A Cappella enters a new era in Hong Kong

Original Source:Edison Hung Music Blog
Author:Edison Hung
Published on:2014-04-26
Translated by : Jay Gao

Despite not even through the first half of 2014 yet, I can assert that 2014 is an important year for Hong Kong A Cappella development. In the past few months, many local groups have hosted concerts, including Lasagna (February), Just Sing, Mosaic, Yat Po Singers (March), Joyous (April). At the same time, there are also foreign groups like Oxford Gargoyles, The Acappelicans, O-Kai Singers and The 24 (this is a chamber choir)perform in Hong Kong. As for the Hong Kong International A Cappella Festival2014, The Son of Pitches, Musae, JARNZΩ and The Idea of North will be invited to conduct a series of events and performances. So far we know that O'blue Chorus, Gliss, A Sharp Singers, Lasagna, Set Tone Men, Orange, Senza and Yat Po Singer will hostconcerts, The King’s Singers will also be performing in Hong Kong in May.

Also, in terms of events that have already occurred include the first team barbershop chorus – Hong Kong Vocal Stream founded by Eric from the Metro; the revival of ACA-radio; Joyous recorded its second EP; Hong Kong A Cappella Academy hosteda Hong Kong and Macau A Cappella video competition; Apple Tree Music hosted “The creativity of A Cappella” composer forum; second Hong Kong A Cappella gathering and the “Art Critic Salon: Hong Kong International A Cappella Festival2014” forum hosted by myself.

Although there is no statistical data support, according to my observation, this year the number of A Cappella activitiesin Hong Kongis the highest amongst recent years, which is a great reflectionof the speedy development on the ‘quantity’ side of A Cappella music. However, in terms of “quality”, Hong Kong still has a long way to go…  

Beware of self-indulgence

I came to this conclusion after viewing many performances by groups that has been around for some time, I realised that in terms of ‘quality’ there is much room for improvement. I would like to emphasize that by “quality” I do not only mean performance quality, but  refer to what I called ‘comprehensive quality’ which include individual vocal skills, group overall vocal skills, presentation at the show (such as stage positioning, transition dialogue, programmearrangement), arrangement of songs, usageof media (doing interviews or using YouTubeforself-promotion), network of the team, long term planning, etc.

A Cappella groups can be categorizedinto two typesaccording to mentality, the first typeisthose strive forcontinuousdevelopment, despite the fact that itis almost impossible to form a full-time professional groupsin Hong Kong.Such type of groups arewilling to perform in gigs, occasionally host concerts and participate in workshops and master classes to improve their skills. The second typeisthe one that wants to‘have fun’. This type of group is less proactive and iscontent with the status quo, performanceis just a kindof entertainment in their spare time, so they are less motivated in improving themselves.

For the second type of group, I do not intend to criticizetheir lack of willingness to learn, in the end everyone has their own expectation for A Cappella, and no one can force everyone to strive for excellence.After all having fun with A Cappella music is one of its attractive features, it is nothing wrong to pursue happiness with A Cappella music. However, those constantlybrag about their performance experience, number of songs performed, while only sing at a novice level just turning their performance into a ‘self-indulging show’, those are the ones I cannot stand to watch.

For the first type of group, after some observation, I am glad to see there are many locals who are passionate about A Cappella and willing to invest not only their time and energy, but also continue to strive and refine without worrying about the cost and benefit. The most common way to improve is to watch online video of groups around the world, participate in all kinds of workshops, contactsenior teachers for lessons.Evenmore aggressive way is toparticipate in local or foreign competitions and music festivals, so to asexchange and learn with other groups directly.

The methods mentioned above belong to “asking from senior”.In fact, however, learning from groups who are on a similar level to you is also a good method that is easily be overlooked.It is becausethe objective conditions are similar(for example,youare using the same performancevenue), this could prove to be more valuable than referencing from foreign groups. Unfortunately, only a small amount of local groups adopt this method ---for most of the time the audiences of the A Cappella concerts are mostly relative and friends of the groups, rarely would you see members of other groups present. I remember there was a time I attended a concert, there were only two members from other groupsamongst the audience. This situation ismuch better when it comes to the collegiate groups, where students are willing to attend concerts to support, no matter that group is from their school or not.Andthey are very willing to helppromotingthe event or even share the stage together.

Another problem is currently although there are numbers of ways to assist new groups to improve and reach to“middle-level” (as there are many qualified teachers and courses), there are only limited ways to help “middle-levels” to reach to“high-level”. The lack of high-level groups and tutors in Hong Kong is critical, as middle-level groups can only passively wait for foreign groups to come over to Hong Kong and hold master classes.

In addition, discussions and articles about A Cappella are very limited, especially after I organized the art critic salon, I found that exchange and discussion on the experience, knowledge, concepts are very inspiring, giving me a lot of new ideas and concepts, while strengthening the ties within the A Cappella network, therefore this kind of exchange is worthwhile to be held more often.

Learning from Taiwan

The abovementioned events are all hurdles for Hong Kong A Cappelladevelopment. Clearly, to overcome them will take some time and will require the power of more than an individual or a group. However, due to the geographical proximity and similarity in culture, Taiwan ACappella development would be a great referencefor us to learn.

