Finding time to rock out with your bandmates after work can be tricky. Four Institute members who are part of the pop-rock cover band The Opinion talk to Jeremy Chan about how they maintain their musical lives, and the steps they take to put on a memorable live show
Photography by Calvin Sit
Karly Yuen, Clinton Yau, Andrew Chow, Aaron Tsoi and Jonathan Chow (left to right)
It’s very hard to find people to play music, especially in Hong Kong. Everyone’s busy,” says Jonathan Chow. As Chief Financial Officer of Yuk Wing Group Holdings, a listed company in Hong Kong, Jonathan himself is busy, but his passion for music drove him to form a rock band called The Opinion. “It’s hard to find people who like the same music as you, and it’s even harder to find them at the right time. So, if you do, get them together, get into a band room and start playing,” he says.
Named after the accounting term, the seven-piece band was formed four years ago. They have played at three Institute annual dinners and a charity event. Although they are occupied with their jobs and families, the Institute members in the band are driven by their passion for music to find ways to meet up for practice sessions, and prove that CPAs know how to rock.
Jonathan wouldn’t let work or becoming a newlywed get in the way of plugging in his bass guitar. At the start, the band consisted of himself, his younger brother Andrew Chow on drums, his university friend Jay Lo on guitar and then-colleague Karly Yuen on keyboards. He met the other three members at PwC, where they all worked, during the firm’s Annual Dinner Talent Show in 2013. “I saw this guy on stage by himself, playing guitar,” he says, referring to Clinton Yau, who would soon become the band’s second guitar player. “And I knew if we needed a band, he would be the one to call.” Jonathan also met their lead singer Connie Lai, who sang onstage that night. “She sounded great. When we decided to form the band, we asked her if she was interested in joining, and she just said yes,” he recalls.
After rehearsing, the band wanted to add an electronic edge to their overall sound. Yau, now APAC Trade Compliance Manager at Google and an Institute member, knew just the guy. He approached his friend Aaron Tsoi, Senior Associate at PwC and a part-time DJ, to join the band as a synth keyboardist. “Aaron’s into all these synthesizers, and we thought it would be special to have that in our band,” says Yau. “Most of us worked at the same accounting firm, and we all loved music so when we decided to do something together, the bond was already there,” adds Jonathan. With the team assembled, they had to find shows to play.
“Most of us worked at the same accounting firm, and we all loved music so when we decided to do something together, the bond was already there.”
Finding a middle ground
The band shifted into gear after they were asked by the Institute’s Annual Dinner Organizing Committee in early 2014 to perform at the annual dinner. With all members coming from musically different backgrounds, it was the group’s first challenge. “It’s really quite a pain to select songs,” says Jonathan. “We try to fit in everyone’s tastes.”
In the end, they walked a fine line between playing crowd favourites and songs they enjoy. “We knew most of the audience would be over 40, so we knew they would be familiar with music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, so we played I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles for our first show,” Jonathan says. “We also played Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight, and Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life.”
Garnering a warm reaction from the audience, the band agreed to perform more current songs for their next show the following year. “After our first show, we chose songs we wanted to do more, such as ones by Maroon 5,” says Andrew, Associate Director at investment bank UBS AG and an Institute member.
Yau says: “We still deliberately picked songs that the audience would easily connect with. We wanted people to have a good time.” The plan worked. The band at the Institute’s 2015 Annual Dinner played Lucky Strike by Maroon 5, and everyone danced along.
To come up with a final song list, the band would usually use their WhatsApp chat group to suggest and discuss potential songs, and take a vote. “Everyone has their own favourite songs, but one thing we’ve learnt working as professionals is that sometimes, you have to compromise,” says Andrew. “We want to have fun, even when we’re practicing a certain song,” Yau adds. “And we also want to make sure everyone has a role, and a time to shine with each song. It requires a lot of teamwork, so it’s tough.”
The end goal is to put on a praiseworthy performance, Yau says, explaining how they charm a tough crowd. “We want to appeal to members old and young, so we play one to two older songs for each show, and a couple of newer songs. We normally start off and end with a well-known song – and by having a good opening and closing, people remember what we play.”
