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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 2, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 09
Beijing Queer Chorus to join Captain Smartypants and Sensible Shoes in concert on March 10
Arts & Entertainment
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Beijing Queer Chorus to join Captain Smartypants and Sensible Shoes in concert on March 10

by Eric Lane Barnes - Special to the SGN

BEIJING QUEER CHORUS
CAPTAIN SMARTYPANTS
SENSIBLE SHOES
EAST SHORE UNITARIAN CHURCH
March 10 @ 7:30pm


24 members of the Beijing Queer Chorus will be coming to the Greater Seattle area to perform a concert on Saturday, March 10, at the East Shore Unitarian Church (12700 SE 32nd St, Bellevue, WA 98005) sharing the program with local Seattle Men's Chorus and Seattle Women's Chorus vocal ensembles Captain Smartypants and Sensible Shoes. Tickets: $25 per person; $40 per couple - in advance at ESUC.org (http://esuc.org/beijing-queer-chorus-saturday-march-10) and at the door. The BQC will then travel to Portland, where they will perform with the Portland Gay Men's Chorus the following weekend. In late August, the Portland Gay Men's Chorus is traveling to China on a four-city performance tour along with the Beijing Queer Chorus. I will be joining them for the Beijing and Shanghai leg of the tour.

I have been working with the Beijing Queer Chorus since 2013. I had gotten an email from Roy (the now-executive director of the BQC) asking permission to sing one of my songs. I was astonished that a) he had knowledge of the song and b) that there was an LGBT chorus in China. After exchanging a few emails I found out that he had been in Seattle on business and had seen Captain Smartypants (one of my vocal ensembles) perform. The song was 'Dear Dad,' about a young man coming out to his father. Roy wanted his group to sing the song, and he wanted to use the song to come out to his own father.

After more getting-to-know-you emails I asked Roy if he and his group might be interested in me coming to China to work with them. His initial response was surprise: 'Why would you want to? We're just a small group.' I said it looked like an amazing opportunity, and that I was very touched by the fact that the group even existed, let alone wanted to sing songs I had written. After raising funds through Projects USA, Roy and I carved out a two-week junket for me in Beijing. Through connections I have here I managed to arrange a meeting with members of the BQC and Gary Locke, who was then US Ambassador at the American embassy in Beijing. We had a working retreat, a concert and an auction to raise funds for the BQC, and many organizational meetings with members and interested friends. It was a life-changing two weeks for me, and for them as well.

While in Beijing that first time in 2013 I had a thought: Why not see if I can get the BQC to the GALA Chorus Festival in Denver in 2016? When I returned to Seattle I began an organization-wide plan to raise $40,000 to bring 16 members of the BQC to the Festival. (GALA Choruses is the umbrella organization for all of the LGBTQ choruses and ensembles in the US, Canada and abroad. There are thousands of members, representing hundreds of choruses. Every four years the choruses gather and put on a huge LGBT choral festival; this one was in Denver. There were an estimated 7,500 attendees for the festival.)

The plan worked, and the BQC came to Denver and were the hit of the festival. For most of the members it was their first trip to the US. For many of the members it was their first trip outside of China. Seeing their reaction to being around so many thousands of LGBT people all expressing joyous music and freedom was an utter joy. They were infused with a new sense of mission, responsibility and determination to help bring greater awareness of LGBTQ people in China, Asia and beyond. Before the Festival I returned to Beijing to work with them again; I was delighted to see all of the items we had discussed in my first visit actually put into place. Their numbers had grown, they had a permanent rehearsal space, they had elected an executive director (Roy, who was one of the founding members) and they were working on a regular concert season.

They also changed their name from 'The Shining Jazzy Chorus' to 'The Beijing Queer Chorus,' which translates to English much more smoothly. (I don't speak Mandarin, but there was a sort of pun on the words for 'rainbow' and 'shining' and 'jazzy' in their Chinese name.) Since their return from Denver they have more than doubled in number, and their commitment to performing and visibility has been phenomenal. They did a concert three weeks ago that sold out both nights: a first for them. A Chinese website called 'Vice' (I don't think it's associated with the American 'Vice') videoed some rehearsals and part of the performance; the resulting video has gotten over 3 million hits:

http://www.miaopai.com/show/Ks UXysrFjDr10mftn4ixXmGgYGKNyNqd qNRrPQ__.htm



In May of last year I went to Seoul to attend the second-ever LGBT Asian chorus festival (Proud Voices Hand in Hand) where there were about 12 choruses performing. Choruses from Seoul, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and London came for the weekend. It was very exciting and heartening to see the LGBT choral movement getting such fantastic traction in these countries, where being LGBT is still difficult, and in some countries (like Singapore) is still a crime.

My favorite memory of being with the BQC the first time in 2013 was when we were talking about music one night after rehearsal. I mentioned something about the Stonewall Riot in 1969, which drew blank looks on their faces. (I had earlier learned just how much Western culture they were unaware of due to the media firewall put in place by the Chinese government. I noticed this first when helping them with their English in their rendition of 'Something Stupid' and found they had no idea who Frank Sinatra was.) I gave them a crash course on the history of LGBT rights in the US, starting with the Stonewall Riot, up to the passing of Marriage Equality in the US and how LGBT choruses had been part of all of it (the first choruses were formed shortly after the Stonewall Riot) '... and that's a quick, condensed history of LGBT rights in the US. It all began with that Stonewall moment.' After a pause, one member said, 'I wish 'we' had a Stonewall moment.' And I replied, 'I think you ARE that Stonewall moment.' And I am watching them carry that light bulb, that commitment, that dedication forward. Their impact is growing, and they are now very aware of just how powerful telling one's truth can be.

I hope to see you at the Beijing Queer Chorus concert on Saturday, March 10.

Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Beijing_Queer_Chorus

Here's the video I created in 2013 after returning from Beijing the first time: https://vimeo.com/72255225

Here's an impromptu sidewalk concert in Seoul last May: https://vimeo.com/220253057

Final number of the Hand in Hand chorus in Seoul. The BQC is on stage, together with all the other choruses from Seoul, Taiwan, Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong and London: https://vimeo.com/220211964

(The next Proud Voices festival will be in Tokyo in 2019, and I am planning on being there for that as well.)

And, finally, here is the link to the Chinese Vice channel video: http://www.miaopai.com/show/Ks UXysrFjDr10mftn4ixXmGgYGKNyNqd qNRrPQ__.htm

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