Fresco Harmonica celebrates 10th anniversary with a live concert at UCSI

KUALA LUMPUR: UCSI University (UCSI) welcomed alumni Fresco Harmonica back on campus grounds when the leading harmonica band in Malaysia returned to celebrate their 10th anniversary with a special live concert. 

The two-hour show was packed with crowd favourites like YMCA, What a Wonderful World and Rasa Sayang as well as technically challenging numbers like Flight of the Bumblebee. They also entertained with original compositions which included a Ten Year Medley to commemorate their journey, all performed to choreographed dances that saw the members of the band making full use of the stage.

They were joined by guest performers Jeffery Lim and Mingirl Loh – an up-and-coming talent who is currently studying at UCSI International School – who lent their vocals to classics like Somewhere Over the Rainbow and I Am a Little Bird. 

Founded by Aiden Soon and Evelyn Choong when they were second-year students at UCSI’s Institute of Music, the band has enjoyed a gradual ascent to prominence in the local harmonica industry. They have grown from a performing duo to a 10-member band, two of whom are currently reading music degrees at UCSI. 

Over the years, they have won several championship titles in international competitions held in Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and most notably at the Germany World Harmonica Festival – twice. They have also shared the stage with Asia's most prominent artistes including Shila Amzah, Khalil Fong, Nicholas Teo, Wincci Soo, Alan Tam, Hacken Lee and David Wong. 

Getting to where they are, however, had not been easy. The harmonica has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity and that is in no doubt largely due to musicians like Fresco Harmonica who have been working hard to elevate the harmonica’s presence in the local music industry. 

“Compared to other instruments like the piano or violin, the harmonica is still uncommon,” said Choong, who currently co-leads the band with Soon. “But over the past decade, we’ve definitely seen much improvement in public acceptance. 

“When we were just starting out, we had to give a lot of performances to create awareness. We worked very hard to build up the harmonica’s image as a serious instrument and thankfully, more now have started to appreciate the harmonica’s unique sound and the musicality involved.” 

Choong first picked up the harmonica when she was 15, having joined the harmonica club at her secondary school. Two years spent playing the instrument, and she was convinced that this was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. When she finished her secondary school education, she went on to pursue a music degree with a major in music composition as back then, harmonica studies was not available at UCSI. 

That has changed this year as students pursuing a degree in classical music or foundation studies with a specialisation in classical music at UCSI will now be able to choose the harmonica as a major instrument. The University is first in the world to offer studies in chromatic harmonica on a tertiary level. 

“I’m very happy to hear that,” said Choong. “If more people do what we do, this industry will grow even faster so be patient and stay passionate.” 

While the ensemble remains Choong and Soon’s flagship project, the dynamic duo has also channelled their expertise into the Fresco Harmonica Symphony Orchestra – the first in Malaysia that has added a new element to the music industry by introducing harmonica as the major instrument into the standard orchestra setting. Within a year of its establishment in 2009, the orchestra took home the Champion title at the 8th Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival. The Fresco brand has also expanded into a music school. 

Fresco’s success paves the road for future players who Choong urges to join the fray. “I hope that this concert will inspire a new generation of players who did not dare to pursue this dream of theirs in the past," she said. “I want to lend them our strength so that they too, are emboldened to follow their calling.”

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