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Archiv für März, 2011

Hongkong – the Sleeping A Cappella Giant

31. März 2011 4 Kommentare

interview with Patrick Chiu (conductor of The Hongkong Melody Makers)

by Florian Städtler on March 19, 2011

It was in September 2010 when I was among the chosen few to be invited to Peder Karlsson‘s farewell concert as The Real Group‘s baritone. In a small Stockholm jazz club called “Fasching” I had one of the most amazing a cappella experiences ever. The whole Swedish music miracle called The Real Group, 25 years of musical and personal history unfolded in an incredible show featuring former and current TRG members, Finnish soulmates Rajaton, Peder Karlsson’s daughter (joining Peder singing “Mr. Father”!) among others.

But not only the stage personnel was extraordinary: The audience at “Fasching” consisted of a long list of vocal music movers and shakers from Scandinavia, Europe and even Asia. So after the show I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Patrick Chiu for the first time. Patrick is the mastermind of the Hongkong a cappella music. And when we finally had to part in Stockholm, Patrick promised to visit me when coming to Germany in March 2011. And he kept his promise: Just before the 2011 Hongkong International A Cappella Festival began, Patrick took a train from Stuttgart, where he joined a conducting masterclass with German choral music legend Helmuth Rilling, to my home town Freiburg.

Florian Städtler & Patrick Chiu at the SpielPlanVier office in Freiburg

Here’s the exclusive Vocal Blog interview, the first in a 12-part series of interviews with well-known and yet hidden a cappella stars.

Vocal Blog:  The first thing I heard about this year’s Hongkong A Cappella Festival was when Peder Karlsson told me that he was to perform in front of 3000 kids in a stadium to open the festival. Sounds amazing!

Patrick Chiu: The opening concert in this big venue presents up-and-coming groups both from Asia and other continents. The festival organizers want to present vocal music to as many young people in Hongkong as possible. In another concert we present one international top group and we’re happy to present The Swingle Singers this year. There are other, smaller concerts and a lot of workshops, too.

Vocal Blog: Tell me a bit about the Hongkong A Cappella scene – how has it developed since you started your work for the Hongkong Federation of Youth Groups?

Patrick Chiu: When we started around five years ago, we didn’t have many vocal groups on a good musical level, maybe five teams, as we say. But now, I think, we have about twenty groups who perform on a regular basis. For the groups whose quality is OK, we have one outdoor concert as their opportunity to present themselves at the festival.

Vocal Blog:  What role do educational events play in the festival?

Patrick Chiu: We do a lot of workshops. There are in-school workshops, which means we bring a HK team (=group) to a school. For other educational events, people come to our venues, e.g. masterclasses or lectures. We’ve also started a cooperation to make Peder Karlsson’s Real Academy work in Hongkong. And we think that the concept of an online school is very innovative and good. On the other hand, the young, unexperienced singers over here need personal, face-to-face coaching very much. So we hope to bring Peder and his team of teachers over here many more times. We also would love to invite Tobias Hug, bass of The Swingle Singers or Jim Daus Hjernoe from Denmark to do some educational work.

Vocal Blog:  It might be interesting for our readers to learn more about the organisational background of the festival…

Patrick Chiu: The festival promoter is The Hongkong Federation of Youth Groups, a huge organisation including all kinds of youth groups. Actually music groups are only a small fraction of this organisation. Six years ago the CEO of the federation had the idea of founding a vocal group in Hongkong. At this time I had just finished my studies in the US and I helped her to establish the group called The Hongkong Melody Makers. The groups was quite successful and so she had another idea: Why not organise a festival or rather a concert series that involves international groups.

Vocal Blog: More than 200.000 children and teenagers are members of the Federation of Youth Groups – how many of them are singers?

Patrick Chiu: Actually, I don’t know – because we simply never counted the members. The Melody Makers, the Federation’s official choir has 40 members, and we don’t want the choir to become bigger as we think that it wouldn’t be possible to keep the quality that we want for the group. On the other hand, if the general quality of young singers will improve, we would probably start new ensembles or divide the existing by age. At the moment a singer can stay with The Melody Makers until he turns 30 – but most of them are much younger right now, so that’s not a problem.

