Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Year-End Show

Every other year, since I've been at this school, we have had a teacher talent review. I quite enjoy those shows.

·         2010: I was invited to perform. Mr Wang, the maintenance manager and I 'sang' my newly-penned Waiguoren Rap, a song about being a foreigner in China. It was suggested that the first 2 verses be translated into Chinese, so that the audience could understand what we were singing about. That made sense.
·         2012: again by invitation, this time I sang a traditional Chinese song about a migrant worker's longing for home and love: 有没有人告诉你 -  you mei you ren gao su ni/ has anyone ever told you? (listen to it here: . The audience was suitably impressed that I could sing a whole song in Chinese.

            On a more humorous note, I had prepared a prop: a battered cardboard box with a masking tape handle, to simulate a Chinese migrant worker in travel. As I walked across campus with it, people stopped me to ask if I was getting ready to travel. They thought my prop was my actual luggage!  

·         2014: I was not able to perform due to my recently mended leg that allowed no performing, and I was not asked to perform. Still, I enjoyed the show.


David, one of our department teachers (and a fantastic vocalist!) told me our department wanted the two of us to sing a duet. Should we do My Heart Will Go On (Celine) or Yesterday Once More (Carpenters)? With little time to decide – he had to inform the event planner right then and there, and knowing David  can sing me under the table and down the street to wait for a bus, I opted for the easier Carpenters' song.

With a twist. Why simply blend our voices when we could split the song up? I fired off an email to him, detailing that proposal: which lines he would sing, which ones I would sing and the ones we would do together, all in different colors.

And then, nothing.

I learned from Sam, in an unrelated conversation, that the school leaders had reviewed the program ideas and were not satisfied with the degree of talent on display. Our department was tasked with jazzing our performance up. 

Wait a minute!

Until now, I'd been convinced that these shows were meant to be fun. And they were fun! Sure, putting on a show is arduous for all concerned, but... isn't it a bit unusual for the audience to have input on what will be done during a show? To be disenchanted with the proposed entertainment and demand more pizzazz?

I was reminded of the sordid monarchs of Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll: “Off With His Head!” Suddenly, these shows we teachers put on no longer seem light-hearted and gay. Might we performers suffer a similar, gruesome fate if we fail to amuse and entertain? Probably not, but the image persists.

Especially after the phone call from David today, who affirmed what Sam had told me the day before: the school administrators want more zing from their teachers onstage. Initially, they had rejected David's and my ballad out of hand, but then had the idea: I should sing my part in Chinese, and David will sing his in English. Never mind my questionable singing ability, compared to his soaring baritone. 

And now, the mad scramble to learn this song in Chinese before the show, next week (while attempting to preserve what little voice I have until the show)!  

Duly thanking all of the technology gods, I found – not one, but two sets of lyrics. One seemed to be a literal translation; the other conveyed more of the feel and meaning of the song. The latter's advantage is that it comes in characters and pinyin, the romanized version of Mandarin, complete with tones (any of the 4 tones that give Chinese characters their meaning). Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to match the music! Panicked, I sent both versions to David, asking him which one I should learn.

Amidst all of this showmanship, we still have classes – hence the fear of voice preservation: some of my classes have more than sixty students. That's a lot of voice usage! To say nothing of David, who is one of the busier teachers in our department. In fact, he teaches at two different schools, just to make ends meet. And I still have an overly full course load, teaching way beyond the number of classes specified as maximum in my contract. David is generally not good at responding to emails, but I fervently hope he will respond to this one. And, from the looks of it, we are going to have to rely on each other to learn our parts separately and hope they come together well, come show time.

Under the eyes of an administration that commands sizzling entertainment. 

And, in the background, that ticking clock: “This is the last time I'll do this, this is the last time, the last... the last...”

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