One student's love of his musical instrument has improved his concentration and given him the chance to work with an internationally acclaimed musician, writes Sunny Tse
Of all the reasons to pick up the violin, 13-year-old Leung Yat-hei may have the most unexpected: 'I like it because it's made of wood.'
The slightly autistic boy attends HHCKLA Buddhist Po Kwong School, which is for special needs students. He fell in love with the instrument the first time he saw one four years ago, even before knowing what it was or what it sounded like.
Yat-hei was attending an interview for a free three-year violin course organised by the HKJC Charities Trust. Sitting in front of nine judges, the then eight-year-old went through a series of tests designed to gauge his musical skills.
All Yat-hei can now remember from that life-changing day is the shiny, curved woodwork lying next to him, and the overwhelming excitement he felt when he touched it.
'He looked at the violin so intensely I knew he loved it instantly,' says his mother.
The intense look of longing on his face convinced the judges to select him for the programme. Since then, Yat-hei's wooden friend has been drawing him out of his little world, one step at a time.
For a child whose concentration span is so short that sitting quietly for 10 minutes is almost impossible, Yat-hei's mother is amazed at the way her son can focus on practising his violin, something he does for an hour every day.
'I had hoped learning the violin would be beneficial, just like music therapy,' she says. 'But I never expected to see such a big improvement in his concentration and control of emotions.'
Communication skills have always been Yat-hei's weakness, and he also struggled to control and express his feelings. He used to be angry with himself whenever he hit a note wrong and stopped playing altogether. But after years of training and playing complicated pieces, Yat-hei gets cross for a short while before picking up his violin and continuing to play.
Yat-hei has also learned to express himself through music. 'When I'm angry, I hit the strings hard to make a loud sound,' he says. But most of the time, he shares his good moods with his instrument.
'I tell my violin all the reasons I feel happy,' says Yat-hei, who frequently offers to play Happy Birthday at birthday parties, and plays jolly tunes to cheer his friends up when they're unhappy. His favourites are cartoon theme songs. 'I like the themes from Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, Gundam and Doraemon,' he says.
Yat-hei is also learning the French horn and is in the school choir. Music has boosted his confidence and opened up a lot of opportunities. He was nominated school arts ambassador last term, he has played in a lot of school performances, and he played the wedding march at a teacher's wedding.
But his most memorable performance was a violin concerto he played with renowned pianist Colleen Lee Ka-ling in front of more than 1,000 people at an Arts-ambassadors-in-School ceremony in July.
Yat-hei overcame his nerves and learned a lot from the experience. 'My self-esteem is higher now. I'm very grateful to have played with Colleen,' he says, adding: 'I looked very handsome in suit and bow tie.'
The confident student even hopes to spread the magic of music to his classmates, saying: 'I want to teach my schoolmates violin in the future.'
Organised by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and co-organised by the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, the Arts Ambassadors-in-school Scheme aims to nurture artistic talent in young people and promote art in the community. All arts ambassadors must be nominated by school principals before December 4.
|Learn more about the Arts Ambassadors-in-School Scheme here|