Vocal Asia 2015 Interview

Origin From : Vocal Blog
Author : Juliana Baron
Date : 2015.07.31

Vocal Blog Talk with Christine Liu, Wuming Chen and Bud Jan

Christine Liu
- Music Director and Alto of the vocal group Voco Novo (Taiwan)
- Director of International Affairs of Vocal Asia
- Music arranger

Wuming Chen
- Chief Executive Officer of Vocal Asia
- Leader and VP of the vocal group Semiscon (Taiwan)

Bud Jan
- Investment Consultant in the Culture, Music and Film Industry
- Organizer of the single singer’s network in Shanghai and China
- Leader and Tenor of the amateur vocal group A-CAism

„I really enjoy singing a cappella with all the friends in Shanghai“

Juliana: I don’t know any a cappella person who doesn’t know Christine Liu! Nevertheless, could you introduce yourself to our Vocal Blog visitors?

Christine: Hi, I am Christine. I have an a cappella group in Taiwan called Voco Novo and I am the Music Director and sing Alto in the group. And I also work part time for Vocal Asia, that’s an organization that promotes a cappella music in Asia.

Juliana: Wuming, I am very happy, that you also found some time for this interview right after your China tour with your band Semiscon. Could you also briefly let our blog visitors know about your a cappella background?

Wuming: I am Wuming Chen also from Vocal Asia. And I am the band leader of Semiscon vocal group from Taiwan. I am also the vocal percussionist in that band. Just like Christine, we try to promote a cappella music all around Asia and we also try to make a stronger linkage between a cappella in Asia, Europe and the States.

Juliana: At least for Shanghai, if you want to sing a cappella or want to meet a cappella friends – you need to go to Bud.

Wuming: Yes, haha, he’s the man!

Juliana: I would call you the center of the a cappella network in Shanghai. Can we get a short introduction who you are?

Bud: Hi everyone, this is Bud. I am from Taiwan as well and I am working in Shanghai as a financial investment consultant for the music and film industry. My work is not related to a cappella. But I devote a lot of time to a cappella because I love it. Wuming and Christine are my teachers, my professors and my idols too. I learned a cappella through them and I really enjoy singing a cappella with all the friends in Shanghai.

„We are entering the second phase of the development of a cappella music in Asia“

Juliana: Christine, you are like an ambassador for Vocal Asia and actually, I have the feeling you are everywhere! We meet now our 5th time…

Christine: …Ya, and in 4 different countries!

Juliana: But – this year, you haven’t been to in Graz – there must be a good reason…

Christine: Well, because, actually every year at the same time as, Vocal Asia hosts an a cappella festival in China, and that is why I’ve not been to Actually there are two festivals happening in Shanghai this year. The first one is the just mentioned China a cappella camp with the national competition and the second one is the Vocal Asia Festival (VAF), a festival that travels around Asia the past five years. It has been in Taiwan, China and Korea, and this year it is in Shanghai.

Juliana: So, do you think a cappella in Asia is making big steps these days?

Wuming: Definitely, yes.

Christine: Actually, a cappella has been developing first in Korea and Japan. And then about 10 to 15 years ago, Taiwan started. And 5 years ago, we started promoting a cappella music in China. I think, people are starting to like a cappella and the number of audience is growing every year as well as the number of groups. Also the quality of the groups are getting better and better.

Wuming: And I think from this year 2015, we are entering the second phase of the development of a cappella music in Asia. We are trying to do more linkage between different regions. 5 or 10 years ago, we just did our own competition, our own development in every region. But now we try to get everybody together, try to make new things happen.

Juliana: So, the history of a cappella in Asia is very young. Does it mean contemporary a cappella in Asia is rather following western a cappella trends and not so much influenced from regional vocal music history?

Christine: My understanding is that choral singing is not in the tradition of Asian culture. There has been different kind of singing, but never singing in harmony. There haven’t been choirs before the western culture entered Asia. So, we didn’t go through the whole baroque, classic, romantic periods… We just copied the western choral culture when we first got into such form of art. But in recent years, there has been groups trying to combine eastern style with western style.

Wuming: Somehow, in Asia we need to educate our audience who are listening to our music. We don’t have this kind of tradition of choirs or a cappella like Christine said.

