CINCINNATI - Sadie Stephenson and Alina Widell were in playful moods Wednesday at the Duke Energy Center.
They were strolling through the Superstore souvenir shop when they spotted hats adorned with the images of the World Choir Games mascots, Whirl and Twirl. Of course, they had to try them on.
"I'm Twirl as you can see right here," said Stephenson, modeling a red hat.
"I'm Whirl, the blue one," Widell quickly responded while pointing to her new headgear.
Stephenson had a response ready and waiting.
"I'm the girl and she's the boy," she quipped.
Widell had no intention of taking that.
"No, I'm not," she said as both of them broke into laughter.
The Oakville Children's Choir is one of the 362 performing groups entered into the games' 23 separate musical categories. Competition begins Thursday morning after Wednesday evening's Opening Ceremony at U.S. Bank Arena. The games conclude July 14.
Wednesday was a full day for the Canadians. They're staying in Sharonville and had a quick acoustic rehearsal there, then boarded their bus for the trip down I-75 to the Duke Energy Center.
Almost immediately, they encountered a large choir from China. The Chinese ensemble broke into song, then posed for pictures with several Oakville members. They didn't speak the same language, but there was plenty of friendly communication taking place.
"It's so amazing," said Monet Slinowsky. "I haven't smiled so much in a long time."
The next stop was lunch in Exhibit Hall A. All choir members had to check in with Frannie Huston and Maggie Wheeler of Ovations Food Services before getting in line. So far, Huston and Wheeler have spoken with performers from 30 countries.
"Bosnia, China, Australia, Thailand, Czech Republic and South Africa," were at the tip of Huston's tongue. "It's just a nice melting pot for people to come together for such a special occasion."
Wheeler, who is Director of Sales and Catering for Ovations, marveled at the infectious spirit the choir members are displaying.
"It's wonderful to hear so many different languages and see so many different cultures coming through Cincinnati," she said. "It's just a wonderful experience."
Since they were the first to arrive in the cafeteria, the Oakville choir members moved quickly through the buffet line filling their plates with pasta, salad and other items. Young people get hungry no matter what language they speak.
"The food was awesome," said Clara McManee. "It was like surprisingly good. Those cookies were great."
Sitting down at lunch was one of the few moments when the choir wasn't on the go. As the singers relaxed, they couldn't stop talking about a choir from Georgia they'd met a few hours earlier.
"We sang one of our songs together because we both knew it and that was pretty cool," said Lauren Sharpe. "There was a group from Puerto Rico that was there as well and they were pretty awesome."
Chaperone Julie MacLeod watched the friendships blossom and marveled at how easily they grew.
"They were sitting and standing around the piano singing together," she said. "That's what it's all about,"
Once lunch was over, it was time to leave the cool, air-conditioned comfort of the Duke Energy Center for the six-block walk to Christ Church Cathedral for a brief sound-check. It was hot and humid with the temperature approaching 100 degrees, but the Canadians' spirits weren't wilted.
"Cincinnati is so pretty," said Slinowsky.
Christ Church Cathedral is where the Oakville Children's Choir will perform on Thursday. The run-through was to make sure the choir members knew where to stand and to confirm settings for the audio equipment.
Associate Music Director Janet Stachow said the choir is used to singing in Oakville and the province of Ontario, but traveling to another country to perform on a world stage is a different story.
"We're really competing against ourselves," she said. "We want to do our personal best and I know we will. The kids have worked so hard and we're so proud of them."
As they boarded their bus for a tour of Greater Cincinnati, nearly everyone in the Oakville contingent had high praise for Cincinnati and the way the games have been organized.
"They've done a wonderful job and we're so honored to be here," Stachow said. "Everything has run so smoothly. Congratulations. We're glad to be in your City of Cincinnati."
Sharpe spoke for the rest of her ensemble when she added, "I hope that we make wonderful music, meet lots of wonderful people from wonderful places and just have a good time."
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