Jazzing things up to help students with special educational needs

By Ariel Conant

Jazz music isn't just for old men in suits. Some local students are embracing the genre, all in the name of a good cause

By Ariel Conant |

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Students like (from left) Misha Mah, Godwin Lai and Patrick Yau from Renaissance College wowed the crowd.

The lights dim, until just a spotlight shines on stage. The singer takes the microphone in hand as the band behind her begins to play. As they finish, the audience erupts.

But these musicians aren't professional rock stars. They're teenage jazz musicians from secondary schools across Hong Kong, brought together for the second Hong Kong Jazz Family Fest and ESF's Got Musical Talent events. About 30 students joined more than 40 professional jazz musicians, raising funds for ESF's Jockey Club Sarah Roe School for students with special educational needs (SEN).

Students from Discovery College, King George V School, South Island School, West Island School and Renaissance College performed for the crowd. For some, jazz is a very different genre of music from what they usually listen to.

Sorcha Jackson, 16, from West Island School, takes her singing inspiration from pop idol Taylor Swift. Even though Sorcha listens to more pop than jazz, she couldn't pass up the chance to perform in front of a live audience.

"I love to sing, so the opportunity to do so on a stage all set up for a Jazz Festival was really worthwhile," she says. But even with a passion for music, performing can still be nerve-wracking.

"The audience is right up close to the stage, so that can be a little intimidating," she admits. In the end, though, all the hard work paid off. "It just feels like a professional gig!" Sorcha says.

Nicholas Ng Tian-Lok, 12, from South Island School, plays drums in a rock band with two of his classmates. They don't usually play jazz music, but find it a fun challenge. The band usually plays pop rock music, like Nicholas' favourite band Green Day.

"I enjoy pop rock music as it has a strong and lively beat which matches my energetic side," Nicholas says.

He also finds listening to music helps him relax. "I can sing along to it and put aside any worries I may have for the day."

But listening to music isn't the same as performing. "Playing in a band is not easy because as the drummer, I must have good timing to keep the beat."

Nicholas, who has been playing drums for two and a half years, says that it's important for the band to work well together. Each member has to cooperate so they can all learn together.

"Our pop rock band mirrors the situation of group projects in school," Nicholas explains, "where each classmate has a different part to play that can produce great results when put together."

In front of a packed house and playing alongside professional musicians, the students saw what it was like to make music your career. And all in the name of a good cause.

As the performing students expanded their musical horizons by exploring jazz, the proceeds from the event went to helping SEN students in a similar way. Funds raised went towards building a multi-sensory outdoor play area, expanding the school's art room and sponsoring off-campus trips for the students at Sarah Roe School.

Nicholas believes that music brings people together, no matter their background or the challenges they face.

"Music brings joy and lifts spirits," he says. "Students with SEN are just like everyone else - loving music and enjoying music. I have friends with SEN, too. We have both similarities and differences and they have things which I can learn from, too."