Rainbow Chamber Choir
There is a music sensation taking Shanghai. They call themselves the Rainbow Chamber Singers.
A chamber choir may not be able to catch the imagination of many westerners, but this Shanghai-based choir is singing to the younger Chinese generation.
They are singing about relatable topics such as going back home for the holidays just to be overwhelmed by your parents with questions about your job, weight and love life, to staying late at the office and feeling exhausted (“Who needs to eat when you have Powerpoint?” – they sing).
Shanghai Conservatory of Music
The choir was founded in 2010 by a group of students from the Conducting Department of the prestigious Shanghai Conservatory of Music. “It gradually attracted choral music lovers from all walks of life,” said conductor Jin Chengzhi.
“Currently, there are around 70 singers in the choir, ranging from 16 to 35 years old. They all have a background in musical studies, but among them there are post-doctoral scholars in anthropology, teachers, office workers, programmers, designers, accountants, food bloggers, and so on.”
Chengzhi is not only the choir’s director, he is also the composer of many of the choirs’ pieces. Jin writes from what he knows best his own life experiences.
His work is lighthearted while talking about the struggles with work and family, but many pieces also have a distinct poetic quality to them. He writes about love, relationships with the past and the passing of time.
The fact that the choir has thousands of views on Youtube, a platform which is not available in mainland China, shows how younger generations around the world are connecting to this music regardless of the language barrier.
“Choral music to me is what prose is for writers. I love to express my life experiences and emotions through music, be it happiness or sadness,” Chengzhi says.
For Chengzi and his ensemble, however, it is important to be taken seriously as a chamber choir. “Most of the works taught at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music are classical ones,” he explains, “so in the first half of our concerts we usually perform pieces from the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods, and also contemporary ones.
Sung in many languages
We sing choral works in various languages including German, English, French, Italian, and Japanese. The audience will listen to these songs before the more humorous ones, which are usually performed at the end of the concerts.”
Music as life
“We are using music to express our feelings about life. Since our members come from various social backgrounds, singing is very rewarding to us and we cherish every three-hour rehearsal and every performance. Some people say that we are “singing nonsense with a straight face”, but actually we are very serious in everything we do – singing the humorous as well as the serious pieces. Our dedication is reflected in the rehearsals, the performances and in other details, like the design of our programme. Every performance is precious to us, so we always make sure to give our best each time.”
Traditional Chinese Music
Although he is speaking to the younger generations, Chengzhi never forgets to reference the past. “I adopted many elements from traditional Chinese music in my own choral works.” he says. “These elements of folklore and traditional opera are included in the lyrics, or presented through the music. Recently an American choir sang one of my works, A trip to the white horse village, which was written in the most difficult Chinese dialect, the Wenzhou dialect. I was touched to see them trying to learn this dialect in order to sing this piece: it made me feel that music has no boundaries.”
During the most lighthearted parts of the concert, the chorus might be wearing dog ears (for a piece about being “tired like a dog”) or other props – Take a listen to So far the sofa is so far
© Rainbow Chamber Singers
A drunk live version of “A toast to the drunk”, to all those who work hard! Chengzi said he thought to write about this while sitting in a pub and wanting to make a toast to everyone.