ByZhang Jian, People’s Daily
A choir of 44 children from a mountainous county in north China’s Hebei province sang the Olympic Anthem during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, capturing the world’s attention with their crystal-clear voices.
The story behind the choir is as heart-touching as the children’s singing voices.
With grey hair, a graceful manner, and always wearing a sweet smile on her face, Deng Xiaolan, who was called “Teacher Deng” by residents in Malan village, Fuping county of Hebei, led the 44 children from the depths of the Taihang Mountains to the center of the stage during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
Deng Xiaolan was born in Fuping. Although she later left Fuping to study and work, Fuping was always on her mind.
In 2003, Deng went back to Fuping. She met with group of children from the primary school in Malan village. Deng suggested that the children sing a song together. However, she got no response. She then asked the children which songs could they sing and still no one answered her. She was sad to learn that there were no teachers teaching the children to sing.
At that time, Fuping was a poor county. The students went to their primary school in Malan village through a rugged mountain road, and their classrooms were shabby adobe houses equipped with wood desks and chairs of poor quality. There were no conditions for the students to learn music.
When Deng went back to Beijing, she often thought about the children in Malan village.
“A childhood without music is not a colorful one. Music opens the door of the mind,” Deng expressed. She then decided to go back to Malan village to do something for the villagers and teach the children to sing. Music can give children wings to chase their dreams and create infinite possibilities for their lives, Deng believed.
After she retired, Deng immediately came to Malan village to start to teach the students music voluntarily. She had devoted 18 years to nourishing the children’s souls with music and making her contributions to turning the countryside into a better place.
Deng raised money to renovate the classrooms of the primary school and collected various musical instruments from her colleagues and friends. She also founded a choir to teach the students to sing and play musical instruments, using music to help the students cultivate a love for their motherland and hometown.
When the poverty alleviation campaign kicked off in Fuping, changes took place quickly in the locality. New buildings sprouted up and contiguous mushroom greenhouses were built. Deng led the villagers to renovate toilets and plant trees in a bid to build a beautiful, clean, and harmonious village. In her spare time, she and the villagers repaired the road at the entrance of the village and planted trees on the mountains.
In August 2013, Deng initiated the “Malan Children’s Music Festival” and held it in the village. Children from the village came to the stage to join arts troupes from across the country to put on performances, singing the praises of the beautiful new life.
As the “Malan Children’s Music Festival” gradually became influential, it caught the attention of the directing team of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, which invited the children to perform on the world stage.
Thanks to these efforts, Malan village gradually became beautiful and prosperous. In the early spring of 2022, Deng passed away. However, she has always been remembered by the local villagers.
On the music square of Malan village, songs Deng taught the students can often be heard and music education is in full swing in the village. Deng brought music to the village, and nowadays, the village is seeing positive changes thanks to music.
Sun Zhixue is the first person born after the 1990s in Malan village who pursues postgraduate studies. The young woman, who had learned music from Deng, applied for a master’s degree in music education. “I decided a long time ago that music would be a lifelong career for me. Teacher Deng is my role model,” Sun expressed.
During the summer vacation of 2022, Sun returned to Malan village to teach the children to sing and prepare for that year’s “Malan Children’s Music Festival.”
“When we were young, Teacher Deng was like a beam of light leading us to chase our dreams. Although she left us forever, we, who she had taught, have grown up. Knowledge is passed on from generation to generation and I’ll take root in the countryside like her to fill the children’s world with music,” Sun added.