Interview: Yunnan Church Choir Director Shares First International Tour in US&UK

By Yi Yang, March 22, 2018 15:03 PM

The Xiaoshuijing Miao Farmers' Choir gave a performance in the Chinese Cultural Center at London. (WeChat account: KT Wong Foundation)

The choir(WeChat account: KT Wong Foundation)

The Xiaoshuijing Miao Farmers' Choir performed at London on March 1, 2018. (WeChat account: KT Wong Foundation)

From February 6 to March 2, 2018, the Xiaoshuijing Miao Farmers' Choir from a church in Yunnan launched its first international tour in the United States and the UK. The Miao choir consisting of peasant Christians is known for their "sound of nature".

At New York Lincoln Center and London's Royal Festival Hall, the 50 choir members sang world-famous pieces like Maurice Ravel's Tzigane, Beethoven's Fantasia in C minor for piano and Handel's Hallelujah which accounted for 60% of the repertoire. The rest were Yunnan folk songs. Tens of thousands of audiences watched their shows. 

Recently CCD interviewed Long Guangyuan, the choir director, to share their first international trip. Long started the story with the visa application.

Giving an international performance was the dream of Zhang Xiaoming, the choir leader, for many years. However, it seemed unreachable for the high cost of more than some million yuan. Well, when they received the invitation from New York Philharmonic Orchestra and London Philharmonic Orchestra, they gave mixed responses. Some felt excited about the coming trip while some felt nothing, regarding it unreal.

Situated in Fumin County, Yunnan's capital Kunming, the Xiaoshuijing Miao minority village has over 450 Miao residents. In 1937, Arthur G Nicholls, an Australian missionary, preached the gospel in the village and established a local church. A choir was also founded. At that time many old villages learned how to sing multi-part songs and the skills have passed down through the generations. Around eighty percent of the villagers are Christians who have learned hymns since childhood. Except general hymns taught by previous missionaries, they also sing Handel's Messiah, Mozart's Gloria, and Beethoven's Ode to Joy. Existing for decades, the choir has learned from missionaries to sing four-part harmony and even sing English hymns.

They provided many materials including land and property ownership certificates to apply for visas, but they encountered visa denials for the first time. Then many members wanted to go home. Instead of giving up, Zhang encouraged them to try again. "The choir leader said that you are Christians and should wait patiently." Afterward, their second application for UK and US visas went smooth and was approved. "It was under the hand of God." Said Long.

The choir set out to New York on February 14 and rehearsed with New York Philharmonic Orchestra the next day in preparation for the performance. In the following days, they visited the New York City metropolitan area and the Chinese consulate in the city.  After the show performed in New York, they flew to the UK and accepted interviews from local media. They also appeared on the stage in London, Liverpool, and Birmingham.

Owing to the language barrier, Long stated that the choir had no idea of what the audiences felt about their performances, but guessed something from their facial expressions. "I saw the people from the auditorium hearing carefully. Their eyes were filled with appreciation and joy. The Britain media asked me about the differences between Chinese and western food, in eating habits, and feelings about this trip in an interview. In addition, a Britain TV station invited us to join a live show where we sang songs like Hallelujah."

Specifically, Long mentioned they asked whether they could visit local churches everywhere they went. They paid a visit to Westminister Abbey. "There were many statues. Seeing our Miao pastor Wang Zhiming, we were very excited and took pictures there. We were very happy and felt connections!"

Above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey are ten statues of the 20th century Christian martyrs among whom Wang is the only Chinese people. Born in Wuding County, Yunnan, Wang became a preacher of a church school and served the church for 19 years. In 1944 he was elected as the chairman of the church council in Sapushan Village of Wuding. Records indicate that on the eve of 1949, more than 5000 people of Miao, Yi, and Lisu ethnic minorities responded to the calling of the church and followed Jesus. The Miao hymnal named Sacred Hymns of Praise translated and compiled by Wang is widely circulated among the Miao people.

This trip marked the choir's longest tour and they were grateful despite language difficulties and being unaccustomed to local food.  "As a Christian, I saw God's love. He helped us go global through the hands of good people. Through the tour, I came to realize that God used many people who do great things to help us. I'm thankful and thank God."

The trip reminded him of foreign missionaries like Samuel Pollard who brought the gospel to Miao people who used to be ill-educated and changed their circumstances. When many choir members had problems with food in the UK and US, the pastor who accompanied them comforted them by citing the example of Samuel Pollard who might not adapt to Chinese meals but persisted in preaching the gospel to them. Then the choir was comforted by the explanation.

"It also got me thinking about my childhood when my grandfather told me the stories of missionaries. He said that they left big cities for here and shared the gospel with us."

Long grew up in a Christian family and his grandfather was a preacher. He didn't get any education in conducting and dropped out from middle school. Then he started the service in the choir and two years later, he was the leader at the age of around 20. Afterward, he began to learn to conduct. "As of now, I've led the choir for over three decades. Sometimes I feel tired and want a rest, but I stay because this is the Lord's grace."

He shared that in spite of that the number of the choir members remained unchanged, they really made much progress in singing skills. In the early days when the Xiaoshuijing choir started choral practice, the sounds they produced were unharmonious because of their national singing method. So Long guided the choir to watch hymn videos and learn bel canto.

Long said that the choir adhered to the principle that it sang for the Lord. "We appear in the name of the Xiaoshuijing Miao Choral Group outside the church, but we're actually a choir. We hold that our participation in activities like Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations in the society or church is for the Lord. We don't care whether we can get a prize in a competition or not. We just sing and that's not remarkable. It's like that we were not sad at the visa denial the first time. God has his good pleasure in letting us go or not. If not, we would go home."We are farmers, so it would be glorious if we could go there, otherwise, we would return home to farm lands." He added.

