From not knowing music to performing in 10 months, Hong Kong Blind Orchestra players hit right notes in launch ceremony

Hong Kong Blind Orchestra founder Timothy To says the visually impaired have a natural affinity for music

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 July, 2017, 9:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 July, 2017, 10:22pm

After just 10 months of preparation, the Hong Kong Blind Orchestra – the fifth of its kind in the world – hit the right notes at its launch ceremony.

The group’s founder and director, Timothy To Wing-ching, hopes the ensemble will pave the way towards a better future for its members.

He said he was inspired to set up the orchestra by his desire to help others by helping his friend Johnny Chang Siu-lung, who suddenly became blind over six years ago as he approached the age of 40.

“The visually impaired often have a natural affinity for music and the reproduction of songs. Music became my natural answer.”

“I hope the Hong Kong Blind Orchestra is not only able to create a better future for its members, but also one day be as good or even better than the world’s leading orchestras,” To said.

Chang is now one of the trombone players in the orchestra, which also includes 24 primary and secondary school pupils from Ebenezer School and Home for the Visually Impaired in Pok Fu Lam.

“The orchestra has given me hope, discipline and a thing to put genuine effort into. It has brought me so much happiness,” Chang said.

Rehearsals started in October 2016. Its members have gone from not knowing music to performing at their launch on Monday.

The tuning session was interspersed with laughter from the children. But they then got serious for the launch, playing with grace and concentration.

The blind members of the orchestra memorised songs by listening to recordings and learning which sounds corresponded to which keys or strings during their many biweekly rehearsal sessions.

“The visually impaired have a superb ability to decipher sounds” To said. “The kids can learn music that it takes [Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music] Grade 8 students 10 months to learn, such as Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers.”

The orchestra has future performances lined up with the Korean Incheon Hyegwang Blind Orchestra, as well as local singing stars including Sammi Cheng Sau-man and Eason Chan Yick-shun.

“I conduct via a microphone that connects to the earpiece of each orchestra member,” To said.

“I can guide them on volume and speed and cue the various instruments with it. During practice, the students are noisy and playful until I switch on the microphone. They then all listen carefully to my instructions.”