Vocal Blog: Are you supporting other groups, too?

Patrick Chiu:  We try to give promising new groups advice, invite them to workshops and create opportunities to perform. We are convinced that concerts of newcomer or professional international groups have a strong impact on the Hongkong newcomers: These concerts, workshops and meetings can really stimulate young singers.

Vocal Blog: What about the recent tv programmes like “Glee” or “Sing-off”: How popular are they in Hongkong?

Patrick Chiu: As a matter of fact, they’re not as popular as in the USA. But people can watch these programmes and the singers do so and see that vocal music can make it into mainstream television. And the interested students in Hongkong use the internet a lot: Some of them are well aware of the international music scene.

Vocal Blog: Let’s look into the future: Will there be a Hongkong International A Cappella Festival 2012, 2013 etc.?

Patrick Chiu: We very much hope so. And it has turned out that the purpose of supporting young people to be involved in music and musical education creates good opportunities to find sponsorship. Only sponsors like the Hongkong Jockey Association make invitiations of a cappella superstars like The Real Group or The Swingle Singers possible.

Vocal Blog: Patrick, thank you very much for taking the time for this meeting and interview – hope to hop over to Hongkong for one of the future festivals. Good luck and say hello to Peder, the Swingles and all the enthusiastic singers!

The Hongkong International A Cappella Festival brochure

Read Patricks introduction to the festival here.

And let us know what you think about vocal and choral music in Asia – I’m looking forward to your comments.

If you haven’t joined the Vocal Blog facebook group, why not do it right now: You can meet over 700 a cappella activists there. Same goes for Twitter (@vocalblog), which is a lot of fun as it keeps you up to speed with aca-tweeps like @dinkyswingle (Clare Wheeler, The Swingle Singers), @joeteson (Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson, The Swingle Singers), @ericwhitacre (Eric Whitacre), @madsbass (Mads Iversen, Pust), @therealgroup, @theswinglesingers, @naturally7, @amalkoff (Amy Malkoff, CASA) and many, many more.

Naturally Boxettes

18. März 2011 2 Kommentare

by Florian Städtler

This story begins in the middle of 2010. On our way to another European a cappella network meeting, Tobias Hug (Black Forest-raised & London-based bass with The Swingle Singers) told me of a new all-female vocal group he discovered in London.

OK, this pic does NOT show the band, but four Swingle Singers (Tobi’s the one on the right) with an unknown die-hard fan.

Where was I…ah yes…Tobi, the world’s greatest vocal and a cappella networker and also a highly talented scout told me of Bellatrix, the female beatbox world champion.

This video of Belle Ehresmann, Guildhall doublebass student, has gone viral quite a while ago. But Belle is not only a human beatbox and lipbuzz virtuoso, Tobi told me. She put together a five-piece all-female, vocal beatbox group. “You’d better check out these insanely talented girls before someone else does”, that’s what Mr. Hug told me. But I was busy as always and already taking care of booking for five international a cappella top acts, so I just didn’t manage to follow up right away.

But my old choir buddy Tobi can be persistent if he really thinks that something is worth being like that. And so he kept me updated on a regular basis until I searched the web, found rough, but fascinating videos of The Boxettes and was finally hit by their sensational video single “Free” . That was – if I remember it right – in the beginning of January, and I had decided much earlier to do two things: See and meet the group at the London A Cappella Festival (12-15th of January) and bring them to Germany’s top showcase events, the Kulturbörse Freiburg.

To make a long story short, it was a great night at King’s Place: Neo, Alyusha, Harriet, Yvette and Bellatrix are young, sexy, charismatic (despite their age) and most importantly: truly talented and musically original. We have nothing like this in the EU. Nor in the States. Probably not in Asia, Australia either. Well, to be honest, their show is far from being perfect. This group is a raw diamond yet. But the singers are 100% authentic and there is only two ways that you can leave a Boxettes concert: Confused because this doesn’t fit into your world of vocal and a cappella music. Or enthusiastic that there is a band that seems to bring a whole new groove and sound to this art form.  I generally love artists who make at least 20% of the audience look like living question marks and shake their heads in doubt and disbelief. Because these are the same bands that make 80% of the people dance and bang their heads in pure joy. That’s what the Boxettes will soon be doing to many more people all around the world. And probably/hopefully they will reach a much broader, pop audience.

