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The Unsung Story of Saxophone-Making in Houli

First-time visitors to Taiwan often do not venture to Taichung, let alone know about the rich history of saxophone-making in the city’s Houli District. On weekends, this sleepy town comes alive; from the rustic Green-Corridor bicycle trails to soulful sax melodies drifting through Houli’s streets and corners, visitors will be pleasantly surprised.
A few decades ago during its peak, Houli was one of the world’s major manufacturers of saxophones, responsible for approximately one-third of global volume. Today, it still is an OEM producer of the instruments and a few family businesses have evolved, creating in-house brands and expanding into music tourism. –By Judy Tan Lee Choo Translated by Anna Yang

Chang Lien Cheng Saxophone Museum
后里區公安路330-1號 (04) 2557-8989
330-1, GongAn Rd, Houli Dist
9 am-5 pm

One such family stands behind the Chang Lien Cheng Saxophone Museum. The elder Chang was a local saxophone-making pioneer, starting in the 1940s. In recent years, his grandchildren have launched the LC sax brand and diversified into music tourism by building a museum to exhibit both new and old saxophones, including soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones produced over the years, as well as a displayed 170-year-old saxophone crafted by Adolphe. A guided tour through the glass museum is indeed educational and one can even ask to test play some of the models. On weekends, visitors can enjoy sax performances by professional artists in the theater built specially for such events.

軒音樂器社 Shuan Yin Co.
后里區眉山里三月路30巷15號 (04) 2557-2927
15, Lane 30, SanYue Rd, MeiShan Village, Houli Dist
8:30 am-5 pm, 週六&日/Sat-Sun 10 am-6:30 pm

Standing in front of the museum and looking across the rice paddies, inquisitive visitors will encounter another surprise. A 40-year-old family-run factory by the name of Shuan Yin hammers and assembles saxophones for local and overseas customers. I discovered the place by chance while on a mission to arrange ad hoc saxophone lessons for my son visiting Taichung during his American school break. Steve Chou (周長慶)–a saxophone craftsman by day and teacher by night–gladly showed us around a real operational saxophone factory when we stumbled onto it on a Saturday afternoon. Never before exposed to the actual making of saxophones in a factory setting (as other makers don’t offer such tours), we were privileged to be educated and were especially impressed by Steve’s friendly, humble, adaptable and hardworking character. My son has since been taking lessons in the factory and renting Steve’s personal instrument on short-term basis–an accommodating, flexible arrangement that is truly appreciated by expatriates like us.

薩克斯風玩家館 Sax Play House 
后里區大圳路473-2號 (04) 2557-1919
473-2, DaJun Rd, Houli Dist
8:30 am-6:30 pm,
週六&日/Sat-Sun 8:30 am-9 pm

Sax Play House Cafe is yet another interesting place to stop by for munchies or a western-style meal when you are visiting rural Houli. Built on top of a saxophone retail store, this quaint cafe stands out in a quiet street. Hearty brunches and lunches are served throughout the day for visitors who do not wish to be tied down to a strict schedule. One favorite dish among expatriates working in the nearby Science Park area is the Provence Roast Chicken. Sipping a cup of coffee and browsing the in-house designed saxophones and history of saxophone-making are things one could do on a lazy afternoon here.
During Sunday lunches, you can even enjoy dining to the accompaniment of sax music being played downstairs, where in-house brand Wongful saxophones are sold. It is said that since he left elementary school, Mr. Zhang Wan Ful has apprenticed with five uncles who were pioneer sax makers. With over 50 years of experience, he and his wife have transformed the business from an OEM manufacturer to creating their own Wongful brand and setting up Sax Play House Cafe to combine musical and tourism industries.

美冠樂器製造廠 Mei Guan Instrument
(04) 2557-7825
757, SanFeng Rd, Sec 3, Houli Dist
10 am-9 pm,
週六&日/Sat-Sun 10 am-5:30 pm

After a hearty meal, hop on a bike or in a car, swing through Houli’s downtown and you’ll easily find music stores that retail saxophones and usually conduct lessons as well. The latest trend today is instruments with engraved bodies, which most stores are eager to share with potential customers. One can also choose to personalize these engravings at a negotiable rate. One such store, Mei Guan Instrument, also features a makeshift performance corner outside for its students to perform at on weekends. I heard the beautiful music while driving through the town and encountered saxophone maker and musician Mr. Wu Hsin-Hsiung, deeply engrossed in playing outside the store on a late Sunday afternoon.

月眉觀光糖廠 Yue Mei Tourism Sugar Factory
后里區甲后路二段350號 (04) 2556-1100, ext. 307
350, JiaHou Rd, Sec 2, Houli Dist
8:30 am-5:30 pm

Next, swing by a popular place to visit in Houli–the Yuemei Tourism Sugar Factory. It was founded in the early 1900s during the Japanese colonial era and, although sugar is no longer produced here, the historic characteristics of its buildings are worth visiting. On weekends, visitors can also enjoy saxophone performances by street artists at the defunct sugarcane mill if you have missed other performances.
A brief comment by a Taiwanese piano maker about the history of Houli led me to explore the area and discover a thriving musical industry in the least-expected setting, with saxophone factories nestled in the lush green paddy fields.

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Written by taiwanfun


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