RIPPLES OF LAUGHTER swept through the audience at St Stephen's Girls' College when a thin, pony-tailed student heaved her double bass up into the air to illustrate its size to new Form One students. The intention of the demonstration, however, was serious. All students who want to take music lessons must select an instrument, be it the mighty, and therefore less popular, double base or its petite sister, the violin.
Eventually, the young musicians can audition to join the school's senior orchestra, the only all-girl orchestra in its competitive division at the Hong Kong Schools' Music Festival.
The orchestra won the senior class competition in 1992 and 2002, yet conductor Carmen Koon Mee-yu said it is not technical ability that makes it exceptional, but what motivates its musicians.
'We emphasise spirit in music playing. Through music we learn to co-operate and have team spirit and discipline,' she said.
In contrast to most of her colleagues, it was the big size of the double bass that compelled Julia Lai Chi-wing, 15, to begin learning the instrument in Primary Five.
'I like co-operating with different kinds of instruments and I enjoy making friends with other orchestra members. It's very beautiful and lovely that we can make music together,' she said.
As proof of the orchestra's lasting impression on students, some old girls have returned to lend their musical expertise to the orchestra.
Aimee Sung Ai-chang, a 22-year-old music graduate from Indiana University, said her experience as concertmaster helped her to develop leadership and communication skills.
Now freelancing for the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, the violinist wants to assist other young musicians. 'My best memory in secondary school is of the orchestra,' she said.
The orchestra is working on a compilation CD to mark the school's centenary, following a release in 1999 called Resounding Joy.