Vocal Asia organized the first Vocal Asia Festival (VAF) in 2011. Since then, VAF has been held in different cities across Asia annually to spread the beauty of a cappella music. It has undoubtedly become one of the most important international a cappella festival in Asia that attract hundreds of a-ca lovers from different regions each year.
This August, with the support from the Youth Square, Hong Kong is the 7th city to hold VAF. There were more than 270 participants this year, a record-breaking number in the history of VAF. About one-third are local, friends from Korea, surprisingly, share the same proportion as the locals, the rest are from Taiwan, mainland China, Japan, Singapore and Macau.
The theme of VAF 2017 is “Multidisciplinary Crossover” which echoes with the dynamic “east-meet-west” fusion culture of HK. The Festival includes an Asian Cup A Cappella Competition, followed by 3 days of intensive workshops, concerts and specially arranged Aca Day and Aca On The Go where different participating teams performed in different parts of the city such as Cheung Chau.
I had joined VAF in Shenzhen (2012) and Taoyuan (2013) where I learnt a lot and met many friends who shared the same passion. Unfortunately, due to my tight schedule, I can only join as volunteer for two days this year. Yet I still found it a fruitful experience.
The first workshop I attended was “The development of A Cappella education” conducted by Sungmo Han from Korea. He is the education advisor of Vocal Asia. It was obvious that he viewed a cappella from the perspective of an educator. One important concept he shared was when it came to teaching a cappella, it carried two meanings; first one is “teaching a cappella”, second one is “teaching something using a cappella”. To him, it is not about making “star”, but to educate people by means of a cappella.
This year I am fortunate enough to be the rehearsal pianist for my friend Joseph Ho in two sessions of “Single singers”. This workshop was introduced in VAF 2013 for individuals who joined the Festival without any team, so that they can still enjoy singing, making friends and even perform the songs they learned from the workshop together. The set pieces were Lifetime take a lifetime to fulfill by Peder Karlsson and a Cantonese classic The Lion Rock. Joseph was responsible for teaching the latter one. The participants were very focused and learned fast. I was surprised by their endeavor in tackling the difficult Cantonese intonation, with some helps from local participants.
In between the two Single singers sessions, I had attended the workshop “Vocal jazz rehearsal technique” by the New York Voices, the master group this year. This session was similar to Single singers in which the participants were taught to sing an excerpt from a song by the New York Voices. However, the focus was how to sing the song in a more jazzy manner such as exaggerate the consonants of some of the lyrics.
The last workshop in the first day I chose was the “Body Percussion” by Gabriel Hahn from Germany. He challenged the participants with different pattern of finger-snapping and body-tapping. He then broke down the pattern, re-combined and accelerated them, making it harder to follow. Nevertheless, everyone definitely had a lot of fun from this session.
The second day began with “Meet and sing with the New York Voices” in which the members told the story of the group and answered questions from the participants. After that I had joined the workshop “The birth of ‘A Cappella Theater’, a cross-over art”. This is one of the topic that reflected the theme of VAF 2017. The speaker was the co-artistic director of the Yat Po Singers Patrick Chiu. He shared his experience in experimenting a cappella theater such as how to collaborate with lighting designers, which is a rather new genre in a cappella performance.
The next workshop I joined was “Creative process as a group” by Peder Karlsson. He told us his systematic method to develop a creative idea with his group Perpetuum Jazzile, a slovenian a cappella choir that consists of 50 members. He called his method “Five Tables Workshop”. In this workshop, he encouraged the members to give ideas in five aspects. Then they chose several ideas and planned how to carry out.
Apart from workshops, there were several group coaching session for different teams throughout the Festival. I had attended the one conducted by the former member of the Swingle Singers Tobias Hug. The group being coached is Metapella from HK which consist of four members. Though we were only the observers, we can still learn a lot from the coach on how to spot the flaws from the performance and how to encounter it.
Tobias Hug had also conducted a workshop called “Vocal bass” on the second day. In this session, he introduced several classic bass line from songs like Billy Jeans. He also explained how to imitate the sound of instruments with live demonstration by the bass player Mark from the New York Voices. Tobias emphasized that beatboxer should listen to the drummer rather than just copy them. He said one should learn from listening to develop his own style.
I left and went for another workshop called “Sound and body” in the same timeslot. This workshop is held by Yuri Ng, another co-artistic director of Yat Po Singers. When I arrived, I saw there were chairs spread around the studio. Each chair was seated with one participant. They were asked to aim at another participant and sit on his/her chair following the order from Yuri. This process went on repeatedly with some changes from time to time. Yuri would count down from a random number when they were walking toward the next position and they had to sit down when he counted to zero. Then the participants start walking without any instruction from Yuri but to feel the motion from the entire group. Ultimately, they walked without counting but to sing Happy Birthday together and switch the seat at the end of each phrase. I found this exercise very interesting, it helped to improve the cohesiveness among the group members and relate music to the body movement.
In these two days, I found many talks were inspiring and helpful in developing musicianship both individually and among groups. More importantly, every participant seemed they had a great time in the Festival. Next year, VAF will be held in Hsinchu, Taiwan. I believe Vocal Asia will continue to spread the harmony through harmony in the future.