School band marches on
If you watched a marching band at the start of the 2008 Olympic equestrian event in Hong Kong, the countdown ceremony to the 2009 Asian Games, or the annual Legislative Council open days, then you've seen Ho Ngai College (sponsored by Sik Sik Yuen) in action.
The Tuen Mun school's marching band is seven-time Hong Kong champion.
Led by conductor Bryon Chan Chi-keung, they have won Hong Kong's highest-ranking marching band title every year since 2006, and are regularly invited to perform at major events held in the city.
The band, comprising 22 boys and 18 girls, are different from rival Hong Kong marching bands - whereas girls in other bands wear skirts, the entire Ho Ngai band wear trousers. Form Four student Roy Lam Man-kit and his Form Five schoolmates, Ken Choi Hoi-kit, Kelvin Ho Ka-wai and Henry Wu Ka-hang, are the band's core members. They have been part of the team since joining the school.
'It's compulsory at our school that every Form One student joins a uniformed team, such as the Scouts, Hong Kong St John Ambulance, or the Red Cross,' says Kelvin, who plays the trombone. 'I wasn't interested in joining other teams. I joined the marching band since my elder sister was part of a marching band at her school.'
Girls in the band include Form Five student Kayley Kong Ka-wai, and Form Two students Grace Leung Yee-man and Janet Wei Ming-jun. Janet, originally from Chongqing , is one of the band's newest members. 'I get along well with the boys, and I also get assistance from more experienced band members, such as Kayley,' she says.
'In the past year, I've enjoyed performing at many places and have got to know more about Hong Kong.'
The band members usually play outside under the blazing sun during the summer.
Henry says the boys often take off their shirts while practising in hot temperatures. 'It's very hot out there, but playing together in the heat also strengthens the bond between the boys in the band,' he says. 'We always go swimming together to cool down after practice.'
Last summer, the World Association of Marching Show Bands invited the school band to compete at the World Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where they finished third.
During the contest, the band played the theme from the film Avatar and included some specially devised marching steps to fit the music.
Band members used their instruments like guns and other weapons to copy a scene in which humans invade the woodland home of the Na'vi inhabitants.
Henry, who plays the tuba and is an accomplished sportsman, mastered the art of spinning the huge brass instrument on to his shoulder with a flick of his hands. 'It took me weeks - and many failed attempts - until I was able to do it so that it went smoothly and successfully,' he says.
Despite the team's great success, they often have to deal with residents who complain about the noise they make when they practise at weekends. 'When we try to practise on the outdoor basketball court, local residents always call the police and complain we are making too much noise,' the boys say.
Ken hopes more students will join the band. 'We need new blood to keep the band going. Some new members quit after they find it difficult to keep up with us,' he says.
'We spent a whole year solely learning about marching before learning to play the musical instruments. It really takes time to improve and become a good member of the band.'
The team hope to compete at the World Marching Band Festival & Asia-Pacific Championships in Taiwan in August. They have also set their sights on winning yet another Hong Kong title in December. 'Our target is to claim an eighth successive win this year and we're kicking off our preparations now,' Kayley says.