Building cross-nationality bonds through music and singing
Born out of desire to deliver a platform that enabled Vietnamese locals and foreign expats to create music together, the International Choir and Orchestra of Ho Chi Minh City (ICOHCMC, icohcmc.com) was established in 1996. The man behind it all, Graham Sutcliffe, who was the-then cultural attaché to the British Embassy in Hanoi, aimed to bring a variety of musical genres and styles together while embracing different cultures from around the world. Currently, the choir boasts 60 members and the orchestra holds 30 members with plans to increase numbers in the coming year.
Currently at the helm as Artistic Director is Gareth Groves, who began his singing days as a boy soprano and chorister, later becoming a professional singer in several UK-based opera companies, choral societies and choirs. Oi caught up with Gareth to learn more about ICOHCMC.
What brought you to be the Artistic Director of ICOHCMC?
My love of music started at an early age and has ended up becoming both my full-time occupation and hobby. I am currently Head of Visual & Performing Arts at the ABC International School here in Ho Chi Minh City, and am now in my eighth year of living and working in the community. It’s a joy to work in a school with such a rich and diverse music program and I am thrilled to be helping to lead so many components of this with the support of my colleagues. I have been a member of the International Choir since 2011 and have enjoyed singing with them in various ensembles as well as being a regular soloist.
Since you took over ICOHCMC as Artistic Director in 2016, what changes have you made?
When I started my aim was to build on the choir’s previous successes and get our name out into the community to both encourage people to join, but also to come and watch our concerts. We rebranded the ICOHCMC, creating a new logo and making sure that all publicity (posters and flyers) for forthcoming concerts were in both Vietnamese and English. It is important to us that we are a central part of the Ho Chi Minh City community.
What is the goal of ICOHCMC today?
The main aim is to enjoy making music together. We also want to help raise money for local charities. We are currently working closely with Saigon Children’s Charity to whom we donated money to after our recent Christmas concerts at St. Paul’s Convent in District 1.
How does ICOHCMC promote its music to the public and increase their interest in choir and orchestra?
We are always trying to perform a wide variety of music in the aim to bring something for everyone. Since 2016 we have performed a number of Asian premieres including an African- inspired piece called Zimbe! by British composer Alexander L’Estrange. This piece involved the International Choir, FOBISIA Youth Choir and a jazz quintet made up of professional jazz musicians living here in HCMC.
Who is your main audience?
We are delighted to have local and expat families, children and staff from international schools and organizations as well as many diplomats who work in the city come to our concerts. Mr. Ian Gibbons, the British Consul General has been a great supporter of the ICO for a number of years now, as have many other consul generals in the city. It is an honor to receive this sort of support and helps us to truly live up to our name as the International Choir and Orchestra of HCMC.
How does ICOHCMC keep continuing as a not-for-profit?
When we put on a concert, we obviously have to cover our costs, but any money that is made by donation or ticket sale after these costs goes straight to the charity we are supporting. We are also currently extremely grateful and lucky to have three generous supporters and sponsor: Soul Music and Performing Arts Academy are our Principal Supporters, they kindly give us a weekly rehearsal space and help advertise us on their website. The ABC International School is our Platinum sponsors, helping to cover the costs of purchasing music and hiring musicians. And the British International School, who sponsor us in kind by lending equipment such as staging and percussion instruments when needed. As a not- for-profit organization, we simply couldn’t operate without help from organizations such as these and the subscription fees that our members pay to perform in our concerts.
What does the future hold for ICOHCMC?
I feel confident that the ICO will continue to be a big part of the HCMC community for many years to come. I would love to see our membership increase and would welcome anyone with an interest in singing or playing to get in contact.
Although I might be biased in saying this, being a member of the ICOHCMC honestly helped to make HCMC a home for me when I moved here in 2011. One of the biggest downsides of being an expat in any country is that friends so often move on to different countries and new adventures. While this is also true of ICO members I have found that these friendships have truly lasted because of the mutual love of music and singing, something that is very special indeed.
What exciting events does ICOHCMC have coming up in the next year?
2019 is looking to be a very exciting year. We will hold our May concerts on May 16th in D7 and May 17th in D2. This concert will see some music from popular films, including the recent film Bohemian Rhapsody!
Images Provided by ICOHCMC