Diocesan Boys' School's orchestra brought home gold after their trip to the US, where they took part in the Washington DC International Music Festival. It was an eye-opening experience for the young musicians and their teachers. Samuel Pang, a music teacher and the director of the orchestra noted: "Local competitions are more competitive, while foreign ones are more about sharing ideas and making good music."
For example, "holding a workshop for students with the judges before the competition is unique to overseas events," says Pang.
Double bass player Alex Leung Chung-man also noted the cultural differences. "Hong Kong musicians and parents place too much emphasis on results. That is not the spirit of music. Music is not about winning, it's about the love of music."
As well as competing, the orchestra performed both outdoors and at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and took master classes at the Eastman School of Music. Seeing the different teaching style was interesting.
Trombone-player Andrew Law Ngo-yin noticed that "foreign teachers have a more interactive style. It's based on students learning from teachers. They don't tell you how to play, but give you clues on how to play. You interpret the music and experiment with how to play, then go with the best option. In Hong Kong, the teacher tells you what and how to play."
The 10-day trip was hectic, but Pang said it was great to see his students test their limits.
"The schedule was intense, like a musician's life while on tour," he said. "We arrived in the evening and rested. The next day we had a brief tour of a music school, had lunch, then went right to practise, even with jet lag. We performed an evening concert that same day."
Although the trip was intense, the students enjoyed it. "It's tiring," Alex admited, "the daily rehearsals, the jet lag, the entire lifestyle. Breakfast, music. Lunch, music. Dinner, music. Sleep. And repeat. It was very tiring, but rewarding and well worth it."
"There was little leisure time: just eat, play, sleep - not much else; music all the way," Andrew said in agreement. "It would be nice to only have music and basic needs to deal with. I think I could adjust to that lifestyle."
Student Concert Master Christopher Chan Yet-chung had been on an orchestra tour before, and compared his previous experience to this trip.
"Going to the mainland and other countries on tour - we had even less rehearsal time," he said. "I'm fairly used to it. It's just about exchanging physical tiredness for mental happiness."
Speaking of mental happiness, what could bring musicians more joy than the chance to play at a world-class venue? Indeed, it was a priceless experience and one the students think all music lovers should try.
"Going abroad can show you where the local scene needs to improve, such as with venues and equipment," Andrew said.
Christopher feels the same. "Playing on [such famous stages] gave us a chance to experience world-class acoustics, he said.
"The Kennedy Center is much better than Hong Kong's venues," said Pang. "It was a new experience for them."
The musicians gained a lot from the trip. "This was a chance for the students to connect and socialise with other musicians," said music teacher Felix Shuen Tsi-shing.
Kevin Lam Sum-yu, who plays cello, noticed that being abroad made him and his friends more confident. "There was a party on a cruise ship with the other teams. We ended up dancing with them. It wasn't something we would have expected from the quieter students."
Christopher agreed that, while the main focus was music, the chance to mingle outside of rehearsals was a huge benefit.
"At school, there is an invisible barrier between the leaders and the members; juniors and seniors. These barriers broke down during the trip and I got to know everyone better."