Grimbeek is sad to say she has reached the maximum age for singing in the World Youth Choir, and will not be among the group's voices when it meets again next year in Switzerland.