Staying in tune

Thomas Lo

Music is one of the easiest ways to connect with others. Institute members tell Thomas Lo how they discovered their passion for playing and singing music, and how it has introduced them to new people and the different sides of life

Seven years ago, Charis Wong CPA was asked to perform The Song To My Beloved, a Christian hymn, on the violin at her sister’s wedding with one of the groomsmen. That was, as she remembers, how she first met the love of her life. “I’ve lost count of the number of weddings I’ve performed at – but I will never forget my first violin duet with my now-husband. We felt that there was so much faith, love and hope in the air with the music,” says Wong, Senior Tax Manager at PwC.

Those wedding performances allowed Wong to do what she loves – play the violin before an audience. Wong fell in love with the violin at a young age and quickly excelled at it. She obtained her grade eight certificate and her performance diploma before the age of 12 and decided to major in music. “I remember practicing the violin five hours a day when I was in university,” she says. Wong also learned different musical instruments such as the erhu, piano, guitar, saxophone, and the clarinet.

Charis Wong CPA, Tax Service Senior Manager at PwC, obtained her grade eight certificate and her performance diploma for the violin before the age of 12.

Wong recalls how the duet with her now-husband changed her attitude to music. “I realized that you have to be precise and accurate in performing every note, and put emotion into playing every piece,” she says.

Wong’s passion and talent also led her to form a string quartet with a few of her friends more than a decade ago. They have gone on to play both in concerts and weddings. “I am fortunate enough to have them as my friends for all these years,” she adds.

Her ability to play various musical instruments also brought her to New York to take part in the Broadway production of The Lion King in 2015 as a substitute musician. “I was working in New York back then. Everyone performing in the show was highly talented and knew how to play at least four instruments. It was a unique and eye-opening experience – I even managed to get my friends free tickets and take pictures with the lead actors. We all had a great time,” Wong explains.

“You have to be precise and accurate in performing every note, and put emotion into playing every piece.”

Vicky Ho FCPA, Internal Audit Officer-in-Charge at Yan Chai Hospital Board, has been playing the guitar since 2014.

The perfect match

Vicky Ho FCPA was introduced to musical instruments such as the violin, flute and piano in her teen years – but none of them seemed to resonate with her. “I was never a big fan of classical music. I also didn’t like practicing and found it frustrating most of the time,” says Ho, Internal Audit Officer-in-Charge at Yan Chai Hospital Board. However, everything changed when she tried the guitar. “Ever since I passed the first hurdle of playing the F chord, my passion for it has grown stronger each day. At first, I was unwilling to practice half an hour a day, but now I practice at least an hour and a half every day,” she explains.

Ho picked up the guitar in 2014 just as she was starting to work at her current company. “I saw flyers from the Institute about group lessons teaching adults to sing while playing the guitar. Since this job offered me more spare time, I signed up for the class,” she says. “I found it fun to have students from different age groups in the same class.”

As Ho grew more interested in the guitar through the group classes, she decided to take private lessons to further develop her technique, and later formed a band of 10 with other students.

The band is both large in size and age range, Ho notes, with members ranging from 24 years old to above 50. Despite the size of the band, disagreements rarely happen, she adds. “All of us are big fans of Canto rock and Canto pop music, and we never limit ourselves; we play songs from the 80s and modern songs too. We all try to find the parts that we can play and try to mimic the originals. We just enjoy playing music together,” Ho says, adding how songs by Hong Kong Canto rock group Beyond will always have a special place in her heart. “The simplicity of their songs always fascinates me. To play the guitar solos well does take some effort, but they are never unapproachable.”

Before the pandemic, Ho and her band often played live busking in the streets. “People would just gather and stay for a song – especially if your band was playing songs from Beyond or other Canto pop or Canto rock songs. This is the magic of music and culture. It gathers people and allows people to purely live in the moment,” Ho adds. “The band is my ‘safe place’ and practicing with them gives me a moment of peace without having to worry about other things. If not for music, I would not have known my band members or had the opportunity to meet the people who stopped by when we were playing. These are all precious connections. Without my guitar and music, life would be grey.”

“The band is my ‘safe place’ and practicing with them gives me a moment of peace without having to worry about other things.”

Kingo Pok CPA (practising), Director of Grace and Joy CPA & Co., discovered his passion for singing as a child. He is pictured here at the 2020 CPA Singing Contest.

