New East District (東區) cafe A House was filled to capacity last Sunday evening, with all eyes on a cappella sextet Jigsaw.
A cappella started in Europe during the Baroque era, but Jigsaw has little in common with those singers of yore. The young and energetic group performed its own arrangements of pop songs like Green Day’s Wake Me Up When September Ends. Tenor Ching Chen (陳青仕) took on hosting duties, at one point giving amused audience members an impromptu lesson in beatboxing, one of the vocal percussion styles a cappella groups use to keep time.
Jigsaw’s singers range in age from 21 to 28 and include recent college graduates, an A House employee and a television host. The group, which rehearses in members’ homes on weekends, represents the kinds of musicians that A House, which opened in June to promote a cappella music in a family-friendly environment, wants to reach.
“The atmosphere here is very relaxed. We get to interact with the audience more and we can tell they are enthusiastic,” says Jigsaw baritone Johnson Wang (王存敬).
A House is operated by CJCHT, a footwear manufacturer that was named Wal-Mart’s supplier of the year in 2008 and 2009.
The journey from shoes to singing isn’t as unlikely as it seems: The founder of CJCHT, Clare Chen (陳鳳文), is a lifelong choral music fan. In 2000, Chen and a college classmate, Ray Chu (朱元雷), founded Taiwan Choral Music Center (台灣合唱音樂中心). The non-profit group organizes the annual Taiwan International Contemporary A Cappella Festival (台灣國際重唱藝術節), which celebrates its 10th anniversary next month and is the largest event of its kind in this country.
A House was launched as an outgrowth of the festival and seeks to raise a cappella’s profile.
Address: 18, Alley 5, Ln 107, Fuxing S Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市復興南路一段107巷5弄18號)
Telephone: (02) 2778-8612
Open: Daily from 1pm to 11pm
On the Net: ahouse.vocalasia.com
“A cappella groups don’t have a lot of performance opportunities [in Taiwan], but A House gives them a chance to perform, interact with an audience and develop a stage presence,” says Chu, a music professor at Shih Hsin University (世新大學).
A cappella is often associated with jazz, but music styles include pop, hip-hop and even heavy metal.
“A lot of people think ‘oh, choral music, that’s 20 people standing still on a stage singing.’ But a cappella isn’t like that,” says Catherine Liu (劉沁如), A House’s general manager and Chen’s daughter.
A cappella groups are a high school and university mainstay in the US, where the popular soundtrack albums for hit TV musical comedy Glee feature covers of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing and Kanye West’s Gold Digger. In South Korea and Japan, pop groups and TV competitions have made a cappella part of mainstream entertainment, but singers in Taiwan have fewer opportunities for exposure, says Liu.
Outside of campus performances and Taiwan Choral Music Center events (in addition to the festival, a concert is organized each spring), a cappella groups perform on a freelance basis, entertaining at events such as Lunar New Year banquets and award ceremonies.
Liu hopes a cappella singers will consider A House their home base. A cappella groups make up more than half of the cafe’s monthly performance roster, which also includes jazz combos and classical string trios. With its brightly lit, spacious interior and a drinks menu that includes chocolate Coke and Belgian beers, A House is designed to appeal to a wide age range.
“When we were preparing to open the cafe, we found that a lot of performers want this kind of venue,” says Liu. “They don’t really want to perform in concert halls or pubs and especially not in nightclubs where it’s chaotic.”