August 6, 2008

Olympic orchestra members keep plugging despite sticky heat, long practices

Have you ever shared an elevator with a tuba? Welcome to Beijing and the amazing Olympic Orchestra!

I am in Beijing with 130 teens from Modesto. Our kids make up part of the 734-member "Red Orchestra." The Olympic motto is "One World, One Dream." We are here to prove it -- wearing shirts proclaiming "One World, One Orchestra."

Following the theme of five Olympic rings, the orchestra, too, has five rings. There is a gold ring from China that plays a few songs, followed by our red ring and then the green ring from Australia. The percussionists, regardless of nationality, make up the blue ring, and the color guard is the purple ring. After those in the green ring play their selections, all play together -- as the "Tutti Orchestra." The volume and emotions are inevitable.

The logistics of gathering a band of almost 2,000 students from around the world are staggering. We are housed in "Epoch City," a replica of the ancient city of Beijing surrounded by a city wall. The practices have been intense, starting early in the morning and stretching into the night. The weather is hot and sticky, yet the kids persevere with scarcely a whimper.

Sunday, we gathered in a convoy of buses at 3:30 a.m. Successfully waking about a thousand teens housed in this hotel, having them dressed in uniforms complete with capes, berets and bolo ties, and successfully boarding buses by 3:30 in the morning could be an Olympic event in itself. Yet, we left on time. Give the chaperones a gold medal!

We were transported to Tiananmen Square -- the famous (or infamous) site of the 1989 protests. It has importance dating back centuries for the Chinese, and is flanked on either side by the Forbidden City and a building in which Chairman Mao is entombed.

There were a few performances before ours, including a bunch of prancing, dancing dragons and some Chinese acrobats. Then, with the media in force, the Olympic Orchestra performed. The importance of being allowed to play in historic Tiananmen Square should not be minimized. This is the first time a foreign group has been allowed to play here. China is sending a message to the world that it is ready to open its arms.

All the musicians wore the same "Tutti" uniform. The pants were green and worn higher than the average teen prefers. "Mom! My pants are kind of loose around my armpits!"

The shirt is white, buttoned down, collared and worn with a bolo tie. The look is topped off with a yellow cape. Though I doubt any individual would have chosen the outfit, playing together they did look like a cohesive band.

And play they did! Behind them was the gateway to the Forbidden City, and in front of them a rotating Olympic "Dancing Man Icon" rotating above an array of flowers. The Red Band wowed the crowd with favorites such as "76 Trombones" and "The William Tell Overture."

After each of the three bands played, the Tutti Orchestra joined in the Olympic theme music. One world, one dream, one orchestra. Right on.

Lisa Masson is a Modesto physician, the mother of three and one of The Bee's community columnists. E-mail Masson at

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