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JE 2008

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Our American Idols

Hey everybody,

Time to light up the stage! Our JE gang put on a stellar performance yesterday. They are coming together now and their confidence and personalities are showing. The response to the show was huge and so is the number of photos we have from that performance!

Let’s get right to these magnificent shots of a magnificent performance. Ladies and gentlemen, here . . . are your American idols:

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To help give you a real sense of being there, and confirmation that these kids of yours have reached the celebrity status of “American idols,” here is Mike Robert (JE Music Director) giving us the “inside scoop!”

    Last night’s performance at Jining University was a wild one. The theater’s capacity was around 250 but there may have been up to a thousand packed along the isles, walls and even lined up behind the entrances. The students had a disappointing dress rehearsal in the afternoon and Meg Van Dyck and I were nervous and confused. Pieces that had gone well just a few days ago lacked emotion and order. The dancers’ smiles had turned into sighs of boredom and the musicians were having a tough time hearing each other clearly. We looked like what anyone would expect: a group of young and inexperienced musicians and dancers, out of our element in a strange place.

    Meg and I were busy giving our long list of critiques to the students and as a result I was the first one backstage only a minute or two before show time. I could barely get in the door though and as I began tuning guitars and looking for a place to store the cases I realized I could not move with all the commotion. Students were damn near breaking the back door down trying to get in, even though the hall was already packed to capacity. Youngsters posed as security guards (in their green mock army uniforms) tried to hold them back but were having a tough time. I almost knocked a girl down a cement staircase because I could not wade through the crowds.

    As the students pushed their way to the tiny back stage area it was clear that our afternoon rehearsal woes would not be repeated. The atmosphere was hot and electric and Tom and the chaperones had to check again and again to make sure that we had all the students; we feared some had been able to get through the crowds. Eventually we found them all and Tom Connor did his famous rave-up, introducing the program, as well as Meg and myself. He even managed to mention to the crowd that Meg and I were unmarried (Meg got accosted by a young group of admirers later but I was able to evade the onslaught).

    The students took the stage and we were off. The band locked into a steady groove on the reggae opener of Take Me Home (Country Roads) and the dancers started to feed off the audience. During our first few performances the students were cautious, even if they did have their parts down. But they had no time, no space to be cautious. The Chinese students in the audience were hungry for our performance and the students delivered. During our reading of the Li Po’s “Taking Leave Of A Friend” the audience erupted after every line that Taylor Horn read and they were awed by the dancers unique interpretation of the poem. During “Helpless” August made all the girls swoon and Tyler rocked hard and steady on the drums. Playing bass I felt honored to be a part of such a performance, as I had never before performed for such a crowd.

    During the Hip Hop dance it became clear that things were completely out of control. A group of young males in the front row with eyes popping out of their heads were completely star struck. They must have seen Shelby flying out of the air towards them (during her solo) and thought they had died and gone to heaven. Following the Hip Hop piece was a beautiful duet by Lauren and Maggie, singing “Across the Great Divide.” There was no stopping the JE students at this point. They had the audience where they wanted them – it was time to finish the second half strong. We rocked three treasures with the crowd singing along (Graham was smiling so wide he actually looked like the giddy little girl he was imitating) and Audrey and Rachel did a short and death defying dance (Rachel did a head stand and Audrey jumped over her) to the theme song from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Audrey also unveiled a gymnastics solo to “Johnny be Good” that had the crowd cheering once again. Our modern dance piece with horse head fiddles and girls in body sacks was once again enchanting. August convinced me to throat sing into a microphone back stage and we confused them even more. Most students that we had spoken with had a pretty skewed view of American culture. I do not think we cleared much up with this piece, much to the enjoyment of all the performers.

    We brought the whole performance home with an a capella version of Country Roads, the crowd singing along the whole time. The students rushed off stage to find more guards trying to keep peace in the crowd. I had never seen a crowd like that ever in my life, and I doubt I will ever see one again. I lingered back stage looking out on it all, still completely perplexed about what had just happened, lost in the moment like everyone else. [Mike R.]

Wow! After reading Mike’s report, look at the photos again -- they come alive!! Can’t wait to see this show!

Let’s hear what Amanda Gelter has to say about all of this:

Amanda Gelter, Qufu, China 4/9/08

Today was a really exciting day! We had another performance, this one at Jiling University in Qufu, just minutes from Qufu Normal University. In the morning we just visited the school and had a tour. It was huge! One building was twice the size of our school. The library is the largest one in Shandong Province. The entire school is two years old and was built on what was farmland just a short time ago. 

I met a great girl named Kathryn there. She was so excited every time I just spoke to her. We became fast friends and hardly left each other’s side. It was an experience that I don’t think I will ever forget. We promised to stay in touch and it was hard to say goodbye, even though we had just met.

We came back to the school in the afternoon and found that we had what we thought was a full house for the rehearsal. It was amazing but the real amazing part was at our performance that night. The place had nearly 1,000 people in it. Every aisle, backstage space, the lobby and the area outside of the building was full of people. They lined the walkways and the stage to see. I think that this got us really pumped up and we pulled off a great performance even though the rehearsal was shaky. The audience absolutely loved it. One of the pieces hadn’t even been rehearsed before. After the show, we were trying to pack up and leave but it was almost impossible. I had tons of Chinese students this way and that wanting pictures with us or wanting our autographs. It was a madhouse. Once we finally escaped, I could hardly wait to perform again. 

It’s not just that we get to sing and dance but the feelings we get talking to the students afterwards. Getting to know them is amazing. I don’t think I will ever forget these kids.

So, back to the performance. Not only were we better than usual, two students were dancing with minor injuries. I was actually one of them. I had twisted my ankle in the morning and then again in rehearsal. Cassidy was injured, as well. She had fallen and scraped her leg. But, we went on with the show!

What a day it has been. 

Just for fun, here are a few ways the kids have been ending their reports:

  • “What a day it has been.”
  • “I'm excited to be here.”
  • “I am looking forward to what the future will hold.”
  • “Today was a great day.”
  • “I’ll be sad to leave Chongqing behind.”
  • “...making some great memories.”
  • “ was so much fun!!”
  • “I really like China.”
  • “It was a great way to end a great day!”

It is so much fun to go back through the early pages of the site to see the changes and growth of the group. The kids are becoming more relaxed and comfortable in the China environment. When they get to Hohhot, they will be like butterflies breaking from their cocoon. It’s going to be fun to watch!

The group is now traveling to Rizhao, by the Yellow Sea. This is the first visit to the area. We are looking forward to seeing photos of that visit along with more student reports.

The opening page of this site has a brief acknowledgment to the Asian Studies Outreach Program and a couple of key people. If you haven’t read it, please do so.

Dr. Juefei Wang, Director and Founder of ASOP, has been instrumental in making this Journey East program at Leland & Gray High School a reality. We can’t thank him enough for all he has done and continues to do for us! Thank you Juefei!

Leland & Gray’s Asian Studies/ Journey East program will once again (sixth edition!) take place in 2010. If you are interested in participating, watch for news about the program at the Journey East web site and the Journey east page on the Leland & Gray High School web site.

Next up, it is a trip to the Yellow Sea seashore. Do you know why this sea is called the Yellow Sea? Uh, cause it’s yellow? Good one. Give that person a round of applause. And why is it yellow? Oh, so you’re not so smart after all, eh? Well, actually, the yellowish sand coming in from the Yellow River, colors the Yellow Sea. How about that? We’ll find out more about this interesting sea when the gang visits.

Okay, everybody enjoy another great spring day out their everybody!

See you soon . . .





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All rights reserved. March/April 2008.

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