Hongkong’s Glorious CD Shops

Apart from the occasion on which I had the temerity to suggest that Alasdair Malloy’s British musical entertainments might not be entirely relevant to an audience of Malaysian school-children, no post on this blog has generated so much response as my assertion that it is impossible to find a satisfactory retailer for classical music CDs in Singapore. It seems that, while almost everybody agreed with me, most seemed to think the situation was an inevitable consequence of a retailer’s need to make a profit: “CD shops are in business to make money”, “Classical is a niche market and we are lucky that some shops still carry classical CDs”, were among the comments I received in response.

Here we go again! Classical music-lovers gleefully leaping on the minorities bandwagon. Wow, look at me! I am a member of a minority! Aren’t I courageous in being able to swim against the huge tide of public popularity? When are classical music lovers going to grow up and accept that theirs is NOT a niche market and is far more widely enjoyed than they are prepared to accept. All the evidence points to classical music as a growth area in both live and recorded markets, and I have come to the conclusion that the mis-perception that it is a dying art is actually promoted by those who prefer to feel part of a deprived minority than just one of the crowd.

Singapore’s classical CD scene (and Malaysia’s too – although we all agree that’s a lost cause) maybe moribund (to quote Chang Tou Liang’s wonderful description) but before all Singaporeans lie down and let the dreary crossover and appalling fake-opera singers take over, they should take a trip to Hong Kong. If anywhere is a Mecca for classical CD lovers this is it!

I needed to get hold of a recording of Francois Borne’s Grande Fantasia on themes from Carmen in its orchestral version. There were a few other things I needed and, knowing that I had to be in Hong Kong this week, I didn’t risk the blood-pressure-rising trawl through the deeply depressing CD shelves in Singapore shops, but decided to wait. Arrived on Thursday and, after a couple of meetings, jumped on the MTR to Mongkok and the rarefied atmosphere of Sun Cheong records. I spent a good 45 minutes there, browsing their vast stock of independent labels, picked up six CDs and only as I was about to pay did I realise I’d forgotten all about the Borne. The incredibly helpful and knowledgeable staff took about three minutes to look up and jot down the eight discs it was on from their own online database (compare this with HMV Singapore’s use of the three-year-old Muze Classical Catalogue and, even more ridiculously, the Penguin CD Guide), but regretted that while the flute and piano version (on Capriccio and Danacord) were in stock, the orchestral version on ABC Classics, Pearl and Vanguard recordings were not (“I can’t tell how quickly I can get Vanguard – they’re very intermittent. Pearl seems to have discontinued it. I can get the ABC Classics but it will take a fortnight”). They also pointed out that the orchestral version was available on EMI and Bis, neither of which Sun Cheong stocks, but directed me round the corner to Win Win records in Lady Street; “Would you like me to phone them and see if they have it?”. I prefer to browse, so with a promise that I would be back and order the ABC Classics if my search proved fruitless, I set off.

I regret I had not experienced the CD haven which is Lady Street, Mongkok before. Not realising that this is back to back CD emporia, I dived into the first shop I saw, picked up a couple of Delos CDs and an original Russian Melodiya, and then realised that there was neither Bis nor EMI here. Back to Sun Cheong, but then, turning the wrong way out of that store, I found next door yet another great stockist of classical CDs. In short, I spent two hours in four shops, all of which were thoroughly stocked with different labels, crammed with customers and with helpful – if often non-English speaking – staff. I found the Borne, not in Win Win, but two doors away, in the most amazing shop I have ever been in.

CDs (classical, Chinese, ethnic and jazz) lay around on tables – no shelves – rather like a church jumble sale. Clearly I was never going to find what I wanted, but a member of staff who asked if he could help, went straight for it and plucked out the EMI version. I stayed on to try and fathom out the filing system, but it defeated me. Who cares. I found what I wanted and ended up with over a dozen other CDs which, even as I am writing this, I am enjoying – Rachmaninov’s Aleko on Melodiya is the one at the moment.

So, before all Singaporeans quietly allow their CD shops to fade away in the mistaken belief that it is an inevitable consequence of the current msu8cial climate, let them look to Hong Kong, where Classical CD shops are very much alive and kicking. It’s worth the air fare just to see how the other half lives! But one thing occurs to me: Malaysia – no CD shops but a fantastic orchestra; Hong Kong – loads of CD shops but a somewhat ropey orchestra. Should we read anything into that?


4 Responses to “Hongkong’s Glorious CD Shops”

  1. September 30, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Hi, Dr. Marc,

    I was also surprised, excited by the CD shops in Hongkong. But after I got used to online CD shops. CD shopping is no longer on top of my to-do list in HK.
    Shopping CD is not like clothing or car, I don’t need to get hold of the physical CD before I buy it. Even if I need to trial listening to the CD, there are various sites providing samples.

    For this “Francoise Borne: Fantaisie brilliante pour flûte et orchestra sur des airs de ‘Carmen'”
    It’s available for less than S$25 including shipping to Singapore.

    Again, I agree that “All the evidence points to classical music as a growth area in both live and recorded markets”. But I didn’t see evidence for classical CD shops and physical CD sales. According to reports by RIAA, album sales for recorded music dropped by 30% since 2000. And the market share for classical music within the recorded music dropped from 3.5% to 1.9%.

    Sure I hope HMV in Singapore expanding the classical section. But I would be surprised to see if that happened and I wouldn’t be surprised to see CD shops in HK shrinking. I don’t believe in download, but I believe that streaming is the future for recorded music when the wireless network is more integrated in life.

    (Btw, I think HMV or Gramophone in Singapore do have their own online database. IMHO, it’s all right for them to use Penguin guide. It just serves as a reference. Customer who knows more wouldn’t care about that much.)

  2. 2 Bryan Ellis
    October 1, 2010 at 6:27 am

    Penguin Guide isnt comprehensive – what’s the point of using it to find a CD? its to help you choose which is the best, not whats available!

  3. 3 Chang Tou Liang (Singapore)
    October 1, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Amen to that! Shun Cheong on the 8th floor of Bank Centre (Mongkok)is my first destination whenever I touch down in HK! Its literally Alladin’s cave (or is it Ali Baba’s cave?). You could just spend hours going down the CD racks on a plethora of different labels. Even better if you are a card-carrying member, you get further 10% off everything! Deleted labels go for a fraction of the original price (occasionally 10 CDs for HKD 100!). Always a few thousand dollars poorer (HKD not SGD!)whenever I visit. Its really far more addictive than any casino or so-called IR! Thanks goodness I don’t live in HK!

  4. 4 A classical music lover
    October 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    I live in Singapore. Yes, I absolutely love classical CD shopping in HK. Besides Sun Cheong, there are quite a few other shops which stock lots of classical music. And I am far from lamenting the plunge of the HKD against the SGD.

    Taiwan also has a very good collection of classical CDs. Besides the full range of CDs from the main labels, shops there also stock quite a lot of titles from small independent labels. And prices are very cheap as well (though I suspect not as cheap as HK now due to the latter’s currency weakness)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: