The Beginning of Xuxiang’s Story
Xuxiang Zou grew up in China and there she began her degree in choral conducting. When the Missouri State University Chorale visited China in 2015, director Cameron LaBarr recommended that Xuxiang come to Missouri State to study and sing in one of the choirs. She visited the United States for the first time in 2016 for a year, and then went home to finish her degree. She came back to Missouri State in 2017 and is currently a grad student.
Xuxiang’s Experience in Choir
Xuxiang’s father is a choral conductor in China, and she spent most of her life under his direction. She noted that the main difference between choir styles between China and the United States is that the focus is not just on perfecting music technically, but that the choir seeks to express the underlying themes in the music. Xuxiang explained that because Americans are so open to expressing their feelings in day-to-day life, they are very good at expressing them through music as well.
Xuxiang is involved in both the Women’s Chorus (directed by Dr. Erin Plisco) and the Chorale (directed by Dr. Cameron LaBarr). She really enjoys the wide variety of music that both Dr. LaBarr and Dr. Plisco incorporate into their choirs. MSU directors believe choral music shouldn’t be something the choir will always feel comfortable with. It should require deep thought and consideration for every musician. This challenges the musicians to practice new pronunciations, discover different styles, and learn about other cultures. Xuxiang said she likes this because she learns something new about herself with each piece, and she can feel the choir’s abilities grow with every concert.
Struggles and How to Overcome Them
Over the past few years, the hardest adjustment Xuxiang has had to overcome was the difference in language. It was a really hard transition at first, because she took her classes entirely in English. She didn’t always understand what her professors were teaching. But, she did have help. The English For Musicians program helped her immensely, as did the variety of music taught in choir and her choir family.
Important Lessons Learned
Xuxiang has learned many new, important things about herself and choir as a whole at Missouri State. She said she has learned a new role as a director, and that is not to command attention when directing, but to inspire her choir to sing from their hearts. She believes her choral conducting class has done a lot to help her better understand her important role as a director.
Future Plans and Goals
Within the next year, Xuxiang will finish her grad degree, and she hopes to bring all she has learned back with her to China. She is also considering a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree to further her learning and exploration of the music world through new rehearsal techniques and communication with choir.
A Lasting Message from Xuxiang
Xuxiang said that although studying in the United States has been challenging, she is very proud of her personal growth and the growth of all the choirs. She shares her greatest achievement with all music majors looking to study abroad, “I learned that the purpose of a choir is not to sound nice, but to create a connection between the music and the audience.”