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Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)

Yat Po Singers and Chinese Orchestra explore Chinese medicine through music

Collaboration with a cappella foursome is latest example of Hong Kong ensemble's adventurous programming

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2015, 10:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 2:53pm

HERBAL, VOCAL OR MOTIONAL?
HK Chinese Orchestra and Yat Po Singers

They are not the kind of collaborators generally associated with the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, but local a cappella outfit Yat Po Singers are the latest guests to team up with the adventurous ensemble.

At first glance, an a cappella group and a Chinese orchestra seem to have nothing in common. The former is all about singing without instrumental accompaniment while the latter is, well, made up of instruments. But this programme, cryptically titled Herbal, Vocal or Motional?, is about to change that perception, say the singers.

The four members of Yat Po Singers — Keith Wong Chun-kit, Sam Lau Siu-hong, Ronald Tsang Ho-fung, and Raoul Chan Chi-him — explain that one aspect of what promises to be a fun-filled concert is about exploring the relationship and philosophies between Chinese medicine and music.

While a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner evaluates a patient by the four-step process of inspection, inquiring, listening and a pulse diagnosis, Chinese music composition — just like Western music — involves introduction, exposition, development and recapitulation, according to the programme notes. "So is there a correlation there?" it asks. More food for thought is the idea of "balance of the Five Elements" in Chinese medicine, and the use of the "pentatonic scale" in Chinese music, the notes say.

"There isn't a very clear storyline, but basically Chinese medicine is an avenue through which we bring out the themes of Chinese music," says Lau.

Musically, the four a cappella singers will be mimicking the sounds of both Western and Chinese instruments, attempting to create a dialogue between Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra's real instruments and human voices. "We will be pretending to be erhu, zither, and Chinese percussions, to list just a few," says Lau. "There'll also be dialogues between the four of us."

One of the biggest challenges of this collaboration, the four singers admit, is to mimic the sounds of Chinese instruments well. "It takes time to find the characters of different instruments," says Wong. "For some parts, we have to move our mouths really quickly and that requires a lot of practice."

The idea of this programme came about when Yan Huichang, the artistic director and principal conductor of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, saw a performance by Yat Po Singers and wondered what'd happen if voices and Chinese instruments are combined together in the music making.

Yuri Ng Yue-lit, independent choreographer and a co-founder of Yat Po Singers, thinks that this mode of performance is a daring step for the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra.

"We don't have a list of songs in our posters and pamphlets because we don't want the audience to come knowing what to expect," says the versatile Ng, who is also the stage director of the concert. "This is very different from the orchestra's usual practice and for an established group to try something fresh like this is very admirable. This is a concert, but there'll be a bit of theatre, too. It'll be lively and, hopefully, thought-provoking."

Patrick Chiu Pak-shing, artistic director of Yat Po Singers, also hopes the audience will be receptive of the artistic sparks. "We emphasise the combination of singing and Chinese music, and I hope this new art form can bring people something fresh, something inspirational."

Chiu, who has worked and studied in Europe and the US, thinks that Hong Kong audiences lack interest in choral music when compared with overseas audiences: "The most primitive choral music comes from churches and folk songs but Hong Kong does not have this background."

That is one of the reasons why, Chiu, together with Yuri Ng and Ng Cheuk-yin, founded Yat Po Singers in 2012, to promote a cappella in Hong Kong. The outfit has since been very active and appeared in many concerts and festivals, including last year's New Vision Arts Festival with its programme Our Immortal Cantata.

"I'd describe us as a very alternative group," says singer Keith Wong. "We do cover songs, but mostly it is originals and we mix them with elements from Chinese music, jazz, and so on. Besides singing, we also do choreography — some staging and movements created by Yuri."

HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall, 10 Salisbury Road, TST, May 8 and 9, 8pm, HK$100-HK$380. Inquiries: 3185 1600