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About a cappella

It’s no secret that a cappella singing is now quite popular among music lovers of Hong Kong. In the minds of classical music audiences, the term “a cappella” is often associated with words such as “Renaissance”, “motet” and “madrigal”. In recent years, the genre “contemporary a cappella” has become hugely popular, but what exactly is “contemporary a cappella”?


“Contemporary a cappella” refers to a new mode of performance that developed in the early years of the previous century. It is widely accepted that the Whiffenpoofs of Yale University, a male vocal quartet established in 1909, is the pioneer of contemporary a cappella. During the same time, the Barbershop Quartet movement also began in Black communities in America. As performing arts developed along with technological advancements in recording, contemporary a cappella also experienced great changes in recent decades, and can be classified into four categories: Classical Groups, Pop / Rock Groups, Jazz Groups and Collegiate Groups.

Classical Groups
Without a doubt, The King’s Singers is among the leading groups of this category. They are considered “classical” not only for their superb interpretation of Renaissance works (otherwise we must include groups such as Chanticleer and The Tallis Scholars), but due to the fact that their mode of performance inclines towards a classical setting: they insist on not using microphones, stand side-by-side, and place emphasis on tonal and choral blending as well as musical interpretation.

Pop / Rock Groups
Nowadays most contemporary a cappella groups belong to the Pop / Rock category, including famous groups such as Rockapella (US), TRY-TONE (Japan) and Club for Five (Finland). In Taiwan, such groups are known as vocal bands. Usually, one member takes up the melody, another will perform a rhythmic bass line, and a third will imitate percussion instruments. The rest of the group will sing the harmony or other kinds of contrapuntal accompaniment, forming a group with five to eight members. Pop / Rock Groups also place great emphasis on microphone techniques. vocaldente (Germany), another notable group, won the 2008 National Championship in the 24th Annual Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival.

Jazz Groups
The Swingle Singers (UK) and The Real Group (Sweden) are famous jazz groups with a rather long career, while The Idea of North (Australia) is a relatively new jazz group. Due to the complicated harmony in the style of jazz, these groups are usually mixed in voicing, and at times singers imitate various instruments such as brass instruments and the electric guitar. Although they are known as jazz groups, they also perform pop music from time to time in order to attract new audiences.

Collegiate Groups
As suggested by the name, Collegiate Groups are university-based, and in the past 20 years its popularity has spread from the US to various parts of the world. The Popphone Singers from Shih Hsin University and the all-male Din & Tonics from Harvard University are very good examples. In Hong Kong, students from various universities have also formed their own groups, and among local youth choirs, the HKFYG Hong Kong Melody Makers stand out in terms of performance scale. Collegiate Groups differ from vocal bands in that they have a larger number of singers, in order to cover the yearly turnover of members due to graduation and various reasons. They normally have 10 to 16 members, which allows them to tackle pieces with more vocal parts, and since they usually have 2 to 3 singers to each part, a choral effect is readily achieved.


Written by Patrick Chiu, Former Artistic Director of HKFYG Hong Kong Melody Makers
English translation: Grace Chiang



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Address : The Hong Kong Melody Makers, Youth S.P.O.T., The Capitol,LOHAS Park, 1 Lohas Park Road,Sai Kung, New Territories,Hong Kong
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E-mail : hkmm@hkfyg.org.hk

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