A world of song

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 March, 2009, 12:00am

Young people in Hong Kong are joining hands with overseas a cappella groups to fill the town with the sounds of this unique style of vocal performance in the A Cappella Festival 2009.

A cappella is an Italian word, meaning literally 'in chapel style', or, in other words, singing without musical accompaniment.

Today, a cappella is no longer limited to the church, and it has diversified into many different styles, such as barbershop, doo wop, modern pop and even rock.

With no musical backing, singers have to really focus on their vocal skills. But this has not stopped talented local youngsters from rising to the challenge, and the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups Hong Kong Melody Makers ranks chief among them.

Simon Au Wing-hung, 22, joined the a cappella choir of around 30 singers when it was established in 2004. Two years ago, when the choir decided to focus on a cappella, Au and a few other core members formed a small a cappella ensemble called Potenza.

'I love a cappella because I think the human voice is so beautiful ... and in an a cappella performance, every single singer is equally important so the sense of co-operation is great,' he says.

But, while for some, like Au, the beauty of the human voice is a draw, others like Jessica Lam Hoi-yee, 22, are attracted to a cappella because it is so difficult.

'I had been in a school choir throughout secondary school, but we mainly sang classical music, which I found boring, so I went for a cappella, which is more challenging,' she says.

'In a cappella, we can't rely on musical instruments, so we have to sing every note precisely. It's really improved my singing skills,' Lam says.

Au adds that to sing a cappella you have to have a good ear. 'It's not uncommon for performers to sing sharp or flat in a cappella, so you have to pay attention to your own voice, as well as listen to the others at the same time,' he says. 'When things go off track, you have to adjust your voice to get back to the pitch of the main vocalists.'

What makes the Hong Kong Melody Makers stand out from other a cappella groups in Hong Kong is the diversity of their performances. During this year's A Cappella Festival, which will be held from this Friday to July 11, the group will perform Cantonese love songs, Cantonese inspirational songs, jazz and Mandarin oldies, as well as a few a cappella surprises, such as a disco medley.

Lau Yin-man, 21, a performer and Melody Makers' arranger, says: 'We'd like to erase the formal and boring image of a choir, so we're including some pop songs in our concerts.

'On top of that, we've added some dancing and stage craft as well. We want to give the audience a totally new experience of watching and listening to a choir.'

Overseas ensembles and individuals from Germany, the US and Japan have also been invited to perform in the festival, and will be giving demonstrations and workshops to local students.

Anyone interested should go Sha Tin this Saturday, where there will be free performances and workshops at the Sha Tin Town Hall's Open Air Plaza at 3pm. For more information, visit acappella.hkfyg.org.hk