Goal: well-rounded lives

Goal: well-rounded lives

Young Friends programme offers a world of arts beyond the stress of academics

Sumanjit Janday has an angelic voice that can melt hearts.

"I love to sing; it makes me happy," says the 15-year-old student at Elegantia College in Sheung Shui. A leader of the school choir, Sumanjit has won many singing competitions.

Yet nothing compared to the first time she heard a live orchestra. Sumanjit had the chance to do that when she went to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet. The experience was offered by the Hong Kong Arts Festival's Young Friends programme. This programme allows members to attend two performances of their choice for free, and also go to workshops where they will meet artists from all over the world.

"I'd never seen a real orchestra performing in front of me. When the music began, I went: 'Wow! I've never heard anything so delicate in my life.' And the ballet was beautiful," she recalls.

The Young Friends programme was launched in 1992, to expose students to the annual Hong Kong Arts Festival and allow them to appreciate arts and culture they would not normally enjoy. So far 130,000 members have taken part.

This year, four young artists will act as mentors to provide guidance and inspiration to the members.

Two of them are Wong Ka-jeng, 23, and Wilson Ng Wai-sai, 24.

Wong plays the piano and violin. His talent caught the attention of a film director, who made the award-winning documentary about him called KJ, Music and Life.

"Music can be an elite game in Hong Kong; not everybody has a chance to learn the piano or go to a concert," says Wong.

"Music is uplifting. It makes people want to live even in the darkest moments. I'm happy to take up this role to encourage young people to appreciate music and expose local students to music."

Ng, who is a conductor and plays the flute, adds: "HKAF is a fantastic programme, as it offers everyone the opportunity to appreciate music, which can be life-changing. Music has influenced me. It has made me more positive [about life] and more appreciative of everything around me."

Both Wong and Ng were born in Hong Kong and educated overseas. As worldwide performers from a young age, they have a passion for music that is so great, it inspired them to set up the Music Lab, an orchestra made up of 50 musicians under 30 years old.

As Wong watches young people grow up in Hong Kong, he knows exactly what they are going through.

"I think Hong Kong students are too stressed about examinations. They need to spend more time in arts and cultural activities," he says.

Sumanjit couldn't agree more. "We have so much homework and so many extra tuition classes to attend," she says.

"We have a lot of pressure preparing for exams. It's hard for us to relax. But knowing that I will get to see a performance makes me happy. Even thinking about it and anticipating what I'll be experiencing is exciting.

"I think students in Hong Kong should be given more experience in arts and culture. We are not animals; we don't just eat and sleep. As human beings, we should have a good way of living. We should learn about art and be able to enjoy it."

There are 81 shows including 40 different programmes for Young Friends to choose from Hong Kong Arts Festival 2014. For details, visit Young Friends Hong Kong Arts Festival

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