The Association was started and administered by the Music Section (Inspectorate) of the Hong Kong Education Department in November, 1940, with the object of making available worthwhile concerts for school students and generally to foster interest in music in the schools of Hong Kong.
After the war the Association was re-formed and, in pursuance of the third of the “objects” of its Constitution, “To promote the active making of music and expression through speech by students and young people”, the first Festival was held in 1949, in spite of the sceptics who argued that such a revolutionary idea as thinking that Chinese students would compete against each other and receive public advice and criticism would never succeed. The phenomenal growth of entries and enthusiastic support of schools, teachers and students alike soon silenced the doubters.
Adjudicators for the first five Festivals were taken from the ranks of local teachers, for both music and speech. In 1952, the first classes for singing in Chinese were introduced, and in 1960 this trend was continued to include instrumental music by Chinese composers, and Chinese speech classes.
In 1954 the first external adjudicator was invited, and the practice of inviting one adjudicator per Festival continued up to 1960. In 1961, entries rose steeply and two judges for music became necessary. At the same time, increasing speech and drama entries warranted an independent expert and the first external speech adjudicator was therefore invited. In 1964 the number of adjudicators for music was increased to three and subsequently to four (one part-time only) in 1965 and 1966. By 1981, four full time music adjudicators were required for Western and Vocal music, and support is expected for eight specialist adjudicators by 1998. The number of overseas judges for English Speech rose from one to two, in 1976, and to six, by 1997; in addition to the local scholars and experts judging Chinese Speech classes.
Entries have continued to rise steadily; during the period 1967-69 the increase was confined mainly to the English and Chinese Speech sections; but since then the general increase in interest has continued; by the 29th Schools Music Festival in 1977 the number of entries for music was 4,581 (including New Territories entries), involving just over 38,000 participants; a total which rose to an estimated 93,300/77,900 per (bi-annual) Festival by 1997/98. The growth of interest among Hong Kong students in the Festivals is amply illustrated by the total entries for successive years, and a particular feature in recent years has been the dramatic increase in participation by New Territories schools. In this connection, it should be pointed out that in 1974, for the first time, Music and Speech Festivals were held separately, the former in March/April, the latter in November; and, although this change involved a period of adjustment, the increase in both music and speech entries for recent Festivals appears to indicate that the healthy upward trend of interest is likely to continue.
However, the Festivals cannot be said to sacrifice quality to mere quantity. Both Music and Speech Festivals have attained extremely high international reputation, as reflected in the comments of adjudicators, who themselves have been drawn from people of the greatest eminence and experience in their fields. The standards of piano and violin playing, and the choral work, have been acclaimed as particularly high, in many cases meriting concert stage presentation.
Organization and Activities:
The Association is affiliated to the British Federation of Festivals for Music, Dance and Speech of which H.M. the Queen is patron. In its early days, it was administered largely by senior staff of the Music Section of the Hong Kong Education Department; more recently its administration has been the concern of an Executive Committee comprising elected members drawn from representatives of the 1,000 schools and colleges who are currently Members of the Association, together with a number of leading local music and speech teachers and others interested in these subjects (as Associate members); although close liaison is still maintained with Music Section staff. Early in 1975, the Association was honoured by the acceptance of H.E. the Governor, Sir Murray Maclehose, of the position of Patron, and the Secretary of Education, the Hon. K.W.J. Topley, as President.
In 1975 the process was completed of registering the Association as a (non-profit-making) company limited by Guarantee and Not Having a Share Capital, with the same avowed aims; to encourage and promote among students and young people the growth of interest in music and speech; to promote the active making of music and expression through speech by students and young people; to promote concerts, lectures, recitals and other forms of music and speech activity; to assist financially and otherwise students, schools and other educational institutions in their music and speech activities.
In pursuance of these aims, the Association’s activities go far beyond the staging of the Annual Festivals, although these are perhaps the most spectacular events. It was responsible for administration of the affairs of the Hong Kong Youth Orchestra, which from its inception in 1963, achieved an enviable reputation, both locally and overseas, under the devoted leadership of its conductors Miss Margaret Money, and her successor, Mr. John Cheng. The Orchestra provided and opportunity for young people to receive training and enjoy rehearsal and performance of a wide range of musical works and it was in part this activity, and the interest which it aroused, which led to the formation, in the late 1970′s of the Government Music Office. In 1976, the Association was responsible for the setting up of the Hong Kong Youth Choir, which sang at the Gala Opening of the Hong Kong Arts Festival in February that year, and again in 1977. The Choir, like the Orchestra, was open to young people up to the age 23, whether students or not, and made no charge for membership. Both groups were known beyond the confines of Hong Kong: in1973, the Orchestra was invited to play at the prestigious International Festival of Youth Orchestras, in Aberdeen, Scotland, where it won a high reputation; and in the summer of 1977 a representative group of the Youth Choir formed part of the official Hong Kong company to perform in London as part of the Royal silver jubilee celebrations. With the welcome growth of music-making in schools, however, these actives became largely superfluous, and both the Orchestra and the Choir were suspended, although on several occasions the Association has acted as liaison in the formation of Combined Schools Choirs for gala occasions, and has also liaised in the appearance of outstanding young prize winners, drawn from the Annual Festivals., as soloists for concerto and other performances, and at concerts and in television and radio performances.
Education is also considered a vital part of the Association’s work with young musicians. The Instrumental Scheme was set up in the 1970′s to try to bring within in the reach of even the least affluent of Hong Kong students the chance to learn to play an orchestral instrument. Interest in the Scheme, which was administered with the invaluable assistance of Mr. John Cheng, and staff of the Music Section, was consistently high, and weekly lessons were given by a number of well-qualified tutors in the Association Centre, in instruments including violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone and percussions.
A Junior Orchestra, drawn from participants in the Scheme, rehearsed regularly, and gave its first public performance at Christmas, 1976, as part of the Orchestra’s regular engagements to give Christmas concerts in leading local hotels. Moreover, thanks to generous Government support, three or four Youth Orchestra members participated in the first Asian Music Camp held in Manila in May, 1977. Fortunately, again, the Music Office, with ample funds and far greater space and facilities, was able to take over this function, and on a much more extensive and through scale than had been possible with the Association’s limited resources.
However, the Association has maintained its interest and activities in the training and educational side of music-making for young people in Hong Kong, and over the years has arranged, presented, or been involved with a number of concerts by well known musicians, and with lectures, seminars and workshops in instrumental music, expression through speech, mime, and drama, and Chinese speech. Among activities have been such varied items as the making available to members a wide range of high quality musical recordings at a very low price; the presentation, with Guildhall, of many speech seminars and lectures; co-operation with the Arts Centre on a number of ventures, including a performance of Britten’s “Noye’s Fludde” and several concerts, for Festival of Youth and the Arts, and a course on Theatre in education; Liaison with the Music Office on concert performances and master classes; and formation of a source library of books and music which is consulted by member schools, During the Royal visit in 1975, a Gala Night of Schools Music and Dance was staged in conjunction with the Education Department, an idea repeated for 1977. Future plans include lectures on poetry, visits from other adjudicators who will discuss the teaching of drama in the classroom and other subjects of general interest to teachers, arrangements in conjunction with local drama societies in respect of their educational productions and youth activities, and talks, workshops and demonstrations by visiting adjudicators. Plans are also proposed for a series of literature readings and cassettes.
Another, comparatively new, aspect of the Association’s work is in the introduction of special Festival classes for disabled children of various kinds, including children with vision or hearing impairment, physical disability, or intellectual disability. These have been intended to help in promoting the psychological benefits of such activities, and in helping to integrate the children into an activity open to their colleagues. Plans are also in hand to extend the scope and type of Prizes connected with the Annual Festivals. Many Book Prizes have been added for the Speech Festival, while on the music side, the introduction of Prize Vouchers for music equipment and so on, and also bring winners the opportunity of scholarships for study and travel abroad. The syllabus for the Festival is kept under constant review, to make the range of classes as wide and lively as possible, and to work together with schools curricula, to give opportunities to both teachers and students to combine these activities with their classroom work.
The festivals are valuable in that the introduction of carefully chosen pieces in the syllabus, and the time spent in becoming acquainted with and striving to interpret the works of great artists, are calculated to stimulate interest and raise standards. Many thousands of students, especially the younger ones, have acquired better technique and appreciation through their progressive participation in the Festivals, which provide them with their first platform, a critically knowledgeable yet sympathetic audience, and authoritative assessment of their performance. In many cases, help and guidance is also given privately. However, the Festivals are part only of the picture of what the Association is trying to achieve, with welcome support from the Government, the media, schools principals and teachers, and many other members of the community who share our common interest in the cultural welfare of the young people of Hong Kong.