Visiting a Soundscape Site – The “Kingdom Hall”
One of the most interesting soundscape in the Christian community of
Hong Kong, perhaps, may come from the small family churches in private buildings. Here, I am not talking about the soundscapes produced by the large churches, such as St. Joseph Cathedral in the Central. The ringing of church bells from these large cathedrals has been familiar to many local people, signaling their urgent need for spiritual comfort. However, I am far more interested in a sound that bridges local believers and God in a more private space located in the urban area. It is a “religious site” that has no loud voice of church bell or grand symphonic sound of organ and choir.
It has been widely known that
Hong Kong is small but the population is large. Housing congestion is one of its serious social problems. Many large, wealthy church organizations, such as the Roman Catholic or the Anglican, possess large buildings to provide liturgical services for their believers. However, the locations of these large cathedrals or church buildings are often not convenient to the majority of the ordinary layman, especially the grass-root believers who have no private vehicles. In order to meet their spiritual needs, family churches that held meeting in a private resident building is commonly found. Whether in Sunday morning or any weekday night, or coming from the altar or the seats, a special, unique sound of hope and joy, wish and bless, will disperse in the air, spreading out from a small flat, through the doors, windows, then finally up to the heaven. This is a wonderful keynote sound that cannot easily be overlooked in our local society. It may have imprinted itself so deeply on the believers hearing this sound that life without it would be sensed as meaningless and hopeless joke. It may even affect the behavior of people or life style of a society, like the “wanderer”, who finally regained his courage and hope to live on after he has heard an anthem from a church, in O’ Henry’s short story “The Cop and the Anthem”.
Last Sunday morning, I was invited to attend a meeting held in a private family church. It is located in the residential area of Tseung Kwan O. The place is called
, consisting of eight blocks of building. Although it is called “Garden”, it is not the high status garden as you usually find in the mid-hill of the Central, but an estate-like house built by the Housing Society. You can sense a grass-root smell here. There are a few shops forming a small shopping arcade inside the Garden. The situation of the “church” is quite convenient to the people living there, how local, how intimate. If you walk out of the “church”, you can immediately enter the Seven-eleven, the next shop, for a drink. Also there are a few fast food restaurants, a barber shop, a bread shop and a beauty salon located nearby, providing services to the local inhabitants. Hong Shing Garden
On the wall of the entrance of the “church”, there hangs a plastic block writing the meeting times and the name of this “church”, “Tseung Kwan O Kingdom Hall”. Instead of using “church”, the use of “Kingdom Hall” as the name seems to give visitors a rather new, fresh impression, telling them that the “Hall” inside possesses boundary, like a ‘kingdom”, which is a new, however isolated, world. If God presents at the splendid cathedral, God will also dwell in here, since this is His ‘Kingdom’. Thus, the “Kingdom Hall”, which is a community (Christians) inside a community (people living in
), is the soundmark. Hong Shing Garden
I still remember that the keynote sound of the “Kingdom” community was not a ting-ting sound of a church bell. It was indigenous sound, like the voice from chatting. People attending the meeting were familiar to each other. They called themselves “brothers” and “sisters”, just like belonging to the same family. It seemed that there were no different between the voices inside the “Kingdom” or outside the retailing shops, except that the language spoken here was more polite and gentle.
The main signal sound undoubtedly was a man’s voice from the stage. Yes, the voice is from the “stage”, not the altar. I did not call it an “altar” because I found no liturgical objects, scared cross, splendid idol of Jesus, or brilliant paintings over the stage. This interior design was so plain, pure that the “Kingdom” looked like more a family, giving visitors a sense of warmness and intimacy. No sooner did the man announce the opening of the meeting than the whole group of worshippers (not more than a hundred) stood up, and then, sang and prayed. This series of actions was the only liturgical activity that I found in the entire meeting. For the rest of the time, the signal sound was the only male voice from the stage, sounding like a priest or bishop, and giving a talk based on the bible to the audience (the worshippers). It was seen that the signal sound of the “Kingdom” was a regular routine, which includes the voices of speech, singing and prayer. During the two hours’ meeting, the background keynote sound remained the occasional noise and people’s daily lives sounds of buying and selling, chatting as well as walking to and fro outside the “Kingdom” community.
Undoubtedly, the “Kingdom Hall” is a special soundmark in the local community. The soundscape produced not only regulates the daily lives, behaviors and life style of the local community, but also brings forth a special form of voices that bridges the God and the grass-root people, not in a supreme and splendid Cathedral, but in a warm intimate family-like “Kingdom”.
David Leung (theorydavid)