Now the choir members have to farm during the day and make dinners after work. They rehearse in the church at about 9 pm.From February 6 to March 2, 2018, the Xiaoshuijing Miao Farmers' Choir from a church in Yunnan launched its first international tour in the United States and the UK. The Miao choir consisting of peasant Christians is known for their "sound of nature".

At New York Lincoln Center and London's Royal Festival Hall, the 50 choir members sang world-famous pieces like Maurice Ravel's Tzigane, Beethoven's Fantasia in C minor for piano and Handel's Hallelujah which accounted for 60% of the repertoire. The rest were Yunnan folk songs. Tens of thousands of audiences watched their shows.

Recently CCD interviewed Long Guangyuan, the choir director, to share their first international trip. Long started the story with the visa application.

Giving an international performance was the dream of Zhang Xiaoming, the choir leader, for many years. However, it seemed unreachable for the high cost of more than some million yuan. Well, when they received the invitation from New York Philharmonic Orchestra and London Philharmonic Orchestra, they gave mixed responses. Some felt excited about the coming trip while some felt nothing, regarding it unreal.

Situated in Fumin County, Yunnan's capital Kunming, the Xiaoshuijing Miao minority village has over 450 Miao residents. In 1937, Arthur G Nicholls, an Australian missionary, preached the gospel in the village and established a local church. A choir was also founded. At that time many old villages learned how to sing multi-part songs and the skills have passed down through the generations. Around eighty percent of the villagers are Christians who have learned hymns since childhood. Except general hymns taught by previous missionaries, they also sing Handel's Messiah, Mozart's Gloria, and Beethoven's Ode to Joy. Existing for decades, the choir has learned from missionaries to sing four-part harmony and even sing English hymns.

They provided many materials including land and property ownership certificates to apply for visas, but they encountered visa denials for the first time. Then many members wanted to go home. Instead of giving up, Zhang encouraged them to try again. "The choir leader said that you are Christians and should wait patiently." Afterward, their second application for UK and US visas went smooth and was approved. "It was under the hand of God." Said Long.

The choir set out to New York on February 14 and rehearsed with New York Philharmonic Orchestra the next day in preparation for the performance. In the following days, they visited the New York City metropolitan area and the Chinese consulate in the city.  After the show performed in New York, they flew to the UK and accepted interviews from local media. They also appeared on the stage in London, Liverpool, and Birmingham.

Owing to the language barrier, Long stated that the choir had no idea of what the audiences felt about their performances, but guessed something from their facial expressions. "I saw the people from the auditorium hearing carefully. Their eyes were filled with appreciation and joy. The Britain media asked me about the differences between Chinese and western food, in eating habits, and feelings about this trip in an interview. In addition, a Britain TV station invited us to join a live show where we sang songs like Hallelujah."

Specifically, Long mentioned they asked whether they could visit local churches everywhere they went. They paid a visit to Westminister Abbey. "There were many statues. Seeing our Miao pastor Wang Zhiming, we were very excited and took pictures there. We were very happy and felt connections!"

Above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey are ten statues of the 20th century Christian martyrs among whom Wang is the only Chinese people. Born in Wuding County, Yunnan, Wang became a preacher of a church school and served the church for 19 years. In 1944 he was elected as the chairman of the church council in Sapushan Village of Wuding. Records indicate that on the eve of 1949, more than 5000 people of Miao, Yi, and Lisu ethnic minorities responded to the calling of the church and followed Jesus. The Miao hymnal named Sacred Hymns of Praise translated and compiled by Wang is widely circulated among the Miao people.

This trip marked the choir's longest tour and they were grateful despite language difficulties and being unaccustomed to local food.  "As a Christian, I saw God's love. He helped us go global through the hands of good people. Through the tour, I came to realize that God used many people who do great things to help us. I'm thankful and thank God."

The trip reminded him of foreign missionaries like Samuel Pollard who brought the gospel to Miao people who used to be ill-educated and changed their circumstances. When many choir members had problems with food in the UK and US, the pastor who accompanied them comforted them by citing the example of Samuel Pollard who might not adapt to Chinese meals but persisted in preaching the gospel to them. Then the choir was comforted by the explanation.

"It also got me thinking about my childhood when my grandfather told me the stories of missionaries. He said that they left big cities for here and shared the gospel with us."

Long grew up in a Christian family and his grandfather was a preacher. He didn't get any education in conducting and dropped out from middle school. Then he started the service in the choir and two years later, he was the leader at the age of around 20. Afterward, he began to learn to conduct. "As of now, I've led the choir for over three decades. Sometimes I feel tired and want a rest, but I stay because this is the Lord's grace."

He shared that in spite of that the number of the choir members remained unchanged, they really made much progress in singing skills. In the early days when the Xiaoshuijing choir started choral practice, the sounds they produced were unharmonious because of their national singing method. So Long guided the choir to watch hymn videos and learn bel canto.

Long said that the choir adhered to the principle that it sang for the Lord. "We appear in the name of the Xiaoshuijing Miao Choral Group outside the church, but we're actually a choir. We hold that our participation in activities like Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations in the society or church is for the Lord. We don't care whether we can get a prize in a competition or not. We just sing and that's not remarkable. It's like that we were not sad at the visa denial the first time. God has his good pleasure in letting us go or not. If not, we would go home."We are farmers, so it would be glorious if we could go there, otherwise, we would return home to farm lands." He added.

Now the choir members have to farm during the day and make dinners after work. They rehearse in the church at about 9 pm.

- Translated by Karen Luo

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