Choir spreads cultural awareness with music.
The Mount Allison International Choir travelled to the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) over reading week in order to demonstrate their commitment to promoting and celebrating cultural diversity on university campuses across Atlantic Canada. The group met with a similar ensemble, the AIRS (Advancing Interdisciplinary Research in Singing) Multicultural Choir, for a collaborative and student-led singing experience meant to encourage cultural learning and foster an interdisciplinary musical experience.
Bixin Lori Chen, a fourth-year commerce student and current president of the International Choir, explained that the seven-year AIRS project at UPEI’s department of psychology was the original inspiration for the choral project at Mount Allison. For this reason, the choir’s trip on Feb. 25 was an opportunity to collaborate with students working toward a similar objective and exchange songs, ideas, and methods of educating students in various languages and musical traditions. “The trip was very meaningful for our group,” said Chen, believing that the UPEI choir’s larger musical repertoire and more technical aspects helped broaden the musical and cultural scope of the Mt. A choir.
Chen also cites her involvement with the choir as a unique learning experience that has facilitated a deeper understanding of music. “Before I joined the club, I had no clue about notes or music,” she said, “but now I can read a lot of the notes on the page.”
She also believes that the collaborative and casual environment that the choir provides is an excellent way to experience other cultures. “It’s a very relaxing way to learn a language,” she said, explaining the process of collectively learning pronunciation through repetition and group singing. “When you’re in the whole group singing in the language together … it’s a great way to build up confidence. It’s very hard to pick up at first, but once you put it to the music, [everyone] picks it up very quickly.”
Founded in January 2013, the Mount Allison International Choir is a student society that brings a variety of choral selections from multiple languages around the world to promote cultural awareness. The group meets once a week for an informal rehearsal of traditional and popular songs from a broad selection of languages, including Cantonese, German, Japanese, English, and French. Although new songs from various languages and cultures are encouraged, participants require no musical or linguistic experience; each song’s cultural importance and pronunciations are introduced by a native speaker of the language, then learned as a group with piano accompaniment.
The choir is also closely associated with other multicultural organizations at Mount Allison, including the annual MOSAIC Banquet and Coffee House, both of which have previously provided a venue for the choir to perform.
Because the choir has only existed for just over a year, Chen states that the next major goal for the society will be publicity and encouraging more students and Sackville community members to come out to weekly rehearsals. “We just need a lot more promotion to reach out to the community,” said Chen. “Our goal is to have more students come out and join us, [including] International Students so we can have more songs from different countries.”
Additionally, Chen’s long-term goal for the choir is to inspire other universities to experiment with this model of multicultural learning through vocal performance, just as they imported the idea from AIRS at UPEI. “This choir helps teach you how to sing and how to interact with people,” said Chen optimistically. “I really hope that this choir will bring people to think about different cultures, and we hope that through Mount Allison we can bring this to another university.”
The Mount Allison International Choir meets every Tuesday evening at 7:00 pm in the University Chapel, and is open to all students and Sackville residents. Among other choral groups, they will be performing at “A Concert of Cantatas” on Sunday, March 23.