|By Lori O'Brien, Correspondent
SOUTH HADLEY "These are women who obviously love a big challenge."
That's the summation of Catharine R. Melhorn, professor emeritus and conductor of the Mount Holyoke College Glee Club Alumnae, who is leading a 13-day tour of China that will involve a rigorous schedule both physically and musically.
The 56 women from across the United States, Canada, England and Germany, ranging in age from 20 to 67, will convene at Mount Holyoke for a bon voyage concert on July 1 at 4 p.m. in Abbey Chapel to give area residents a sneak peek of the repertoire they will perform across China.
Melhorn explained during an interview with Reminder Publications that sheet music, practice CD's (with pronunciation of Mandarin, German, French and Latin texts) and recordings of their specific part, as well as performance recordings of the entire production, were mailed to participants in February.
"They are expected to arrive in South Hadley with their parts learned," said Melhorn, noting the women will arrive just two days prior to the bon voyage concert for intensive rehearsals.
Melhorn noted the program opens with a brilliant acappella setting of Psalm 150 by the Brazilian composer Ernani Aguiar, and continues with works by J. S. Bach and Debussy, a work by Chinese-American composer Chen Yi, and compositions by Gwyneth Walker and Stuart Stotts. In addition, several African-American spirituals and gospel songs will be performed, and Mount Holyoke faculty voice teacher Cheryl Cobb will offer a short program of solo songs, accompanied by alumna pianist Pamela Gilmore, director of the Rutgers University Opera.
Freewill donations following the concert will be used toward tour expenses, according to Melhorn.
"We will be grateful for any contributions from our audience," she added.
Following the concert, the women will leave the next morning from New York and fly to Shanghai, the first stop on a 13-day tour of China, which also includes the cities of Hangzhou, Xi'an, and Beijing.
"For most of us, it's a first trip to Asia," said Melhorn, adding, "We want to learn, to share. Many of the singers haven't been back to Mount Holyoke for a while, if ever. This will be a wonderful way to reconnect with their college, with women's choral music, and with their former conductor."
Melhorn said the group chose China for several reasons including its vibrant musical culture, many fine choirs and music conservatories.
"Chinese audiences have been very enthusiastic and responsive to the American choirs who have traveled there recently," said Melhorn. "Because of the 2008 Olympics, we're hoping that the Chinese tour infrastructure is well equipped to accommodate groups like ours."
Melhorn also said members are eager to use the tour to identify and connect with Mount Holyoke alumnae in China.
"China is a country we want to know more about, and singing our way around the country seems like a great way to begin learning," she said.
In Shanghai, the women will perform at the Lyceum (Lanxin) Theatre with the Women of the Shanghai Philharmonic, and in Hangzhou, will perform in the Xincheng Concert Hall with the Zhejiang Xinghai Senior Choir. Additionally, the glee club will perform at the Xincheng Concert Hall in Xi'an with the Xi'an Senior Choir, and in Beijing, at the Concert Hall of the National Library of China with the Young Women's Chorus of the China National Symphony Orchestra.
The hectic concert schedule will allow some time for sightseeing and Melhorn said she expects the group to see the Bund, TV tower and a silk factory in Shanghai, the lotus flowers in West Lake in Hangzhou, the Bell Tower and Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi'an, and the Temple of Heaven, Great Wall of China, and the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Melhorn also noted that the women are planning a special pre-concert reception in Beijing for the students and their Chinese mentors in Mount Holyoke's summer program at the Beijing Language and Culture University, and the Chinese partner choir.
Melhorn is proud of all the work that has gone into this ambitious international tour from choosing the music and creating the practice tapes to sewing Chinese silk stoles for the singers' concert uniform.
"I have enjoyed working on all the details, musical and otherwise," she said.
Melhorn also credited Debby Hall, Class of '74, who worked alongside her to ensure the destination would excite the participants and serve the college's present interests.
Melhorn reiterated she thinks most people are eager to see ordinary Americans travel abroad for purposes which promote cultural exchange, understanding and friendship - with no political or religious subtext.
"We are all, or ought to be, curious about China it's economy, geography, customs, language," said Melhorn. "South Hadley citizens should be pleased and proud to support these folks who received their undergraduate educations in their town, and happily return to South Hadley to launch their international venture."
Ideally, Melhorn's wish is that the tour kindles in the participants a renewed love for choral music and for the college, bringing them new friendships and new appreciation and respect for peoples and cultures on the other side of the world.
"Such a tour will certainly also raise in the cities we visit an awareness of American choral music, the college, and its South Hadley home, and our many talented female alumnae," added Melhorn.
Concert participants include Laura Althoff, Jo-Anne Baccielo, Janet Balej, Bo Beardsley, Ann Blake, Deborah Bloom, Marilyn Bodnar, Leslie Bowen, Alicia Brody, Nancy Brunetti, Judy Case, Lee Catalano, Florence Chichester, Cheryl Cobb and Judy Dickey. Also, Chris Dietrich, Courtney Duhring, Emily D'Urso, Vanessa Gales, Barbara Gay, Paula Gerden, Pamela Gilmore, Debby Hall, Laura Harris, Susie Hayford, Suella Henn, Anne Holton, Connie John, Janine Kane, Judy Karin, Sarah Kimball, Cynthia Krohn, Laura Lentz, Joyce Lott, Melina Marini and Cary McKelvey. Also, Meg Meyer, Jamie Miller, Lynn Mordan, Kate Pappas, Susie Proctor, Beth Ree, Joan Regan, Leslie Rosenthal, Paula Rucker, Bethany Sager, Coleen Shannon, Carolyn Slatch, Sarah Stadel, Brenda Steinmetz-Vallenas, Tiffany Tang, Emily Tuck, Martie Viets, Beth Wharff, Elizabeth Wiley and Marnie Woodward.