Pure as the driven snow

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Children's choir with long Olympics history delivers a song of hope at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Games.

The Summer and Winter Olympics have spawned numerous musical anthems. Back in 2008, Chinese pop star Liu Huan and British soprano Sarah Brightman performed the theme song of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, titled You and Me, during its opening ceremony.

On the night of Feb 4, the theme song of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, titled The Snowflake, was unveiled and performed by 155 children aging from 7 to 14.

Those children were from the Beijing Philharmonic Choir, which was founded in 1983 by Chinese music educator and conductor Yang Hongnian (1934-2020).

The chorus of the song goes: "Snowflakes, snowflakes, open to the light, all around, all around, shining all the same."

Children ran across the floor of the National Stadium in Beijing-also known as the Bird's Nest-where the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics was held, while holding illuminated doves. Beneath them, the LED floor lit up with snowflakes and stars, with help from motion-tracking and augmented reality technology.

According to Yang Li, the president and principal conductor of the Beijing Philharmonic Choir, son of Yang Hongnian, the choir also performed at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, singing a cappella rendition of the Olympic anthem.

"Beijing is the only city in the world to host both the Summer and Winter Games and we are honored to have performed at both of these great events," says Yang Li, adding that compared to the children who sang in 2008, those who performed at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are from a different generation.

"These children represent the modern China. They grew up, open to information from around the world, which allowed them to be much more confident, independent and knowledgeable," he says.

"What's not changed is that they are aware of the significance of the performance and trained very hard for it," Yang Li adds.

The preparations for the performance started in September. The number of choir members went through changes from around 40 children to 155. The average age of the children is about 9, most of whom are students of primary schools in Beijing.

Unlike the performance in 2008, which only involved choral singing, the performance for the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics also saw the children dancing and moving.

"We let the children move freely onstage, hoping to showcase each child's uniqueness as an individual. They also achieved great harmony in their singing," says Yang Li.

"We went through lots of difficulties during the rehearsals. For example, since the rehearsals took place around the same time as the children prepared for their final exam before the winter vacation, they had very busy schedules," recalls Yang Li. "They also needed to remember the lyrics and melody of the song within a very short time, since the song was determined around one month before the opening ceremony."

The Snowflake was written by Zhang Shuai, who, now 42, was born in Shenyang, Northeast China's Liaoning province, and graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. In 2008, Zhang obtained his doctorate in composition from the conservatory and has been teaching there ever since.

The auditions started in April. Over 30 Chinese composers were commissioned to write songs for the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. The requirement was "beautiful and romantic", linking images such as snowflakes and doves of peace.

"Children represent the future and their voices are pure and innocent, which is just like the snowflake, crystal clear," says Zhao Lin, musical director of the opening ceremony. Because of that, it was decided that the song should be performed in the form of children's choir.

With 12 lines-six in Chinese and six in English, the song, The Snowflake, stood out. Since the song was revised for over 10 versions, the choir also had to memorize new lyrics and melodies at the same time.

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are taking place from Feb 4-20, which coincided with the weeklong Spring Festival, China's most important annual holiday. The children were accompanied by their parents living in the same hotel to prepare for the performance during the opening ceremony. They spent the Lunar New Year Eve on Jan 31 together.

"The children sang spontaneously together on the eve of Lunar New Year, which was a memorable moment," recalls Yang Xuerui, father of Yang Lewei, a member of the choir, who performed during the opening ceremony.

"The children had a strong sense of team spirit and, of course, as their parents, we supported them," he adds.

"The stage was beautiful and the song was beautiful," says Lewei, a student of Tsinghua University Primary School. Before the final performance, the children underwent intensive training for about a week. "We sang the song for over 10 times a day. During the actual performance, I was not nervous at all," she says.

Founded in 1983 by Yang Hongnian, the choir has trained nearly 5,000 children in choral singing. It also has a long history with the Olympic Games, according to Yang Li. Back in 1993, when Beijing had its first bid to host the 2000 Summer Olympics, 12 children from the choir traveled to Monte Carlo, Monaco, along with the Chinese delegation to participate in the 101st International Olympic Committee Session.

In 2001, when Beijing won the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, the choir was also there with the Chinese delegation to participate in the 112th IOC Session in Moscow, witnessing the exciting and historic moment.

On Oct 20, 43 children from the choir performed the opening song, Wish, during the welcoming ceremony of the Olympic flame ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, held in the lobby of the Olympic Tower in Beijing.

"From 1993 to 2022, China has changed and developed greatly. The changes are displayed in many aspects, such as sports and arts," says Yang Li. "I believe that children will benefit from the experience of learning, training and performing together."

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