Breaking through

After leaving his role as an auditor in an international firm in 2019, Kingo Pok CPA (practising) decided to revisit his childhood passion for singing. “When I sing, I feel alive,” says Pok, Director of Grace and Joy CPA & Co. “The workload of my previous job was too heavy; it took away too much time from my private life and it stopped me from developing my interest. I almost forgot the joy of singing.”

With more time on his hands, he signed up for group singing lessons to boost his confidence as a singer. He recalls how nerve-wracking it was singing in front of a class of strangers for the first time. “When I got up for the first time, I was so nervous that I was shaking and sweating,” he says. After some practice, Pok became more comfortable singing in front of a crowd.

For the past three years, Pok has participated in singing competitions, including the Institute’s 2020 CPA Singing Contest. “Competitions encourage me to push forward, try new styles and become a better singer,” he says.

In 2021, he joined another competition, this time in a group of five, to challenge himself. “The biggest challenge of the competition was no longer singing in the right pitch,” Pok explains. “It was having to convince our audience that we were a team on the stage. To fit the energy of the song we had to dance – even though we all knew little about dancing.” A month before the competition, Pok and his teammates booked a studio to practice their dance sequence twice a week after work. “We drew references from Hong Kong and Korean dance groups, and even random group singing competition clips on YouTube, to choreograph our dance. It is by far my most memorable competition experience,” Pok adds.

The dance sessions often went on quite late, sometimes until 11 p.m. “It was rough since we had all just got off from work,” he says. Pok had to also avoid consuming drinks that were too cold, sweet, as well as dairy drinks, to ensure his voice was in the best condition possible. “I can’t have an iced milk tea before a contest – even though it’s my favourite drink,” he notes. Above all, Pok is glad he rediscovered his passion for singing, and in the process, made new friends. “We are still close friends. Music is one thing that really brings people together.”

“Competitions encourage me to push forward, try new styles and become a better singer.”

Gloria Chan CPA (right) is an opera singer who specializes in coloratura soprano. She is pictured here playing the role of Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte or The Magic Flute, an opera written by Mozart.

Voice of a queen

Gloria Chan CPA isn’t your typical vocalist – she is a coloratura soprano, an opera singer with a type of operatic soprano voice that is distinguished by agile runs, leaps and trills, and the ability to alternate between different high notes. It also requires the singer to act while singing – something Chan is passionate about. “I cherish every second on stage. Through singing, I can reveal who I am,” she says.

Chan’s journey as a singer started when she was as a member of the children’s choir in her local district. She wanted to take her passion for singing more seriously as an adult, and in 2010, decided to take proper singing and music lessons at the Hong Kong Music Institute. In 2017, after participating in various performances, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in vocal performance at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in the United Kingdom to develop as a performer.

It requires tremendous talent and effort to be able to perform as a coloratura soprano, Chan says. She has to take care of her voice at all times and also dedicate time to study the history of performing arts and literature to better understand the plays she performs. “Since the repertoires are usually created from the 17th and 19th centuries, it is common for opera singers to sing in different languages such as German, French, Italian, and English. I once had to sing in Russian,” she says. “Hence, we need to carefully study the lyrics and the pronunciation of each word. Analysing the history, literature and language of the songs helps me to perform as convincingly and as natively as possible.”

“The interaction between performer and audience is magical, and is what I enjoy the most when I’m on stage.”

Chan’s most memorable performance as an opera singer was in 2019, when she played the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte or The Magic Flute, an opera written by Mozart. “There were moments where I had to talk to the audience. The interaction between performer and audience is magical, and is what I enjoy the most when I’m on stage,” she says. “The main emotion of the queen is rage and revenge. Even after the production, I would think back to the ‘anger’ I felt while playing the role of the queen when I listen to the prelude of the aria.”

Balancing work and singing is not easy, Chan says, but notes that there are always ways to strike a balance. “Prior to the pandemic, my colleagues often saved their annual leave for travelling. I used my leave to participate in rehearsals,” she says. Initially, her company was quite surprised about her participating in the operatic performances, and thought that her interests would take away too much of her time and affect her performance at work. “But after better explaining my interest in singing to the management team, we reached common ground, and they were more encouraging. To be able to pursue what I am passionate about is what gives life meaning.”

Members who are interested in music, singing and performing live can join the Institute’s Singing Interest Group. More details are available on the Institute’s website.

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