February 7, 2013

The invitation was so casual; I had no idea what I was getting myself into a few weeks ago when my CP asked if I would sing my Mongolian song for Teachers’ Day. Without asking any questions (other than “When?”), I agreed. This would be my third official time singing Аяны Шувууд (Ay-nee Show-whoa), not counting the two wedding parties I never wrote about where, as tradition goes, at one point someone decides it is time to sing and each guest takes turns leading a song.

Not working in a classroom, I wouldn’t be experiencing the Teachers’ Day I’d heard about during PST. How an older student takes over teaching the lesson to her peers and a teacher might wear a student uniform to class. I wanted to be involved in some capacity, so I didn’t hesitate to agree.

The Wednesday before the Sunday performance, I rehearsed the song for the first time. The keyboardist took the song I knew as a ballad and made it double-time with a backing track that had none of the melody I would recognize. We also tried at the speed I was accustomed to, but they were all agreed it should be peppy. So, I went with it.

On Friday morning, I showed up at work as usual when my CP announced we were going to the theater for rehearsals. She and I had just wrapped up a 2-week stretch of working daily with the Govi-Altai Music Ensemble—about 30 singers, dancers and musicians—teaching them an English song for one hour, followed by an English lesson for the second hour. They were such a friendly, eager group to work with; they made my busiest two weeks, my best two weeks. Since they all sang when they were with me, I didn’t realize until that morning that I didn’t know how each of them actually fit into the ensemble. From my seat in the front row, the first dance performance made that clear. Three men, one of whom was the choreographer, took to the stage with moves resembling horse riding, squats-turned-kicks reminiscent of Russian dances, and lots of knee-to-stage impact that made me cringe in awe. It was riveting, and watching the men dance reminded me of my best guy friend in high school who channeled his energy and creativity to become an esteemed choreographer and dancer.

The scale of this performance was becoming clear, and the singers (not just the professionals, but the other laypeople like me) were so vocally gifted that I put my thoughts on being visually interesting to make up for my vocal shortcomings. Always one to move with the music anyway, and this song being made up tempo, I tried to incorporate movements consistent with the lyrics. Since the song is about love across a great distance, I used some from-me-to-you and from-you-to-me hand gestures, including a hug to myself. When I would sing about the traveling bird, I would flutter my left hand across the stage. I tried to keep it simple, partly so that I would be consistent from rehearsal to performance, and partly so that I didn’t too sharply contrast with the Mongolian singers who stood stoically throughout their songs, the better to showcase their voices.

Saturday was the dress rehearsal. With the costumes added to the performances of the day before, I had no doubt I was out of my league. At no point did I reconsider, however, because I could feel that everyone was supportive of my being involved and encouraging me to do my best. Maybe it helped that I had worked with them the past two weeks, but I think it was more their nature that allowed them to welcome this amateur into their folds.

Following the dress rehearsal, the Artistic Director gave feedback to the singers and I could tell it was related to everyone’s wardrobe by the way the man in the black suit looked down at his brown shoes. (Besides, members of the Ensemble wear their performance costumes so they weren’t there for this part.) The director actually called out my name and turned to my CP in the audience with a message, which she explained to me as “you need to wear tights and shoes” (instead of my black workout stretch pants and Mongolian boots). Well, we had already made plans to procure the items, accepting that my dress wasn’t nearly formal enough but it was the dressiest thing I’d brought, but the whole thing ended up being moot. When I arrived on Sunday at noon, I was met by eight Mongolian women and a large pink strapless dress. So, I went with it.

Perhaps it was my theater background that allowed me to undress in the middle of the auditorium with sixteen eyes upon me and the likelihood that more would arrive since they were expected. (Thankfully, that didn’t happen.) After a fair amount of adjusting by several of the women, sometimes me, sometimes the dress, it fit well enough but its length and the very high heels caused me to be unsteady on my feet. To my great surprise, my CP said that if it meant I couldn’t dance then I should wear my boots instead; no one would see them, and they liked my dancing that much! And that’s how Love happened to wear the most formal dress of her life with Mongolian winter boots underneath.


In the green room, one of the singers, whose English is better than my Mongolian, said to me “sometimes, makeup.” So, I went with it. I borrowed some foundation, lipstick and mascara. There were several attempts to teach me the proper way (i.e., the ladylike way) to lift my dress so that I could walk without stepping on it, but that was expecting too much of the girl with the boots on.

The show went off without a hitch. The dancing couple nailed the lift they’d had trouble with in rehearsal. There were no wardrobe malfunctions. No singers were accused of lip-synching. The lights didn’t go out, which would happen at the Super Bowl later that day.

Immediately following the show, the education department whisked the entire staff (about 16 of us) out for dinner in a private karaoke room. They had me sing the bird song again, and a few English songs, too. I tried to sing along to their slower songs by reading the lyrics on the TV. It was an exhausting, but very worthwhile day. There are so many more songs I want to learn, and though not yet at the halfway mark, I already feel that my remaining time is short.

You can see pictures of the Teachers’ Day performances here.