Juliana: Bud, what is your impression on the development of a cappella in China, what could you experience over the last couple of years?

Bud: I still remember my high school years [in Taiwan] when I listened to Wuming’s performance…

Wuming: Hey, you!

Bud: Ehm, about 3 years ago (lol) – and now, watching his performance again, here in China, it is really exciting for me. I can say, that a cappella is developing very fast in China, in Shanghai especially. In the first year, when I came to Shanghai, I tried really, really hard to find a platform or organization, some people who want to sing a cappella with me. But right now, I can see a cappella performances in all kind of events, institutions, in education and a lot of competitions happening here too. And also the quality of the groups developed a lot. I’m really happy to see that.

Another new thing happening since last year: Chinese people start to think, that we need to develop something that is different from the origin of a cappella. Like Wuming and Christine said before, a cappella or choir music is more European or western culture and for example related to religion, but in Chinese culture the tradition is different. How can we make a cappella different? So recently, many people are devoting their time and energy to make the a cappella music different from other parts of the world, with their own identity. I think this is a pretty exciting direction of Asian a cappella.

Juliana: So, last week at the China National A Cappella Competition, could you already hear unique styles of a cappella? How was it compared to last year’s competition?

Christine: There have been more participants than last year and I personally think that the number of good quality groups was bigger this year as well. Hm, unique style?

Wuming: Yes. It depends, actually the competition 2 years ago had more unique styles than this year and last year. 2 years ago they had more diversity and ethnic music as well.

Christine: This year, the groups did more pop style.

Wuming: There was one group from Xian: “Phi” (φ) they did some ethnic music.

Christine: Like songs from the mountains, ya, that was really nice.

Wuming: That is the type of a cappella music what we are trying to do more in China.

Juliana: Is this type of music also touching people more, reaching them more than western a cappella?

Wuming: If they are doing it well, haha…

„A cappella is so fun! – Well, that’s what I’ve been telling them for so many years!“

Juliana: To promote a cappella and make it popular, how important do you think is the quality?

Christine: It’s important, that’s why we started a cappella education for children in Shanghai. They start training at a younger age, they receive good music skills. So when they grow up, hopefully (lol) they have a good judgement of good music.

Wuming: Yes, and we are trying to form some young groups from junior and senior high schools as well.

Juliana: Who are the most popular western a cappella groups in Asia?

Christine: Well… altogether: 1, 2, 3… [together with Wuming] – PEN-TA-TO-NIX Bud: I was going to say „Semiscon“.

Christine: Popular „western“ group!

Bud: Ya, western Taiwan, haha.

Wuming: Yes, Pentatonix, actually that’s a phenomenon. In the past three years we can see more and more groups joining competitions and singing Pentatonix songs. And more and more people get to know what is a cappella through Pentatonix…

Christine: … or Pitch Perfect! I have friends telling me after watching Pitch Perfect „Oh, a cappella is so fun!“ – Well, that’s what I’ve been telling them for so many years!

Bud: It’s really sad, that Pitch Perfect 2 is not officially coming to China. I hope that this kind of music movie or drama or any kind of media uses more a cappella. There are some reality shows in China right now showing a cappella. This is really a good way to promote and reach a lot of people in China.

Juliana: Christine, you already toured a lot in different countries, not only in Asia, but also in Europe and the States. Are there differences between the feedback and reaction of the audiences in different countries?

Christine: I think the audience in America, they are quite open to non-popular music. And when they hear a lot of beatboxing and very advanced vocal techniques they get really excited. It was really obvious on our tour in US. In Europe, it is not as obvious when we do that kind of things. But after the concert, we got a lot of feedback. I think the audience in Europe pays more attention to the detail in music, and they loved hearing the eastern sound in this western form of art, which they are familiar with. That’s my impression.

Bud: How about the interaction with the audience? How is China different from US or Europe?

Wuming: Generally, the audience in China is really shy. When we ask them to do something, they are very calm, maybe they try to be polite. But in America, they will just follow you. In China, the audience loves to hear songs they know. That’s why we sing “Xiao Ping Guo” or “Zui Xuan Min Zu Feng”, some very popular songs in China. In that moment, they will turn to beat the audience in US. They will just get crazy „Aaahhhhh“.

