Members of the Cota Youth Choir from Namibia, Africa look on as they wait to dance during Salsa Night on Fountain Square. (image credit Joseph Fuqua II/The Enquirer)
Cincinnati, OH (written by John Faherty/Cincinnati Enquirer) -- Under an oppressive sun Thursday in Cincinnati's Fountain square, a choir from China, the Shanghai Women Entrepreneurs Choir, was singing "The Rose," sounding like an ethereal Bette Midler.
Then singers representing the North Jersey Home School Association sang "Bonse Aba" a Zambian Christian worship song, as people chatted and smiled and ate Mexican food and ice cream.
The performances were part of the 2012 World Choir Games, which kicked off 10 days of song this week in the Cincinnati, the first American venue for the games.
There are really two World Choir Games. Inside music halls across Cincinnati, the competitions are formal and scripted and tense. But at downtown's Fountain Square, there is something called the Global Village, where all are welcome, the music is free, and everybody is relaxed.
"This is all just so beautiful," Georgetta Johnson of College Hill, said Thursday, standing next to the fountain on her lunch break. "Singing gives you the spirit. It relaxes you, makes you happy."
The two types of events are vastly different. On Thursday afternoon, during the Youth Choirs of Equal Voices champions competition, the Bel Canto Children's Chorus from Red Hill, Pa., came on to the stage from the audiences' left. They wore black pants, white shirts and purple vests. Then they sang "The Song of the Music Makers," and their voices were remarkable.
After the song, an audience member's phone rang. The sound shrieked through the quiet of the auditorium at the School for Creative and Performing Arts. People gasped and craned their necks. The choir director waited for silence, and then instructed her singers to begin again. Their four songs ranged from lovely to haunting to playful. They were accompanied by a pianist and a cellist.
When they were through, the audience stood and clapped in appreciation. Then the choir exited to the audience's right and went into a classroom, where they looked like they just finished a final exam, albeit one that went very well. They hugged and smiled.
Bel Canto will have two other formal competitions here this week, but it will also be able to perform in a "Friendship Concert," meaning no judges, at a retirement home.
"It's a busy week, a lot of singing," said director Joyce Ondra Hirokawa. "The friendship will be a nice break."
Back at Fountain Square, the Shanghai singers finished their performance, and then, in pairs and still wearing their long blue robes, stood next to police officer John Boyle in front of his horse, Copper. They all wanted their photograph taken.
Boyle accommodated each request, smiling for photograph after photograph.
"This is just great," Boyle said. "It feels like the whole world has come to our city, and everybody is having a good time."