by Juliana Baron, Vocal Blog Asia, August 2016
My journey as a single singer in Asia – Part 1
Two years ago, I moved from a comparatively small town in Germany to the 20-million-metropolis Shanghai. To continue my passion for singing and at the same time making some Chinese friends, I wanted to join some local singing group. But how to find it?
I was in the lucky situation to know Christine Liu (雙雙 Shuāng Shuāng) from Voco Novo and the Director of International Affairs at Vocal Asia. Vocal Asia is the biggest association of a cappella singers and initiatives in Asia. Although Christine lives in Taiwan, she happened to be in Shanghai in my first week and she introduced me to a key person of a cappella in Shanghai: Bud Jan (詹子贤 Zhān Zi Xián). And this was the start of my journey as a „single singer“ – not at all a lonely journey as the wording might make you believe.
If it’s about a cappella in Shanghai, I would say even in whole China, there is nobody who doesn’t know Bud, and Bud seems to know every single person related to a cappella in Greater China. He organizes the so-called Single Singers in Shanghai and spread this idea to a lot of other cities in China.
The roots of „Single Singers“ is known from the Dutch singers Annemarie Homan and Emily May’t Hoen who came up with this idea at the London A Cappella Festival. Not only vocal groups are joining such festivals but also a lot of singers are coming alone. For them to actively join, to sing along in a group and perform together, they formed the „Single Singers“.
In a similar sense, the Single Singers in Shanghai are formed, but it goes even far beyond. Born from the idea to popularize and spread A Cappella several singers gathered every Saturday in the Shanghai Mass Arts Center and invited all interested single singers to join, to learn and to sing together. In China there is less of a choir culture than for example in Germany. Many of those gathering every Saturday have no musical background, can’t read music or are not used to match harmonies but all of them are curious and love to sing.
When I joined the Shanghai Single Singers in summer 2014, it was still a very young community, just founded a few months before. In only a few cities in China similar organizations were about to start, most copying the example of Shanghai.
Every Saturday, new single singers would join. Life is incredibly busy in Shanghai and there is a high fluctuation. Nevertheless, over a certain period of time, more and more participants would become frequent visitors. It was not easy to teach and balance the different levels, so after several months we split the group into experienced and beginners. While the beginners were taught basics of singing techniques, rhythms and the beauty of singing in harmony, the more experienced single singers would learn advanced singing and vocal percussion techniques, music theory, arranging, stage performance and choreography. The a cappella community is growing and during the last two years, we gained more than thousand followers, either actively joining the single singers or at least following the activities of the single singers, coming to the concerts or just spreading the word and letting people know about a cappella.
The single singers in China are extremely eager to learn. Although I am no professional, I got the chance to share and teach warm-up methods, rhythm exercises, circle-singing and different choir practices which I know from Europe. We had guest teachers and professors in a rotating mode, local professors as well as famous teachers from abroad like professor Liu (劉靜諭 Liú Jìng Yù) from Taiwan. I am extremely thankful to the lead teacher Hao Hao (董文昊 Dǒng Wén Hào) who dedicates countless hours to develop a teaching concept, to arrange songs for the single singers, to teach almost every single Saturday and to coach newly formed a cappella groups. For me the Single Singers classes were at the same time Chinese language lessons and everyone took care that I understood, that I was integrated and part of the family.
What makes me extremely happy is the bunch of new a cappella groups forming out of single singers. Every year, at least 5 new vocal groups were born. Me too, I founded a group in 2014 called KnowHow (in Chinese characters 侬好 „nonghao“ which means „hello“ in Shanghainese dialect).
And all these groups together with the single singers will perform in several concerts throughout the year. Flash mobs in shopping malls, street music, a cappella concerts and as opening acts for successful professional vocal groups visiting Shanghai.
Meanwhile, single singers like in Shanghai are founded in twelve more cities in China: Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Beijing, Guilin, Harbin, Luoyang, Xi’an, Tianjin, Lanzhou, Changchun, Nanjing. They started to gather once a year in a nationwide single singers forum to exchange, sing together and give free concerts to a growing audience. If one of the cities has a bigger event, representatives from the other cities will support and join. As the lead city’s main organizer Bud Jan supports if a new single singers group wants to form and keeps the network together.
I am so proud and grateful that I could be part of this single singers development and that I could witness the childhood of a great a cappella future in China.
Here you can watch some videos of Single Singers activities in Shanghai: