Thanks to its director, Huang Bo, the Baoti Cornerstone Choir has been making headlines and garnering attention around China for its overt Christian message and quality gospel music. A former professional music producer turned church choir director, Huang has trained amateur church members into professional performers. His Baoti Cornerstone Choir has appeared on popular Chinese television shows and has produced a Christian praise album. The journal Territory interviewed Huang and members of the Christian gospel choir in the southern city of Xiamen. We have translated the interview in its entirety.
Due to the length of the article, we will publish it in two parts. This is part one.
Lay down Your Pride and Praise God Here on Earth—a Story of Baoti Cornerstone Choir
Huang Bo, a music producer, waved goodbye to Beijing and moved to Gulangyu (Xiamen), only to find himself walking into God’s wonderful plan. Since then he has been leading a young church choir while feeling a full sense of failure. “I am a music professional. What am I doing here with a group of amateurs?” Through the ministry of a church choir, everyone has been transformed, master and students alike, and received from God joy that cannot be taken.
Baoti Cornerstone Gospel Choir was established in 2011 in Xiamen, the majority of whose members do not have a musical background. But after years of training, it has developed into a gospel choir of great impact both spiritually and musically. Adopting a traditional church choir format, its presentation, however, ranges across a spectrum of modern styles from gospel to funk to rock. In 2017, they debuted their first album “My Songs upon the Altar.”
Huang Bo, a Christian and senior music producer in mainland China, used to be the lead singer in the band The Verse before he joined Cornerstone Choir as its director and album producer. He once was the musical and vocal director for the musical contest show Happy Man Sings on HunanTV.
In October 2015, Huang Bo supervised his choir’s performance in a well-known TV show. Even though much of the performance was censored and could not be broadcast because it was religiously sensitive, he was thankful for the opportunity to witness God’s glory. Soon after that, the choir received an invitation from the Midi Music festival, a music fest that Huang Bo used to frequent as a senior music producer. Still, it was quite unprecedented to lead a church choir there singing worships songs!
On New Year’s Eve of 2015 in the prosperous city of Shenzhen, the Cornerstone Choir led an excited audience through the New Year count-down with a succession of worship songs, everyone singing their way into the new year. Can you imagine the scene? Under the banner of rock music on a stage ignited by an explicitly expressed desire for finding truth and piercing through the fog of falsehood, there emerged a church choir seeking truth through worshipping God. “Regardless of how secular the setting is, we just sing our worship songs!” says Huang Bo.
When he talks about the beginning of his faith journey, Huang Bo mentioned his early days as a student of oil painting at the arts academy. “I always had a deep admiration for Christian culture. I would go to church occasionally and feel touched by the Bible.” Later when he fell in love with music, he withdrew from the arts academy, moved to Beijing, and joined his friends’ rock band.
During those 12 years in Beijing, Huang Bo and his band The Verse earned many awards within his musical circle. Meanwhile, he was producing a series of sound track music for movies and TV series that sold quite well. Spiritually, he was beginning to read theological books and being influenced intellectually, though he had no desire to join a church yet. In hindsight, he said he was keeping God at a convenient distance while he remained deeply attached to elitism—he was only a “cultural Christian.” “I thought Christianity was beautiful and good, but it just wasn’t life-giving to me.”
In 2009, at a concert in Gulangyu, Xiamen, Huang Bo was so attracted to the beautiful view of the sea and the ancient architecture that he decided to move there. He and friends were touring many church buildings when they stepped into Trinity Church where some old ladies greeted them and invited them to the youth Bible study. Huang Bo promised to join next time, not really understanding what a Bible study was.
After that visit, Huang Bo talked seriously with his friends about moving to Xiamen. His friends could not imagine the prospect. They said, “You are a music producer. How can you have a career there?!” He replied, “There are churches there and they need choir directors. I have experience in modern music as well as in gospel-soul music. I should be able to help them set up a new kind of choir, and then they should be able to pay me.” At that time he knew nothing about churches and was only dreaming up what sounded good and made sense to him.
In May 2010 Huang Bo left Beijing for Gulangyu and settled in a rented house. Nobody could understand what he was doing. Soon after he moved, he got to know a group of artists. Then he found his way back to Trinity Church. There he joined the youth Bible study group and stayed for the next five years.
“It wasn’t an easy start, and the cultural dynamics of Xiamen were nothing like that of Beijing, not much was going on here. Sometime later, I was taken to a Sunday afternoon service in the church that I attend now. I was quite happy with it because I could sleep in in the morning.” He did not try to hide his laziness and his aversion to the constraints of any organization. “Even though I was willing to participate in church life, I didn’t like having my private life intruded upon.” Starting with this church, God began to touch his heart and fill it with joy and contentment so that he could yield the self that he had been holding fast to.
When the church decided to start a worship team in 2011, the pastor asked Huang Bo if he would like to lead it. Huang Bo happily accepted. Since that time, for six years now, he has been supervising rehearsals twice a week. Having teamed up with a group of young people, he began to demonstrate his gift of teaching. The church entrusted him with teaching the youth group about various cultural and religious topics. Later he began to preach and even to lead a Bible study group at his home. He could not have anticipated this when he first joined the church! Huang Bo is thankful that God is using him in this way, taking hold of him and molding and transforming him. He has come to a deeper knowledge of God’s grace while he ministers to others.
While in Beijing, Huang Bo saw himself as a very responsible and empathetic person who never turned a blind eye to all the suffering in the world. When the earthquake struck Wenchuan, he prayed to God with tears, not knowing what to say yet deeply lamenting, “So much suffering, have mercy!” But such lamenting could not give him any strength or a way out. When he later stepped back into real life after his cries over the world’s suffering, he realized that he actually had not understood love before. Not until he came to live in Gulangyu and found himself walking in real faith did he start to feel he is loved and to know what grace is and who God is! “He is transforming me all the time while at the same time he is merciful with my weakness. He knows I am above running around and asking for help so he has always provided for me such that I never have to stoop too low to earn a living. People always hunt me down with a job offer.”
He was well aware of his own pride. He was an odd fit for his surroundings. He was very bitter toward the world: quick to anger and very critical of others. But he did not find it necessary to mend his ways, nor could he see how. Opportunity came when the pastor announced that the church needed two worship teams, one traditional choir, the other of a more modern style. All those who were confident in their vocal skills joined the traditional choir, and the young college students and seekers joined Huang Bo’s modern worship team. They had a lot of fun learning to drum, but could not read music or sing properly at rehearsal.
“I felt like such a failure. I used to work with proficient music professionals. In that moment I wondered what I was doing with a team of total amateurs who had absolutely no foundation in music!”
God was amazing. He allowed Huang Bo to team up with those young people and he was transformed becoming more patient and meek in one rehearsal after another. He could not meet his perfectionism and high standards here, otherwise everyone would be scared off. It would not do if nobody stuck around. Later God encouraged Huang Bo with the team’s growth when several of his students became Christians and joined the choir and later grew to be the backbone of the team. This is a case of “teaching and learning complementing each other” in terms of professional development, and spiritually speaking, building one another up as “iron sharpens iron.” In terms of mutual sharpening, newness of life began to be manifest in the brothers and sisters serving in the choir together.
Editor's note: To hear the choir sing, click on the original article and scroll down to one of the four audio clips that are included in the post.
Original article: 放下骄傲，在俗世中赞美神——保提基石福音合唱团 (Territory)
Edited and adapted with permission.
Image credits: Territory.
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