“Everyone has their own favourite songs, but one thing we’ve learnt working as professionals is that sometimes, you have to compromise.”
Show must go on
Every performance comes with technical issues, says the band, which they try to address in advance during the show’s soundcheck. “One challenge is the actual stage, and how that sounds,” Tsoi says. Sound technicians are responsible for ensuring live equipment is connected and faultless, and with delicate electrical connections plugged between large speakers and amplifiers, one faulty connection can spell doom. “This is something you can’t really control until the day of the performance,” he explains.
“The guitar always experiences complications because of the wiring to the amplifiers – if one piece of your equipment isn’t working, your entire set-up doesn’t work,” says Yau. Jonathan agrees. “At our last show, I think my amp just, popped,” he laughs. “There was no sound. You would normally plug your bass into the bass amp, which is connected to the direct input, and then to the sound guys. But the bass amp popped. I didn’t know what happened, but the sound guys were very professional, and provided a swift response by plugging my bass straight into the direct input.”
To Andrew, the biggest issue is when the monitor amplifiers don’t work correctly. “If I can’t hear anything, I have to really do my best to not play out of sync, because once the drummer messes up the beat, the rest of the band starts to go out of sync – that happened for a few seconds during our last show.”
Under the spotlight
A love of music helps Andrew deal with stress. “We all know accountants in Hong Kong work long hours. Instead of popping open a bottle of wine or going for a run, try playing and listening to more music.”
Tsoi enjoys the sense of collaboration that naturally comes with being part of a band. “You have this synergy between you and your band members – such as knowing when the next change is, or when the next chord is coming.” Yau also feels that being part of something bigger has inspired him to continue his own musical journey, amid his hectic work schedule. “I’ve been so busy, especially the last two to three years. It felt like there was no time, and I found myself playing less and less music,” he admits. “That’s why I really appreciate this band so much – it almost forces me to pick up a guitar and play.”
The band also find that playing at company events sheds a light on the hidden talents of CPAs. “No one really expects normal, day-to-day people like us to know how to do other things, such as play the guitar, bass, drums or even sing,” Andrew says. “But once you’re on stage, people say ‘wow! you know how to play an instrument?’ You also meet people who tell you ‘actually I play the guitar too – let’s jam together some time.’ It still happens where I work now.”
Jonathan adds: “before we played our first show in 2014, no one ever saw us play, or even knew we played music,” he says. “People don’t see you the same way again once they discover you play music, and I think that’s very interesting.”
“No one really expects normal, day-to-day people like us to know how to do other things, such as play the guitar, bass, drums or even sing.”
“That’s why I really appreciate this band so much – it almost forces me to pick up a guitar and play.”
In 2015, the band played Charisound 2015, a charity event for Médecins Sans Frontières, organized by the Junior Chamber International Island, which featured various bands from professional bodies in Hong Kong. Based on that experience, the band believe there is no excuse and no shortage of professionals who want to rock out after work. “Clinton and I also play in another band – we have two CPAs, three lawyers, a surveyor, a dentist and a doctor,” Jonathan says. “We play mostly Canto-pop and Canto-rock, and some Brit-rock like Radiohead. It’s a very fun group.”
Music also acts as the perfect icebreaker for any occasion, even in business events and meetings. “We want to expand our network, and meet other professionals with the same interests,” he adds. “Music is a great starting point.” His brother thinks the same. “We need more collaborations with other professional bodies, especially through music.”
The Opinion look forward to playing the Institute’s annual dinner later this year, and wish to see other CPAs form their own band, and take to the main stage. “It’s always good to have new people play the annual dinner – if we played every year for the next 10 years, I think people would get bored of us,” Andrew jokes. “The audit firms are full of people, and I’m sure there are guitarists, bassists, drummers, and maybe even saxophone players – you just have to ask around.”
Members who are interested in music, singing and live performances can join the Institute’s Singing Interest Group. More details are available on the Institute’s website.