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Music students join Olympics opening ceremony

Aug. 6, 2008

KALAMAZOO--The televised opening ceremony of the Olympic Games Friday is expected to include a performance by seven current or former Western Michigan University students under the direction of a WMU music professor.

The students are members of the World Youth Choir, which is being directed by WMU Bobby McFerrin Professor of Jazz Dr. Stephen Zegree. Though the main opening ceremonies will be staged in Beijing, opening ceremonies also are being held in Hong Kong, where the 80-member World Youth Choir will perform at the Sha Tin Olympic Equestrian Venue before a crowd expected to number in the tens of thousands. Check local listings for availability in your area. Broadcast information is also available online.

"I can confirm that we are performing Aug. 8 for the opening ceremonies, but do not know about specific times or broadcasting, though they tell me that it will be televised," Zegree says.

For the opening ceremonies, Zegree plans for the choir to perform "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "What a Wonderful World" because they seem to be appropriate.

The WMU contingent has been in Hong Kong since July 14 and will return to the United States Aug. 11. In addition to Hong Kong, the choir also is visiting and performing in Guangzhou and Macau, China.

Leading up to the Games, the choir performed a Hong Kong concert titled "The World Sings for the Olympics" with a full symphony orchestra and about 1,000 Chinese youth singers, along with actor and Hong Kong native Jackie Chan as guest soloist.

The July 18 concert was filmed by Phoenix Satellite Television, which plans to televise it worldwide Aug. 9.

Four of the five singers in the choir representing the United States are either WMU students or alumni. Students include Torian Johnson of Kalamazoo, Partick Laslie of Fort Wayne, Ind., and April graduate Nathaniel Adams of St. Charles, Ill. All three sang in Gold Company, WMU's acclaimed vocal jazz ensemble that Zegree directs. In addition, the choir's bass section leader is Derek Fawcett, a WMU alumnus from Chicago.

WMU current and former students also will play a key role as the choir's back-up musicians. The choir's rhythm section is composed of Medallion Scholar and three-year Gold Company drummer Ryan Andrews of Kalamazoo and WMU alumni Dave Izard of Summit, N.J., on piano and Aaron Tully of Cleveland on bass.

The term "youth" is somewhat misleading. Choir members are aspiring young professionals. The honor of being named a World Youth Choir member is well earned, Zegree says. Choir membership is by audition and highly competitive, with some 80 singers between the ages of 18 and 27 from 33 countries vying for a spot.

This is not Zegree's first stint as World Youth Choir director. Zegree directed the choir on its 2001 trip to South Africa. WMU students and graduates also have deep ties with the choir. In 2002, WMU alumna Erin Cramer was the sole U.S. representative in the choir, which performed in Kalamazoo on its U.S. tour, while four WMU students and alumni were tapped to sing with the choir in 2007.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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