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Singing in the choir: Meet the ladies representing Lantau in the Hong Kong Women’s Choir

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Jason Pagliari meets the Lantau ladies in the Hong Kong Women’s Choir, as they prepare for a scintillating Christmas season.

Stepping into the DB Marina Club, I check the lobby for a group of sombre, purple-robed ladies singing traditional Christmas carols and 17th century choral arrangements. I’m here to meet the Lantau contingent of the Hong Kong Women’s Choir (HKWC) – Aussie Martine Porter, newbies Miyuki Lynn, who’s Japanese, and Kim Chai, a Malaysian, and the veteran of the four, Hong Konger Teresa Yu – and I’m in for a big surprise.

The quartet, who all hark from DB apart from Kim, a Mui Wo resident, are as bubbly as can be (they’re not at all sombre) and I quickly learn that they are as familiar with Beyoncé’s songbook as they are with Bach’s. They’re intensely eager to discuss what being in the HKWC brings to them. Teresa, a soprano, who has sung with the choir for eight seasons, opens by saying: “It’s casual yet formal. It feels good, looks good and is for a good cause.”

Song and dance

Set up in 1997, the HKWC numbers some 50 singers from across Hong Kong, who perform regularly for worthy causes.

Looking back on a successful year, which marked the choir’s 20th anniversary, the Lantauers focus on a glitzy celebratory concert held in June at Western Market.

The 65-singer Party in the Market event sold out, with proceeds going to Variety Children’s Charity of Hong Kong.

“The dress theme was silver and gold; emails and texts were flying about, as no one knew where to get a top,” Martine, a mezzo soprano, recalls. “Miyuki was right next to me on the stage and had the same top as me; we looked like twins.”

It turns out that the theme for summer 2017 was female pop singers over the past 20 years – Beyoncé, Adele, Christina Aguilera, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry among them. “The contemporary approach makes it accessible,” says Kim, an alto.

Song selections are made by the HKWC committee and music director Ronald Lam. “They are very committed and Ronald works really hard and is a lot of fun,” soprano Miyuki says. “He also comes up with a lot of the choreography.”

Yes, the choir dances as well. “The moves are very intense; it pushes us out of our comfort zones every time,” says Martine. “We think we can’t possibly do all this, yet we do it and the audience thinks it’s ok. We surprise ourselves all the time, and we find that once you have the moves, the lyrics come easier.”

Christmas performances

The HKWC’s two major annual concerts (summer and Christmas) are each preceded by a show at the China Coast Community, a home for the elderly in Kowloon Tong. These ‘dress rehearsals’ are a favourite among the ladies, who are now working up to a performance for the old folk on December 6.

The main event, this year, is a Christmas Brunch Party at Grappa’s Cellar in Central on December 10. You can also catch the choir’s Children’s Christmas Tea Party at Li Sing Tai Hang School, in Causeway Bay, on December 2. Proceeds are again going to Variety Children’s Charity of Hong Kong, which funds and delivers effective programmes to address the needs of disadvantaged local children.

The HKWC also takes pride in providing free concerts, organised by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, at public housing estate open spaces and in shopping malls. Expect performances at IFC Mall on December 11, and at Hong Kong MTR Station on December 15.

Going forward, the HKWC is looking to extend its reach by performing at weddings, parties and corporate events, with all proceeds going to charity. The choir is always accompanied by one of its pianists, but a smaller a-cappella group, Grace Notes, performs at small, private venues where accompaniment isn’t available.

Fun and games

HKWC is open to women of any age, and the HK$2,000 membership per season covers the cost of music scores, accompanists, room hire and the like. There are two practice sessions a week in Sheung Wan Civic Centre, with many choristers attending both.

“It’s serious, you get the pressure but it’s not too high pressure and you enjoy it. Everyone goes there to have fun,” says Teresa. “And it’s such a diverse range of women, everyone has an interesting story once you get to know them,” chimes in Martine.

“I tried the HKUAAC [Hong Kong University Alumni Association Choir]. That’s pretty serious, and you have to be able to read music scores,” Kim says. But not so with the HKWC: “You just need a reasonable ear, there’s no need to read music and the auditions are really easy.”


FIND IT:

• Hong Kong Women’s Choir, thkwc.org

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