Against a spectacular modern skyline, the historic Shanghai Concert Hall stands, echoing with performances by generations of world-famous musicians who have graced the stage since its grand opening in 1930. This beautiful 1,122-seat venue was the setting for a sold-out concert entitled "Music of Spring" performed by nearly 130 students from Dwight campuses around the world. They had been preparing for this moment for months and when the time finally came, they filled the magnificent hall with music ranging from traditional Chinese and Korean folk songs, to classical, jazz, rock, and Academy Award-winning numbers ... from the sound of barrel drums beating loud as thunder to dulcimer strings being plucked delicately as if to announce peonies and lotus flowers blooming!
Outside the Concert Hall, "Music of Spring" banners graced the building's façade and lined the plaza announcing to passersby that a special event was unfolding hosted by the Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School. Inside, distinguished guests had gathered: representatives from the Minhang Education Bureau, Qibao Town, and Qibao Education Group, together with the Heads of School from every Dwight campus, parents — including some who had flown in from New York and London — and students and friends of Dwight in Shanghai.
Six Schools, One Dwight Family
The two-hour concert was the culmination of the inaugural Shanghai Music Festival, which welcomed students and music faculty from New York, London, Seoul, Dubai, and online for a week of connections, collaboration, and cultural exchange with their counterparts in Shanghai. Some students were meeting for the first time; others were reuniting after making friends at last year's Carnegie Hall concert or London Choral Extravaganza. All were excited to be part of this first international musical celebration in China, where the music selected aligned with the spring theme.
Last fall, students from each school had auditioned and music faculty across campuses began collaborating to bring the festival to life. They planned a program to showcase the unique musical heritage of their home countries, as well as the significant talent of their students, concluding with rousing medleys performed by the entire global orchestra and choir on stage together.
"The beauty of our annual global concert — no matter where in the world it takes place — is the spirit of cooperation embraced across campuses and our shared commitment to arts education as a family of schools," says Alistair Hamilton, Head of Performing Arts for Dwight in New York. "Our students work very hard on their home campuses to prepare, but it isn't until they come together with their peers from sister schools to forge friendships around music and rehearse as one prior to the concert that all the notes, literally and figuratively, come together harmoniously."
Discovering Shanghai Together
Dwight in Shanghai is distinguished as the first independent Chinese-foreign collaborative high school approved by the Ministry of Education in China. Upon opening in 2014, our boarding school introduced a new model of education, integrating the IB with courses from Chinese compulsory education — bringing the best of Eastern and Western curricula together.
Shanghai Qibao Dwight was excited to host all the other campuses and planned activities to introduce fellow Dwightonians to China and to the local culture. In a whirlwind of sightseeing, everyone visited the Pearl Tower, the Shanghai Museum, Old Water Town, the Shanghai Zoo, the Bund waterfront, Tianzifang in the French Concession area, and the Yuyuan Garden district, which was aglow with lanterns in celebration of the Lunar New Year.
There was more! An acrobatic show and an evening dedicated to creative pursuits — Chinese calligraphy, decorating fans, and making dumplings — in addition to a special flag-raising ceremony at school where the entire student body assembled and students from different campuses shared their musical sparks of genius as a preview of things to come!
Making Music Together
What was to come was a singular focus on music with several days of intensive rehearsals on campus and later at the Concert Hall, where the staging and technical aspects of the performance were finalized.
While all the musicians and singers were fine-tuning their performances, an additional 200 tenth and eleventh graders from Shanghai — those not pursuing music studies in school — participated in special workshops. Global music faculty introduced them to choral singing, jazz, music composition, playing keyboards, stage performance, and more, broadening their exposure to the arts — and possibly igniting new sparks of genius!
The Big Event
When concert day arrived, a touch of spring was in the air and our performers were ready to shine. At 3 pm, as the house lights went down, this video set the stage for what was to come — a glorious, multi-sensory celebration of spring!
As images of shy pink buds burst open and lush, color-drenched blossoms danced across the screen, the music affirmed the name of the first song: It's a Beautiful Day. With each piece, students impressed the audience with their artistry and skills. Some like the New York rock band, the London jazz band, and the Korean drum ensemble, who wrote their own vocal chants, raised the roof; others serenaded the audience with gentle sounds of traditional Chinese string instruments and chamber music. The pieces arranged for the global choir and orchestra brought the entire audience to its feet.
The talent extended beyond students, as members of the Shanghai faculty choir, which was formed last fall just for this big event, took to the stage to sing a song. Additionally, an award-winning troupe of dancers from nearby Wenlai Middle School embodied peacocks in a breathtaking performance of their own.
The concert, which began at 3 pm Shanghai time, was live-streamed on Facebook at 2 am New York time, with some parents "pulling an all-nighter" to watch their children light up the other side of the world!
Several soloists stepped into the spotlight to play instruments or sing: Cindy Oh '24 and Jennifer Choi '22 from Seoul; Barbara Chwastowska '24 and Clara Jiang '20 from London (formerly from Shanghai); Annabelle Joslin '22 from Dubai; Feng Zhou '21 from Shanghai; and Akhil Karra '22 (formerly from London), Ava Goldfarb '21, Justin Chen '21, and Jennifer Klein '21 from New York. The singers fronted the global orchestra and choir, which altogether brought down the house with medleys from "A Star Is Born" and "The Greatest Showman." Indeed, many stars were born that day!
Before the final applause, the Heads of all Dwight Schools, who were among those clapping the loudest, took to the stage to share their appreciation and congratulate the performers.
Memories to Last a Lifetime
As the trip came to an end, students wrote their reflections and shared that being part of the Shanghai Music Festival was an amazing experience that they will never forget. Each in his or her own words, echoed many of the same sentiments about how the trip had opened their eyes and ears to another culture, showed them an exciting part of the world they couldn't imagine, enabled them to explore and try new things ... how much they enjoyed making new international friends, becoming closer to their New York classmates, and coming together with everyone through a shared passion for music. One reflection spoke to this last part best:
I was entirely convinced that the world is huge, full of the most diverse people, and interesting cultures; that was, until I met the students from other campuses. Upon connecting with people from different places, raised in different cultures, yet brought together through a common passion for music, I witnessed firsthand the power that art has to build bridges and enable people who are different to empathize with each other. After this trip, I'm not sure whether the world is small, or huge and merely made small by interconnectedness; and whether people from different cultures are similar, or unique and merely united by art. In both cases, I prefer to think the latter is truest. – Bernardo Sequiera '22, who was among the Dwight global students interviewed during the concert by Chinese television