Cantopop heartthrob Hins Cheung King-hin started his singing career as an assistant sound mixer 15 years ago, working his way to becoming a seminal icon of the local music scene.
Not too long after Hins said he looked to go back to the academe, perhaps for a refresher course in music, he was awarded an honorary master’s degree by the London College of Music.
He will be officially conferred the degree at a gala concert on Sept. 9 at the University of Hong Kong’s Chong Yuet-ming theater, a local event to mark the 130th anniversary of the London musical institution.
He told the Hong Kong Economic Journal that, having wrapped up his sold-out gigs at the Hong Kong Coliseum earlier this year, he would adjourn to the quiet of his pastoral study overseas, for a course in classical music.
“I was never a music professional by training, thus after so many years in the industry, I’ve decided to pursue some formal study in classical music, the substratum of all pop music including Cantopop… More exposure to such art, canonic music can for sure help me master and render different genres and styles.”
Many friends in Hins’ music circle would recommend classical music for him, like those by virtuoso pianists Robert Schumann and Frédéric Chopin. Some of the songs they wrote also have a subtle touch of orchestral music.
Peking opera was the overture to Hins’ musical flair. Born in a large musical family, Hins’ grandfather was a master in the quintessence of Chinese xiqu, whose ear for beats and rhythms rubbed off on his son and on Hins.
“My grandfather was on the drums and also led the Peking opera band. My grandparents taught me to sing various works and since I had a soprano voice when I was young, they would always train me to sing the many female lead roles [dan] of the opera.”
That singing skill soaked up throughout a childhood immersed in Peking opera propelled Hins’ rise as a suave pop singer who is well versed in basso, baritone, falsetto all the way to countertenor.
But his zest for violin was a rather transient one.
“My dad wanted me to learn to play at least one kind of western musical instrument, so he picked violin and asked me to practice it each day after school, when other kids were playing or watching cartoons… So I hated it, particularly so when I could always expect a slap from dad when I hit the wrong note or was out of tune,” Hins recalled.
“But my mum warned me that I must stop playing violin if I couldn’t ace exams. Then I thought this could be a way out… So I deliberately made a mess of my study — I was a kind of genius in this — and so I was asked to forget about violin when my grades kept dropping,” he said with a brisk laughter.
Now, the longer he is in the music industry, the more he regrets not to have mastered violin. But piano is what the consummate pop star is really good at.
Hins learned piano through a Filipino husband-and-wife duo he met in a Shenzhen hotel lobby a number of years ago, and the couple also initiated him into electronic keyboards as well as music composition, scoring and arrangement.
Offstage, Hins spends much of his time restoring and digitalizing over 400 decades-old master tapes of the folk song diva Teresa Teng and Cantopop pioneer Samuel Hui, a project commissioned by Avon studios.
“These tapes are all the treasures of Mandopop and Cantopop since the 1980s. But many have become mildewed and must be cleaned with alcohol before being put in a special oven to be dehumidified. The digitalization and tuning process is also a painstaking one. Sadly, about 20 percent of the tapes have become so mutilated they are beyond salvation.”
With ample funding promised, time and dedication are thus what Hins needs most: “We pull all the stops to not only restore tapes but also find the recordists to get their stories about the making of these masterpieces and their interaction with the artists. Many of these recordists and producers have either passed away or emigrated, so it takes a long time to contact those still living… Perhaps we can publish a book about the entire process.”
He has also invested about HK$20 million for a world-class recording studio in Jordan district.
Hins feels he has to face the music while mounting a breakthrough.
He also draws inspiration from his own life, so his fresh ideas will dry up once his life gets dull.
“This is when I and some of my fans lose sync with each other, when they grumble that my recent works don’t sound right.
“I’m not the kind of singer fettered by stereotypes or other people’s views. Luckily, my company, Emperor Entertainment Group, has always indulged me and allowed me a long leave since this year. Nor am I a gregarious person, I feel uneasy in a crowded place. Shooting, toasting, signing cards and all the other fickleness scare me. I enjoy performing, but not the social whirl offstage.”
After 15 years in the industry since his debut at age 21, religious and abstract music is where he finds peace and purpose when a man in his mid-30s may often find himself in a mental trough.
Cyberspace is also where Hins abandons his modesty. His Facebook and Instagram accounts are graffitied with memes and self-mocking spoofs that always amaze his half a million followers.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 22
Translation by Frank Chen with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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