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Thursday, July 11, 2019, 11:19
Desert-island disc
By Chen Nan
Thursday, July 11, 2019, 11:19 By Chen Nan

The Rainbow Chamber Singers are set to perform songs from their new album on a four-city tour, Chen Nan reports.

Jin Chengzhi, conductor and songwriter of the Rainbow Chamber Singers, leads the group that has earned a growing fan base for their songs with simple lyrics and humorous performances. The choir will tour four Chinese cities from July 13. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

In January 2016, a performance by Shanghai-based amateur choir the Rainbow Chamber Singers went viral online. Under the baton of conductor Jin Chengzhi, the choir put on their sunglasses and sang the song, Where On Earth Did You Leave the Key to My Apartment, Zhang Shichao?, at the end of their concert. Unlike many choral works, which take on serious themes and are performed with demanding vocal techniques, the song has simple lyrics and the choir members performed it with humor.

Jin, who wrote the song, didn't expect such attention and warm feedback from the audience. The performance was viewed nearly 30,000 times, and within a week, about 300 people had applied to join the choir.

We already have a stable fan base, but after the show, even more people know who we are. I felt excited, yet uneasy

Jin Chengzhi, conductor

"We already have a stable fan base, but after the show, even more people know who we are. I felt excited, yet uneasy," says Jin. "I had to adjust to the changes of my life, like a more hectic schedule that made me uncomfortable."

The sudden transformations in his everyday life became the source of inspiration for Jin, who pictured himself as a man being shipwrecked on a desert island along with his parents and his little dog. The man was intrigued by the mystery of the island and was curious about everything, like the plants and the natural views. As he grew up, his dog died and his parents got old. In the end, he was left alone on the island until his death.

Jin captured seven moments of the man's life and turned them into songs, including Sail, Island of Stained Glass and Shore by the Flowers. In January 2017, under his baton, the Rainbow Chamber Singers began performing the seven songs at the concert hall of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra during their regular concerts. On June 30, the choir released seven songs on the album, The Songs of Eventide.

Jin Chengzhi, conductor and songwriter of the Rainbow Chamber Singers, leads the group that has earned a growing fan base for their songs with simple lyrics and humorous performances. The choir will tour four Chinese cities from July 13. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

"When I showed the seven songs to the choir members, they enjoyed the songs but found it's hard to sing them. The lyrics are abstract. They're about oceans, mountains, winds and clouds, and the singers had to use their voices to portray the scenes in the songs, rather than a concrete story," Jin says, adding that he composed the solo parts for alto and bass rather than the traditional soprano or tenor.

"The songs challenged me and the choir," Jin adds.

For the audiences, who were introduced to the choir through such hit songs as Where On Earth Did You Leave the Key to My Apartment, Zhang Shichao? and 2016's So Far, The Sofa Is So Far, which depicts the hectic daily lives of young people, the new songs offer a different kind of choral singing and entertains.

Born in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, Jin learned to play the piano during his childhood and participated in local school choirs. In 2007, he joined a conducting program at the China Conservatory of Music in Beijing and learned choral singing and songwriting. A year later, Jin was transferred to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where he and some schoolmates founded the Rainbow Chamber Singers in 2010.

In the beginning, music majors were the main members of the choir, which soon started to attract amateur singers, like white-collar workers, who joined as a hobby.

Jin Chengzhi, conductor and songwriter of the Rainbow Chamber Singers. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Now, with 70 members - mostly amateur singers - the choir meets once a week to rehearse and gives one show a month. Jin writes 30 to 40 new songs for the choir every year.

"Music is fun, and that's what brought the choir members together. We never forget that," Jin says.

Jin's parents live in a mountainous area of Wenzhou, and he spends about 20 days a year at their home. One of his works, Zeya Anthology, is inspired by the Zeya mountain there, while another song, Bamboo Forest, is performed in the Wenzhou dialect.

From July to December, the choir will tour four Chinese cities, starting with a concert in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, on July 13, before heading to Shanghai on July 20, Beijing on Nov 16 and 17, and Guangzhou, Guangdong province, on Dec 8.

Contact the writer at chennan@chinadaily.com.cn


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