LISBON, June 16 -- There is just one condition if you want to join the Jasmine Flower Choir in Lisbon: You mustn't be a native Mandarin Chinese speaker.
Members of the group get together for intense music-making and singing songs in Mandarin as a way to enjoy music, learn a new language, and promote cultural exchange.
Carlos Silva, artistic director of the chorus, said he began directing the choir in 2009 thanks to his daughter, Ana Isabel Silva, who studied mandarin Chinese at the Macau Science and Technology Center in Lisbon, and convinced her parents to start learning the language.
A trip to China that year really motivated Carlos Silva and his wife, Isabel Silva, to immerse themselves in the Chinese culture.
"We first went to China in 2009, and we loved it, the food and people and that same year we decided to join the chorus," said Carlos Silva. "We discovered that practising our Chinese through music was both efficient and relaxing."
Relaxing, but definitely demanding. "We're now going to sing a cappella, the first piece," said Carlos Silva during a rehearsal to which Xinhua was recently invited at the Macau Economic and Commercial Division in Lisbon, "I want everybody focused!"
They were rehearsing for their next gig in Beijing at the annual International Chorus Festival, singing songs like "Xiao Xiao de Chuan", or "small boat", in Chinese and the Portuguese song "Canto a Fado."
The soloist of the choir, Ana Isabel Silva, has developed over time a blissful, melodic voice and you can easily mistaken her for a professional Chinese singer.
It was perhaps her talent that helped her bond with one of her classmates during a Chinese language course, with whom she got married and bore two children.
Having a family hasn't damaged her thriving enthusiasm and the chorus isn't short of invitations.
The Jasmine Flower Choir has performed at numerous places in Portugal, including the Chinese embassy in Lisbon and the Lisbon City Hall. Their voices are now bringing them invitations to perform abroad too, such as the International Chorus Festival in Beijing they are preparing for.
"The objective is for people to learn or improve their Chinese through singing as well as enjoying a cultural exchange between two different countries," said administrative director of Jasmine Flower Choir, Professor Wang Suoying, who teaches Chinese language at Aveiro University in Northern Portugal.
Her husband, founder and logistic director of Jasmine Flower Choir, Lu Yanbin, helps the students improve their accent.
The name Jasmine Flower Choir came after the famous Chinese song "How beautiful the Jasmine flower."
The Chinese-learning classes take place at the Macau Science and Technology Center and the Macau Economic and Commercial Division in Lisbon. Caligraphy and other traditional Chinese cultural items are also part of the syllabus, but it seems it is the choir-singing that takes Portugal by storm.