Naturally7 live on stage

Speaking of a vocal group aiming at a mainstream pop audience, there’s one group that has been going that way for years and is probably today’s most successfull vocal group: Naturally 7, led by vocal music mastermind Roger Thomas. What happened after my London A Cappella encounter with The Boxettes (+ The Swingle Singers, The Real Group, Witloof Bay and many more aca-people from all over Europe), is a kind of fairy tale. Or maybe a science fiction. Yes, it reminds of the incredible space ship “Heart of Gold” in Douglas Adams’ cult novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. The engine of the ship is based on a technology called “The Infinite Improbability Drive”, which makes it possible to cover unbelievable distances in no time. But it has a second effect. On their journey from the place where the Earth used to be (before it was destroyed to build a hyperspace byway…) to “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, the most improbable, unbelievable and mind-boggling things happen.

Why am I telling you that? Well, read on what happened.

When we were checking our diaries to make The Boxettes’ continental premiere happening, I discovered, that on the two days before the Freiburg showcase, Naturally 7 had two gigs very close to Freiburg. When I told Tobi about that, he acted very quickly. Of course he and Roger Thomas met before (there’s a video on YouTube with N7 singing a song backstage at a Michael Bublé show at the O2 in London – the The Swingle Singers being their audience) and so Tobi tried to get in touch with Roger right away. But nothing happened for 5 or 6 days. We had to book flights as they became more expensive every day…and right after we had booked the air tickets from London to Basel/Freiburg Tobi forwarded me THE E-MAIL. It said: “The girls can do a half-hour show at Denzlingen and Stuttgart opening for N7.” Well, rarely did I change flights so happily…

Naturally7 & The Boxettes, Stuttgart/GER

The rest, they say, is history: The Boxettes flew into Basel, met the boys and more than warmed-up the Denzlingen crowd. After the show we celebrated Roger’s birthday with a very special birthday cake (no alcohol, no nuts) served by the ultimate N7 fans Vera Yu and @Laydee_Tea who probably saw their 693rd show of Roger and the boys. On the next day I had the pleasure to be the band bus driver to Stuttgart where the girls rocked the sold-out house and jammed with Roger backstage before saying Farewell around midnight. We arrived in Freiburg around 4 am, knackered but happy. Find many more pics and a backstage video of the Naturally Boxettes meeting at the Vocal Blog Facebook group. And be sure to check out the blog post Roger Thomas dedicated to The Boxettes shortly after the two shows in Germany.

Finally the group had the opportunity to present their show at the Kulturbörse Freiburg in the 1st A Cappella Special presented by SpielPlanVier and magenta concerts. The triple showcase featured Freiburg local heroes Acoustic Instinct, a beatbox-impro-comedy duo, The Boxettes and Dutch a cappella comedy pop act, iNtrmzzo (currently participating in the Dutch version of The Sing-Off). What a night! The house was packed, the stage looked great and the audience was enthusiastic how different and colourful contemporary a cappella can be. It goes without saying that this all ended up in a nice little Dutch-German-British after show party.

On our way home we were so hungry that we stopped at the nearest fast food restaurant and when we had eaten, we realized that the girl’s wireless equipment was gone…you should have seen Trevor’s face at that particular moment. But two phone calls and a friendly chat with a Freiburg cab driver later made him all smiles. All the stuff was found and returned, which meant that The Boxettes weren’t broke before their career took off.

And that’s  the end of this first chapter of my Boxettes story – great stuff (quote Neo)! And thanks so much, Tobi, for keep pushing me. Let’s keep pushing vocal music to ever new areas and helping talents like Neo, Yvette, Belle, Alyusha and Rhiannon to  get on with their careers.

Have you seen The Boxettes live? What do you think makes them special? Would you call their music a cappella at all?

Let me know what you think, I’m looking forward to your comments!