Home / World / Europe

Sino-UK choir adds new sound to festive offerings

By Angus McNeice | China Daily UK | Updated: 2016-12-21 18:19

The sound of Christmas carols is a sure sign the holiday season has arrived and, if composer Nicholas Smith has his way, Chinese choral music will grow to join them as part of Europe's festive repertoire.

Smith is artistic director with the Peking Sinfonietta and Chopsticks Choral Society, a newly formed group of singers from Europe and China who sing Chinese choral music in Mandarin.

Each year, British audiences fill concert halls and candlelit churches to listen to choirs perform their favorite carols. This December, they also had the chance to hear a Chinese version of the classic Silent Night when the Chopsticks group joined choirs representing a wide range of countries performing Christmas carols in London's Piccadilly Circus.

"Over the last 30 years, when Chinese music is presented abroad, it's usually by Chinese entities," said Smith. "The footprint that's left afterward is pretty small. It's like me telling you Chinese food is great but I only let you smell it and not taste it."

In October, his choral society performed at London's Cadogan Hall. Half the group is from Europe and those singers learned traditional Chinese classics, such as Sinn Sing Hoi's Yellow River Cantata, in Mandarin.

"The only way Chinese music is really ever going to be embedded in the central canon of the Western repertoire is if Westerners are allowed to do it," he said. "Why would you know who any Chinese composer is unless you play it or see it?"

For Theresa Booth, CEO of the Chopsticks Club, a UK-China professionals network with 4,000 members, its choir provides an opportunity to form cultural bonds between the two nations.

"Music is the most wonderful way to unite, it's a complete equalizer," she said. "It doesn't matter where you're from. It's soft diplomacy at its very best, and that's what we're trying to do with the Chopsticks Club. And we want to keep it like that, so that people really share each other's culture."

Members of the Chopsticks Club Choral Society are all serious choral singers who can sight-read music.

"The Chinese didn't have choral music until the 1930s, so it's a very different and fresh perspective," Smith said. "Chinese music is pentatonic, they create melodies with five notes. You won't find Chinese choral music that's trying to imitate a Western hymn tune, because those use eight notes, so the type of harmonization is different."

Smith-who received an Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II in 2011 for services to music in China and to Sino-British relations said his goal is for Chinese choral music to be part of the mainstream repertoire in the UK.

Most Viewed in 24 Hours