Music education initiative hopes to inspire teachers and students

A new music education programme aims to inspire local school teachers and their students, writes Oliver Chou

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 10:29am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 10:29am

A pilot music education programme has been launched to inspire the joy and love of music-making for not just students, but also their teachers.

Initiated by Premiere Performances of Hong Kong, a local concert presenter founded in 2007, the programme involves bringing in leading specialised chamber groups to host a series of interactive sessions before and after live performances at schools.

Creating an impact on the music teachers of tomorrow is what we should be doing
Andrea Fessler 

"We like to give kids in Hong Kong exposure to world-class performances and to inspire them to see and enjoy great music," says Andrea Fessler, Premiere Performances' founder and executive director.

The emphasis on exam and practice has often turned music from joy to pressure for the local students, including her daughter, says the Harvard-trained corporate lawyer and a mother of three.

"But what we offer is not about giving the students just a fun afternoon. We provide capacity development for teachers, too. We hope to bring an impact on showing the teachers what can be done through interactive and participatory exercises to engage young students," she says.

Without artists of its own, Fessler says, Premiere Performances brings in, "the best in the world to Hong Kong" for the education project, as it did with its recent chamber music festival.

"We have engaged Musica Viva of Australia in the music education programme because it's one of the best in the world at developing chamber music groups specialised in music education," she says. "They have 30 highly trained ensembles and have spent a lot of money developing digital resources specially designed for teachers."

To survey the current scene, a pilot study was conducted in 2012 with The Chambermaids, a wind quintet of experienced performers-educators. The group visited a cross-section of six schools, including elite and international schools as well as a local school in Sham Shui Po, "just to see what the response would be like".

According to Fessler, the response has been universally positive.

The study showed there is a high demand for music outreach programmes in local schools, not just in elite or international schools, she says.

Based on these findings, the "Project Allegro" programme was mapped out to extend the number of schools and scope of activities.

The programme, which will run for two years, was made possible by a Springboard Grant from the Arts Capacity Development Funding Scheme under the Home Affairs Bureau.

The grant, which matches the funding from title sponsor J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, has specified an in-schools education outreach programme. For 2013-2014, three chamber groups of different types have been arranged to arrive in Hong Kong. The first is a jazz quartet, The World According to James, whose visit last November proved to be a success after 12 days of activities at 13 schools, including three special needs institutions.

The tour started with an intensive two-hour professional development workshop for teachers from participating schools before reaching out to a grand total of 3,500 students.

"These are music expert educators with many years of practical experience in Australia, including some remote parts of the country where music is taught by generalist elementary school teachers who don't have specific music training," Fessler says. "Their training provides pre- and post-performance activities that are tied to the curriculum objectives. What it does is get the teachers to prepare the kids to get the most out of the in-school performance and continue to reinforce the learning objectives through follow-up activities after the performance."

These in-school shows feature two parts: a general performance for 200 to 300 students and a workshop for 30 to 40 after the performance. Teachers are expected to continue with the aid of online digital resources. The impact would be accessed through a "multi-step evaluation process" three months after the visit.

The three-prong workshop-performance-evaluation format will be repeated with the return of The Chambermaids, starting on February 17 till the end of the month to perform and interact with 17 schools from Hong Kong island to the New Territories. The Sousaphonics, a brass quartet, will be the third group to visit another set of participating schools in May.

Aside from interacting with as many as 5,000 students, the Australian woodwind group has a special task to perform.

"We are trying to develop a local mirror group to The Chambermaids, which comprises flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, and horn players," Fessler says. "During their stay they will help us audition applicants interested in developing a chamber repertoire as well as educational facility. Obviously the successful individuals would be interested in the music educational process, charismatic, and comfortable working with kids. And we will take them to really local schools where they can work in local language and in the most cost-effective way."

But the target beneficiaries are not just primary and secondary schools - Fessler has hopes for tertiary students in the pilot programme. The Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd), for example, was one of the key schools the jazz group called on last November and created an unexpected impact even on the visitors.

"Going to tertiary institutions and creating an impact on the music teachers of tomorrow is an essential part of what we should be doing. I am sceptical that I can change a teacher who's 50 years old and who's been teaching in a certain way. The teachers who are most open and interested are younger teachers, and those university students who want to be music teachers are the most formative. So we can have a tremendous impact on that segment. That, I think, is what distinguishes our programmes in terms of impacting the teachers," she says.

She recalls the session with some 50 students at HKIEd that so impressed the jazz quartet that they want to take the experience back to Australia.

But what really moved her to tears was when the power of music for special needs students.

"They loved the music so much that I think I cried at every performance. I would sit there and say, this is why I do what I do, to see real joy in these kids, and to bring them so much happiness. I get choked up even when I am saying this to you now."