Hongkong – the Sleeping A Cappella Giant
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.
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!
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.
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