Norwegian who waves her wings to sing

Updated: 2011-05-02 07:08

By Alexandra Leyton Espinoza (China Daily)

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 Norwegian who waves her wings to sing

Christina Lein Stormer takes a different route from her friends and develops her musical potential in China. Alexandra Leyton Espinoza / for China Daily

Christina Lein Stormer is a musical trailblazer. Not only was she the first to the win "Foreigner Idol" on Chinese TV, she was the first Westerner to study Chinese opera in Beijing's most prestigious music school, Central Conservatory of Music.

"My friends think that I am crazy studying Chinese opera," the Norwegian laughs.

But Lein Stormer is not crazy. She just likes to experience different things.

In 1994, when most of her high school friends left Norway and traveled to the United States or the United Kingdom to study, Lein Stormer from Tromso moved to Beijing to further her education.

She was no stranger to the city because her mother had been working for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) in Beijing for a few years and after she arrived she soon fell in love with the city, its people and its rich culture.

But what could she study?

Fortunately, she was surrounded by good advisers, including composer and musician Bian Liunian, who was responsible for the musical production of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Closing Ceremony. He was a good family friend and suggested she audition for the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.

"My family is very interested in music and we know many people in the cultural scene here, including Liunian, who along with some others, suggested that I apply," she says.

Four months after her first audition, she was accepted, making her the first Westerner to enter the conservatory and study opera as major. She was only 20. "I felt very honored when I was accepted because many people try to get in for years," Lein Stormer, 26, says.

The conservatory holds all its classes in Chinese so Lein Stormer had to study Mandarin full-time for a year.

As well as studying hard and having private lessons with a teacher after school hours, she also roamed the streets seeking out local Beijingers who had the time to speak to a young laowai (foreigner).

"I spent many hours in the park speaking to seniors," Lein Stormer says. "To learn Chinese can be really rough. When I listened to the radio in the taxi on my way home, I sometimes thought, 'I will never learn this'."

Her commitment to learn and her passion to sing were the reasons she was accepted to the school, according to Liu Hongzhu, director of the president's office of the Conservatory of Music.

"I believe it's very important to have foreign students because our school is international," he says. "At the same time, there is fierce competition to get accepted, and we really need to know our students are committed. Lein Stormer showed that she really wanted to study here."

She certainly did, and during her first few years in China, her Chinese rose to such a standard she was able to participate in the Arts From Our Land competition.

The idea of the program was to let Westerners sing in Mandarin for a Chinese audience, and after several rounds, the best singer won. The program was broadcast during Chinese New Year 2006 and was seen by 300 million viewers.

Lein Stormer won the competition with the hit song by Joey Rong Zu Er from Hong Kong (The Girl Who Waves Her Wings). It was a song that says so much about this young Norwegian woman, who flew to the other side of the world to chance her luck in the Chinese capital.

"It was such a great experience, even if the prize was modest. I got a lot of attention and had offers to do other performances as well," Lein Stormer says. She was a well-known face by the time she entered the school.

"I guess nobody was expecting a white Western girl and people stared in the beginning, but many of my classmates knew about me and they were all very welcoming," Lein Stormer says.

Even if she was the only European, the teachers did not give her preferential treatment in any way.

"I had to pass all the exams without using a dictionary," she laughs. "They expected me to write fluently as well, so there was big pressure on my writing skills as well as my vocal presentation."

Lein Stormer says there are many types of Chinese opera, not just Peking opera, and she has discovered many varieties.

"I have never been a fan of opera, but the more I listened to Chinese opera, the more I loved it," she says.

"There is a hidden treasure in Chinese opera that many people don't know about. The lyrics are really unique," she says. "I hope Chinese opera someday will be world known for its true beauty."

Winning Idol was not her only success. Lein Stormer also starred in a Korean musical Maria, Maria, sang during the closing ceremony of the sailing event of the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Qingdao and also performed before the Norwegian King and Queen. She has also sang at numerous private parties and other ceremonies.

"In the future I want to have the opportunity to travel to Europe and be able to exchange what I learned here," she says.

"Many people think that Chinese opera is Peking opera, but it's so much more than that."

Lein Stormer's dream of success on Broadway and has already been in contact with agents to help her with auditions.

"I have to take everything that I learned here and make the best of it. I really want to make something of the six years I have been studying music here in China," she says.

In July, Lein Stormer graduates and although her focus is on a US stage career, she definitely wants to come back to China.

"Unfortunately, China hasn't come far when it comes to musicals. Otherwise I would stay," she says. "I like the way of living here, it's so different from the Scandinavian way. We are more reserved."

Some of her best experiences in China have been being able to embrace the Chinese culture and people very closely. She has made many good Chinese friends and because she works for SAS in Beijing as its events coordinator, she gets to meet other Westerners, who are also experiencing the excitement of living in China.

"Even if I cried myself to sleep in the beginning, I am glad I came to China and got to know this funny and adorable people," she says. "And I got the opportunity to do what I love the most sing!"

For China Daily

(China Daily 05/02/2011 page5)


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