Juliana: Christine, you had the chance to watch and even take part at many international competitions and festivals worldwide. Can you see a difference, let’s say between a competition in Europe and in Asia?

Christine: I think in Europe, you already have a very long history, so in the competitions in Europe, I see, that almost every group has their own kind of style or sound or character. And that is not that much in Asia yet.

Juliana: What about the ambition of the participants and the competitive atmosphere?

Christine: Well, a cappella is still so new in this country. So for the groups joining the competitions for example here in China – a lot of them are still in the stage of learning, it’s more in the focus to learn and gather experience, and to make friends.

Wuming: In my opinion, based on my observation, some groups are really eager to win and in competitive mode. Sometimes, the groups get support from their city, institutes or schools and are expected to win prices and bring back some trophies to honor their school. They are under a lot of pressure.

Bud: I think that is also a very special thing and atmosphere in China. In Taiwan, when I was young – three years ago (lol) – a cappella was really free and the focus was on having fun and enjoying a cappella. Here in China, I can feel that government, schools, organizations are playing an important role, having regional competitions, having regional education institutes or organized classes, all hosted or supported by government. This is very special for Chinese culture.

„It brings harmony to the world and it makes this world a better place”

Juliana: Christine, Wuming, you are very busy with the preparations for next week’s Vocal Asia Festival VAF here in Shanghai. What highlights can the participants expect this year?

Christine: This year we have an international competition, three days of workshops and a lot of concerts. And this year we invited the world-renowned group of the States Naturally 7 as the master group. And they will be sharing a lot of their experience and their knowledge.

Wuming: And Vocal Asia representatives from around the world will come to Shanghai as well. And we will have a forum to discuss the development of a cappella in Asia. And they will give some workshops as well. Especially the “godfather” of the a cappella industry Deke Sharon will also come. He created the term of vocal band and he created the ICCA competition which you can see in the Pitch Perfect movie. And he is the producer of the Sing Off and the Pitch Perfect movie. So he has a lot of experience to share and he is sooooo passionate to share.

Juliana: Christine, what is your personal highlight of the festival?

Christine: A few years ago, I went to the London A Cappella Festival and I heard about the Single Singers, I joined them and met Annemarie and Emily, the founders of the idea of Single Singers. I think this is a fantastic idea to bring people together in a festival and to make friends through music. So, I brought the idea to Asia. We started 2 years ago, it was a big success. So this year, we have another Single Singers group – that’s my personal highlight.

Juliana: Wuming, what is your personal highlight this year?

Wuming: One of the highlights of this year: We have a lot of workshops open to the citizens not just for the groups. So, if you still don’t know what is a cappella, we have workshops to teach you what is a cappella and about the history of a cappella. And we have workshops for children and teenagers. And if you want to learn your very first a cappella songs, we also have this kind of workshops.

Juliana: Christine, I saw a very interesting workshop topic you will offer together with Ray Chu [Artistic Director at Taiwan Choral Music Center]: „Poetic A Cappella“ – what is it about?

Christine: One thing I really like and as I said before, Vocal Asia Festival is a traveling festival. We always try to include something local into the content of the festival. So, we thought of sharing what is happening here. We try to connect the western sound of a cappella with eastern literature or poems. That’s what this workshop is about.

Wuming: Last year, the VAF was held in Gwangju, Korea. So, we had a Korean traditional music workshop. This year, we have a Chinese traditional music workshop and the Poetic A Cappella workshop, to show ways how to fit a cappella music in our culture. Somehow, we try to show the diversity of Asia in one festival.

Christine: We also encourage the groups to do their own thing and to create something with their own culture.

Juliana: Finally, what is your wish for the future of Asian A Cappella?

Bud: We hope, everyone in Asia will love a cappella and as a family share all their experience and knowledge without any barriers.
Christine: I don’t know if you still remember, when Voco Novo was performing in Germany, I made a speech about singing a cappella. And I still believe that everyone in the world can sing together and that it brings harmony to the world and it makes this world a better place.

Wuming: Yes, music is always beyond the boundaries.

Juliana: Thank you so much for this interesting talk about A Cappella in Asia! Good luck for the VAF 2015!



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