Before talking about TaiwanA Cappella development, it is necessary to outlinedifferent stages of A Cappelladevelopment so the readers can have a clear picture in their minds. A Cappella development can be divided into three stages, the first stage is ‘germinationphase’, this is when A Cappella is first introduced to an area, and then more and more A Cappella groups and events appeared in this area. In this stage, ‘quality’ is not too important, ‘quantity’ is the key. Over time, in the development of ‘quantity’, excellent groups will naturally emerge, along with supporting organisations, competitions, festivals, networks and so on, when this occurs, it enters the second stage--- ‘growth phase’. Compare to germination phase, the growth phase focuses on ‘quality’. Hong Kongis currently in its growth phase. After the growth phase will come the ‘harvest phase’, this is whenwe have‘cultivated’ high quality groups that not onlyinfluence the local development, butalso have a great impact on the development of other regions.It can be viewed as some sort of ‘cultural export’. Examples of those high quality groups are The Real Group, Pentatonix, in which people from different regions listen to and sing their songs.

Since there is no relevant information available, I can’t say that the development of Taiwan A Cappella started before Hong Kong, but in terms of maturity, Taiwan is definitely ahead of Hong Kong. From some recent events, including VocoNovo’s China tour, Vox Vocal Band’s South-East Asia tour, O-Kai Singers performing in Europe, Vocal Asia Festival holding events in different parts of Asia, clearly Taiwan is in the ‘harvest phase’, which we can learn from on how to progress from growth to harvest phase.

So how did Taiwan manage to enter the harvest phase? Firstly Taiwanese are truly passionate about A Cappella. Exampleslikewhen Sirens participated in ‘The Sing Off’ competition at Shenzhen, one of their members could not stay in Shenzhen for long due to study commitments, he needed to travel between China and Taiwan, which required a lot of determination and energy; O-Kai Singers mentioned in their award-winning album booklet that Vocal Asia’s Chairman Clare Chen sold her own house to provide them with financial assistance; combined concerts and ‘support in person’ for other groups are very common. Taiwanese’s love for A Cappella is clearly unmatched in Hong Kong, something that I am indeed envy and jealous about.

In addition, objective social conditions is one of the reasons. As we all know, Taiwanese University graduate salary is not high, for those young Taiwanese who just entered the labour force, from an opportunity cost perspective, forming a full-time performing group might be more effective than a ‘proper’ job. Moreover,young people have the time and youth, so even if they cannot perform for a living,they can just find a regular job instead, there is nothing to lose for them. So far, O-Kai Singers, Sirens,Vox Vocal Band are all full-time performance groups. I believe more and more groups will emerge in the future. In Hong Kong,the starting salary is higher for fresh graduates, if you could secure a job in the government, insurance or finance sector, you would earn stable income and clear career path, therefore a guaranteed life. In this kind of environment, it is hard to convince them to give up the stable life and take risk with the performing career.

A Cappella related organizations play an important role in promoting A Cappella music as well. Taiwan’s main a cappella related organizations includeVocal Asia, Taiwan Choral Music Center (TCMC) and RensingAcademy.Though all three organizations host A Cappella related events, they have different goals --- Vocal Asia aims to unite the vocal power of Asia; TCMC’s mission is to promote choral arts, A Cappella is just one of them; Rensing Academy focus more on the training of singing and performing. The different goals of the three organizations allow them to co-exist, promote positivecompetition and avoid any direct conflict.

For many years, the only A Cappella related organization in Hong Kong is The Contemporary A Cappella Society of Hong Kong and Macau (CASHK), and in the face of growing popularity of A Cappella events, CASHK is feeling the pressure to handle it all alone. Fortunately there are new organizations now like A Cappella Academy, Hong Kong and Macau University A Cappella Association, as well as individual organized events, gradually changing the situation where CASHK has to do it all alone. Despitethe scale of these organizations are not big and their networks are still relative small, I believe after some time, they will become pivotal in promoting the development of A Cappella in Hong Kong.


A Cappella is progressing relatively fast in Hong Kong, in addition to the more frequent events, in recent years A Cappella has been gaining attractions from various arts festivals, such as West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre had an A Cappella event in 2013; Orange had performed in the InternationalArts Carnivalconsecutively for two years; Yat Po Singers has performed in theHong Kong People’s Fringe Festival last year,as well as the main focus in this year’s New Vision Arts Festival. These are signs that A Cappella performance has gradually rise from aleisure entertainment to anartisticcultural program. The highlyflexible and creative cultural sector can help to discover new possibilitiesofA Cappella.

This change undoubtedly poses an opportunity for the local groups, the problem is that are they ready for it? What’s more, have they realised how to utilize these opportunities? In terms of (comprehensive) quality, do theyhave any way to improve it? Meanwhile, can other organizationsrespond to these changes in the environment and take appropriate actions? As the advocator, I really hope that there are more and more people getting involved and discuss about the development of A Cappella, which is the biggest reason why I wrote this lengthy article.  

Vocal Asia has been actively organizing Vocal Asia Festival in Asia. This is the highlights from last year’s Vocal Asia Festival:

(Author has given permission for the use of this article)



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