To the Chinese community in Cupertino, Ching-Ching Chorus is much more than a choir. With activities beyond singing regularly planned for members, the choir founded by a Cupertino resident has been like a Chinese community center in Silicon Valley for three decades.
The total number of people who have joined Ching-Ching at some point in the past 30 years comes close to 3,000, according to Karl Chang, founder and conductor of Ching-Ching Chorus.
"Only a few people have stayed for 30 years, but new people keep coming," said Chang. "Our membership remains about 100 every year, and we have a concert weekend every December. That makes us the most consistent and long-lasting Chinese community choir in the Bay Area."
Chang said he actually never expected Ching-Ching to last so long. He recalls in 1981, he and his wife just finished their graduate studies in Texas and moved to Silicon Valley to work; then he met some Chinese graduate students of Stanford University who told him about the dissolution of their student choir. That was how he decided to establish another choir in its place to serve Chinese speakers who loved singing like himself.
The Chinese-speaking choir once attracted a few Caucasians who were learning the language when weekly rehearsals took place in the venue of the former student choir on the Stanford campus.
Since Stanford University tore down the building for remodeling in 2006, Ching-Ching has moved to Sunnyvale and then Santa Clara. But it has always been in Silicon Valley, and thus always convenient for Cupertino residents to attend.
Currently, Ching-Ching has 32 Cupertino residents, taking nearly a third of this year's total membership, according to John Ou, 2011 president of the choir.
Ching-Ching has members vote for a president, a vice president, a treasurer, a newsletter editor, a database manager and an activity manager every year. The elected staff members are all volunteers. Chang said it's their efforts that have kept Ching-Ching thriving through three decades to match its Chinese name, which means "evergreen."
It is a Ching-Ching tradition of staff members to organize all kinds of recreational activities for members to sign up, so Ching-Ching members get to see one another more than at weekly rehearsals. They can go dancing, hiking or camping together. They often have potlucks. These activities naturally bring members closer.
Cupertino residents Gene Young and I-Ming Kao have been Ching-Ching members for more than 20 years. Kao joined in 1989, and brought Young into the choir around the time they married in 1991. Young calls Ching-Ching the couple's "main social circle."
"We both have served as staff members in various positions during the past two decades," said Young. "We really enjoy singing with this group, especially for the long-term friendship built there. We have made a lot of good friends at Ching Ching; it's really like our second family."
Young and Kao are among the core members of Ching-Ching that keep the choir strong despite constant changes in the membership.
Chang said it's natural to see people come and go because everyone has different prioirities. He recalls in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, many single young people met in Ching-Ching, married and then disappeared as soon as they had babies. But now some of those couples who left are returning, as their children are grown.
Current president Ou is among the returning members. He said, "I was very lucky to be one of the founding members back in 1981. After my term as 1988 President, I left Ching-Ching for 15 years before returning to Ching Ching in 2004. I have enjoyed every moment since coming back and I am honored to have the chance to serve Ching-Ching again in this milestone 30th year."
While former members return to prove Ching-Ching's unforgettable charm, the choir no longer seems to attract single people in their 20s. According to Chang, none of its current member is under age 30. But Chang said he is not concerned about the aging and potentially graying of the choir.
"People are living longer, and the elderly can stay in good health," said Chang. "It is more and more important to provide social actitivies for the aging population."
For his love of choral music, however, Chang is also dedicated to choral music education for the next generation as co-founder and conductor of Crystal Children's Choir, headquartered in Cupertino.
Chang said people of any age can learn to improve their singing if they are willing to work on it. He added that Ching-Ching's tradition of annual concerts has motivated the amateur choir to pursue professional standards, and the concerts received positive feedback even from non-Chinese who were given English explanations in the programs.
Ching-Ching will have its 30th anniversary concerts at Louis Mayor Theater of Santa Clara University Dec. 10 and 11. For ticket information, email firstname.lastname@example.org