Hong Kong orchestra needs help taking its music to the masses

Hong Kong Metropolitan Pop Orchestra, which plays with renowned Filipino drummer Saturnino Tiamson, appeals for help buying bus to get poor city residents to and from its free-of-charge shows

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 April, 2018, 9:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 4:01pm

A music troupe in Hong Kong is striving to extend the appreciation of orchestral music to the masses with free performances and a focus on drums to make the music more accessible. And now the Hong Kong Metropolitan Pop Orchestra is calling for help getting poorer residents to its shows.

Earlier this month, the group played a concert, called Big Band and A Capella, at Hong Kong City Hall in Central, which was packed with concert-goers including locals and Filipino domestic helpers.

After the musicians toasted a successful night, ending with several standing ovations, they appealed for help making it easier for some of the city’s poorest residents to go to their free-of-charge shows.

“The only problem we found is [some people] can’t even get transportation to come. We really hope that we can find a sponsor to have a bus to bring them to our place and take them back home,” Ken Ip Hon-man, the orchestra’s artistic and music director, said.

He said that while many poor local families live in Kowloon and the New Territories, the orchestra usually performs on Hong Kong Island, which might be expensive for those people to get to. He said a special bus – whether funded by the government or a private group – would ease the cost.

The climax of the group’s most recent show was a concerto performance by Saturnino Tiamson, a Filipino drummer-volunteer with the orchestra who has won a number of prestigious accolades. 

It was the first time Tiamson performed as a soloist for the orchestra, which he joined in 2016. Winning loud cheers from the crowd, Tiamson said he was proud to be able to perform in front of his family, but also in front of friends, including domestic helpers who do not usually have the opportunity to watch him perform in person.

“The helpers were very thankful,” he said.

Most of the workers do not have the chance to go to concert halls and watch orchestral performances as they can’t afford the tickets
Saturnino Tiamson

Besides teaching in schools such as Harrow International School and Creative Secondary School, Tiamson, who graduated from the University of the Philippines’ college of music, teaches drumming to domestic workers from the Mindanao Federation Drum and Lyre for free on Sundays. Because of this connection, he took the opportunity to give them free tickets for the performance.

“Most of the workers do not have the chance to go to concert halls and watch orchestral performances as they can’t afford the tickets,” he said. 

Ip recalled a helper going up to him after the concert, letting him know she enjoyed the experience, and saying she had never watched an orchestra in her life. 

Tickets to all of the group’s performances so far have been free of charge, and the 60 to 70 musicians are unpaid. The orchestra depends on sponsors or members chipping in themselves to cover performance costs. 

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Another way the group hopes to make its music more accessible is through the focus on the drum set, which does not usually feature extensively in an orchestral setting.

“Drumming is upbeat, energetic and rhythmic, and it makes you want to tap your feet and hands, move and dance,” Tiamson, who was a marching drummer at Hong Kong Disneyland from 2005 to 2015 and served as the band leader for nine of those years, said. “The drum set is the heart of the band.”

Besides the Filipino domestic helper community, the orchestra hopes to reach out to other disadvantaged groups, such as other ethnic minorities, the city’s poor, orphans and the elderly. 

Ip, who also plays the violin, viola and piano and makes violins, said the orchestra gives half of its tickets to charity groups such as Po Leung Kuk and Tung Wah Group of Hospitals. But the fact that the most disadvantaged still cannot make it was what sparked his call for a sponsor for a bus. 

Larry Lee Chi-hang, the orchestra’s conductor, said: “It is our aim to promote music to the general public.”


Additional reporting by Mary Ann Benitez