East Shore Unitarian Church is proud to present The Beijing Queer Chorus – China’s first LGBT chorus. They will be joined by local vocal comedy groups Captain Smartypants and Sensible Shoes for a truly magnificent and history-making performance. If you are interested in joining the Beijing Queer Chorus for a pre-concert pot luck, please see Eric Lane Barnes for information. This Saturday, March 10th, at 7:30 pm. Get Tickets Here!
Beijing Queer Chorus Project – The background story
As some of you know, in June of 2013 I spent two weeks in Beijing working with The Shining Jazzy Chorus – at that time they were China’s only LGBT chorus. It was an extraordinary experience. I helped them organize their first chorus retreat, worked with them on repertoire, helped them prepare for a concert, led many discussions on organization structure, audience building and long-term planning. In our time together we had many fascinating and eye-opening discussions about the difference between the US and China and how LGBT life shows up in each. We were all struck by both the similarities and the differences between our two cultures.
One night during the retreat I gave the Shining Jazzy Chorus a crash course on LGBT history in the US; there were many years of events in the West they had not been aware of due to the media blackout put in place by the Communist Revolution in 1949. For instance, they had never heard of the Stonewall Riots. (They also didn’t know who Frank Sinatra was, but that’s a different story) After I finished my spiel the director said, ‘I wish we had a Stonewall event in China.’ To which I replied, ‘I think your chorus is a Stonewall event. So much is happening right now with LGBT folks and you are right in the middle of it all.’ This began a whole new conversation about how important it is to show up, and be authentic. That to simply show up on stage as a lesbian or gay person can be a huge act of courage.
Since returning from Beijing I have received regular progress reports from the Shining Jazzy Chorus. They have found a regular rehearsal space through connections with the German embassy (which came as a result of a meeting we’d had with then American Ambassador Gary Locke); they have implemented a system of section leaders; they have been in the process of developing both mission and a vision statements; they have decided (as a result of talking through potential mission statements) to change their name officially to ‘Beijing Queer Chorus.’ Their membership continues to grow, slowly but surely. They have even gone to the neighboring city of Tianjin to help them form their own LGBT chorus. The Beijing Queer Chorus is truly blossoming, at a time when China is experiencing many levels of awakening. It’s a very interesting, exciting time for LGBT folks in Asia.
At one point during a post-rehearsal discussion one of the Beijing Queer Chorus members said to me, “We never really noticed ourselves until you came here.” She meant that they had simply gathered together and sang, and sometimes performed, without giving much thought to the fact that they were part of anything much bigger. Having someone from outside China come and spend time with them showed them a greater context than they’d previously seen. When they saw that they were participating in a social movement that had been taking place across the globe for several generations, their perspective changed dramatically. It was at this point in the conversation that I began to think: I wonder if there might be a way to bring this chorus to Denver in 2016 for the next GALA Festival? I suggested this as a possibility, asking if they might be interested in seeing if this could happen. They responded with an immediate and resounding, “Yes!”
Thus began a plan. I raised this idea with Robin Godfrey, who had been a big supporter of my trip to Beijing and had been in contact with Roy already. Robin was wholly behind the idea. We decided to approach interested Gala Choruses to raise funds to get 12-16 members of the Beijing Queer Chorus to Denver in 2016. I presented the initial plan to the directors who attended the Music Director/Executive Director retreat in Laguna Beach over the weekend of January 23-25th. The response was incredibly encouraging. We now have 14 choruses signed up to raise funds to bring 14 members of the Beijing Queer Chorus to Festival 2016. Attending the Festival in Denver will be a life-changing event for every member of the BQC. It will also be a life-changing event for everyone who sees them perform.
Eric Lane Barnes
Flying House Productions
-Addendum February 14, 2018 –
The Beijing Queer Chorus were the hit of the GALA Chorus Festival in 2016. They performed 5 times during the festival; three times on their own, and twice with other choruses. The experience of being at an international LGBT choral event was life-changing and mind-blowing for the members. They returned to China with a whole new idea of what was possible for them, and a new commitment to help the LGBTQ citizens in Beijing and beyond life safer, happier lives. The chorus experienced major growth, doubling in size, and greatly increasing the number of public performances. They presented a show over two evenings a month ago; both nights were sold out (a first in their history) A web channel called Vice (I don’t know if it’s the same as the American website/channel by the same name) filmed a rehearsal and part of the performance; the video has been seen by 3 million people so far, and the number is growing. The Beijing Queer Chorus is having a first-hand experience of how powerful it can be to be 100% authentic in life, and how music can be the perfect bridge to greater understanding.
China (and Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore as well) are experiencing a major social shift in terms of what sexual identity means. LGBT choral groups have been at the forefront of this sea change, being very visible and very vocal, using their music as a peaceful means of showing people what it means to be LGBT in the world. There has been a lot of pushback in countries like Singapore and Korea. But huge strides are being made. This is an incredible human rights revolution happening right before our eyes, and music is at the very heart of it.