Dong Wenhua and Me, A Performance to Remember

By Franke Presta, Northeastern University

My last performance at the NEU&MIT Spring Festival Gala went very well. After the event, I met with several people who were interested in why I was able to speak and sing in fluent Cantonese. This happens after most of my performances, so I didn’t think much of it. I answered their questions, posed for pictures, and gave out my business cards as I usually do.
On stage with Dong Wenhua performing the Full Moon (photo by Steven Tsou).

Apparently, this particular performance was special because a week later I had several people contact me and ask if I was interested in performing at their various functions. One request, in particular, peaked my interest. I was contacted by someone from a local Chinese news agency and asked if I would like to perform with the famous Chinese singer Dong Wenhua. I was, of course, interested, but there was a catch. The performance was in less than 24 hours. To make it even more difficult, I had never heard the song before, it was in a unfamiliar operatic-like style, was in Mandarin Chinese, and was not in my key. After considering it for a couple of hours, unwilling to let this opportunity slip away, I graciously accepted.

During the next twenty or so hours I listened to the song and tried to pick up the melodic timing. This would typically be easy, however, this song’s timing was rather tricky and in a style I was completely unfamiliar with. Nonetheless, I tried my best to pick it up and memorize as many of the lyrics as I could. Less than 24 hours later I was at the venue and on stage with Mrs. Dong. Thankfully, I was able to practice the song with her one time before the event.

They had decided that during the middle of her performance, Mrs. Dong would “invite” a member of the audience up onto stage to sing with her. I was that audience member. I don’t know why they wanted to do this whole “song and dance”, but an opportunity, whatever the circumstances, is still an opportunity. I came to find out that the lyrics I had memorized were wrong. The pronouns were reversed (I was you, and you was I), and the version was a bit different from the one I was practicing with. However, I tried my best, and considering the difficult circumstances, I think I did pretty damn well. I spoke in Cantonese on the stage after my song and thanked everyone for the opportunity and wished them a happy lunar new year. Everyone was pretty pleased with that since at least half of the audience spoke Cantonese.

When I woke up the next day I was happy to see that I was talked about on many different Chinese news websites. None of them had my name since they made it look like I was just some normal audience member(that was handsomely dressed in a tuxedo). I suppose that was the only downside, no recognition, but I still had a pretty good time and was able to perform with a super famous Chinese singer. Not bad right?”.

I studied Cantonese at the Chinese university of Hong Kong and Mandarin at Shanghai University.