Beijing Queer Chorus: 'Music is a language we all connect with'

LGBT editor Jack Smith harmonises with members of the Beijing Queer Chorus

Queer people in China, while far from invisible, have often struggled to establish a truly public face. While the days when people denied the very existence of LGBTI individuals might be behind us, current perceptions still equate queerdom with nightclubs, gyms or saunas. The concert hall, along with the opera house and the silver screen, doesn’t offer much of a platform – rigorous censorship has seen to that.

The Beijing Queer Chorus remain undeterred – they’re finding plenty to sing about. This year, 15 of its members travelled to Denver, Colorado, where they joined 7,000 singers from across the world for the Gala Choruses Festival.

While most of the chorus’ members are amateurs, they’re no slouches, staging two seasons a year and performing in Chinese, English, and occasionally German and Japanese. Their selection of delicate Chinese folk songs, pop hits and tried-and-true classics is careful, and they meticulously rehearse each number for weeks before debuting it.

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In Denver, they lit up the stage as the first Asian group ever to take part in the world’s largest gathering of LGBTI choral singers, and gamely joined a mass performance of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ that left the audience a blubbering mess. Just for good measure, one of their members came out to his mother during the trip – and she took a front row seat for their performance.

‘We want people to know that such a group exists in their city, and for more people to see us – particularly straight people,’ says Claire, a stalwart, if relatively new member of the group. ‘Music is a language we all connect with.’

This notion might raise eyebrows, but, as one of the group’s leaders Wang Ruoyu explains, part of their mission is to provide an alternative, ‘acceptable’ face for China’s LGBTIs. A lifelong lover of music, Wang always felt a desire to bring more queer people like himself together through music. As is the case for so many of the chorus’ members, realising that dream was made possible by the internet.

‘I used to sing in a church choir in Shenzhen. I found the Beijing Queer Chorus through Google, then one year later I was in Beijing.’ Claire had a similar dream, and after she contacted Wang via the group’s official WeChat account, she soon signed up. ‘[I went] from a newbie to a really active member of the group really fast!’ she says.

Being open to all is a major asset of the Beijing Queer Chorus. ‘We hope our lyrics [and] our music can enlighten and entertain,’ says Wang, stressing that the group’s clean-cut, family-friendly image means that the vast bulk of feedback they get from their performances and online videos is positive.

There are exceptions of course. When the Beijing Queer Chorus were featured in a documentary by Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV, the online response from some was ‘unfriendly’, says Wang. ‘They weren’t rational arguments,’ he says, brushing off the episode. ‘“You’re sick”, things like that. It happens.’
The group is also integrated with the Asian LGBT Choir Network, and the group performed at the organisation’s festival in Taipei in 2014, with plans to perform in Seoul next year. Indeed, the Beijing Queer Chorus have a footprint far greater than its small numbers would suggest. All the more remarkable when you consider that some of the members still perform wearing masks to protect their identities.
‘I understand the masks,’ says Wang. ‘People have to consider their circumstances. But they still get up on stage.’ Claire agrees: ‘There are family and work considerations,’ she says. ‘I hope that gradually we can all face our audience.’
Either way, audiences love what these guys are doing, as seen in Denver. ‘The response was amazingly warm,’ says Claire. ‘We half-expected it, but to hear the cheers, the applause… it was indescribable. So palpable. So true. It wasn’t just our art that people were cheering. It was our identity.’


Keep updated on Beijing Queer Chorus’ performances through WeChat: BeijingQueerChorus.

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