Frequently Asked Questions
What is a harmonica quintet?
Definition 1: a group of 5 harmonica players.
Definition 2: a group of 5 musicians with harmonica leading the group (eg, harmonica player with a string quartet).
Definition 3: a piece of music written for a group of musicians as defined in definitions 1 or 2.
What is a harmonica quintet in the style of King's Harmonica Quintet?
A group of 5 harmonica players consisting of 2 treble chromatic harmonica players, 2 tenor chromatic harmonica players and 1 bass chromatic harmonica player.
How is a harmonica quintet in the style of King's Harmonica Quintet different from other forms of harmonica music?
Harmonica has often been identified as a solo instrument, although a large variety of accompaniments, consisting various combinations of musical instruments, is possible. It is not very common to have harmonica players collaborating with each other. The most prominent form of harmonica group is the harmonica trio, as popularized by the Harmonicats. Yet, a harmonica trio is still a form of harmonica solo with accompaniment, although the accompaniment is taken up by bass and chord harmonicas.
The form of harmonica quintet pioneered by King's Harmonica Quintet advocates equal role among harmonica players within the group.
Why do you choose to play harmonica in this way?
The over-emphasis on the soloist in the prevailing forms of harmonica music has restricted the overall development of the instrument family. First, the lower registers of the harmonica are severely under-developed. Second, there has been little musical collaboration among harmonica players. We think that there is much room for development in harmonica ensemble music.
What is your vision of this form of music?
We believe that each individual part of the ensemble is unique and equally valued. Each member needs to acquire the specific techniques in mastering his own instrument, and to bring those techniques to sophistication to meet the technical requirements of the composition. At the same time, each of them needs to develop the sensitivity to the overall ensemble effect, and to contribute to that through highly dynamic interactions among them. String quartet pieces, written by the masters of composition, allow all of these objectives to be put into practice. With careful choice of repertoire and re-arrangement, a harmonica quintet can even excel in the musical effects when compared to the original combination of instruments. Hopefully this will exploit the potential and expand the outreach of the harmonica performing art, and in turn lead to compositions written specifically for harmonica quintet.
How do you start to play harmonica?
We all started to play harmonica in the high school - the King's College. The King's College has a long history of teaching and playing harmonica. The King's College Harmonica Band was established in the 1950's. It persistently consists of 30-50 members at any period and has always been the cradle of harmonica players, teaching a few dozens of students to play harmonica each year. From them develop numerous outstanding harmonica players who grab numerous awards in the Hong Kong Schools' Music Festival, Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival and World Harmonica Festival. Chromatic harmonica playing classical music has always been the tradition in King's College (and other high schools in Hong Kong) all over the years and forms the core of our harmonica techniques and musical background.
How do you start to play harmonica in the form of quintet?
A minority of those who graduated from high school can actually sustain their interest in harmonica because of other diversions and engagements in life. In 1986, a number of fresh graduates advocated the formation of an old boys' harmonica orchestra to keep up their interest. They did a marvelous job in staging a series of concerts. In one of the concerts, there was an attempt to play Mozart's Flute Quartet K.285 with a flute and 4 harmonicas. This was the first experience of touching the essence of chamber music and it was fantastic. This prompted the formation of the King's Harmonica Quintet in mid-summer of 1987. The first pieces were bold attempts of the Borodin's String Quartet No.2 and Dvorak's American Quartet.
Why do you choose the number 'five'?
String quartets are the richest resources of ensemble music. So four players (two treble, one tenor and one bass) are required. The addition of one tenor harmonica to the original 4-part combination adds flexibility to the re-arrangement. Discrepancy in the range of harmonicas and string instruments (the lower range of violin and higher range of cello) can be more readily resolved, while harmonic and melodic structure of the original work can be reproduced faithfully (as it is impossible to play all the double stops and triple stops of a string instrument on a single harmonica).
We do have some pieces arranged for six people for technical reasons. They are usually larger ensemble or orchestral pieces. We find these handy when some of our friends want to join us.
What kind of music do you play?
Broadly speaking, we are specializing in classical music. The majority of the Quintet's repertoire are string quartets of masters spanning 3 centuries, from Mozart to Shostakovich. We play music written for string orchestra or even a full orchestra at various periods of time. We also have some Chinese music and American music in our reportoire. Since 1999, we have close to 30 original compositions written for us by Hong Kong composers.
Where can I obtain your recordings?
Please also check the resources section of this website for our recordings available on the Internet.
What kinds of harmonicas do you use?
The treble harmonica players use the Polle silver chromatic harmonica, the Hohner 270 HardBoppers modified by Richard Farrell, and the Hohner CX12 chromatic harmonicas. The tenor harmonica players use the Hohner Super 64X. The bass harmonica player uses the Tombo bass. It is worth mentioning the bass harmonica, as this is the only model that has a design that allows one to play a decent melody like other bass instruments.
How often do you practise?
Since we all have full-time jobs, we normally practise once a week at the weekend, lasting for 3 hours. Additional practices are required before concerts.