El Sistema Hong Kong (ESHK) is a registered charitable institution that since 2017 has provided free-of-charge musical training to people of all ages in difficult social and economic conditions. The program is currently located in Tin Shui Wai and the Western District, and is led by founding director Melissa Niño, who grew up in El Sistema Venezuela and earned bachelors’ degrees in music at Indiana University and Arizona State University. Her team includes volunteer administrators, conservatory-trained volunteer teachers, and partner community organizations. Inspired by the methods and principles of El Sistema Venezuela, the program’s goals are:
- To provide a joyful, non-competitive music education. In Hong Kong, most children learn to play an instrument privately to take grade exams. Learning music in this environment of pressure and high expectations from their families and teachers, they strive to get the maximum score, to obtain a certificate that will allow them to attend a good school. As a result, most students eventually quit their instruments and reject music.
- To reduce depression and stress in children caused by the high level of competition in the Hong Kong educational system.
- To bring positivity and values that help unify the community and narrow the gaps between children, adults, and seniors.
- To increase access to music education for the less privileged.
The núcleo Tin Shui Wai serves 40 children ages 5 to 13 from low-income families in a district located on the outskirts of the city, where many low-income families and immigrants from China reside. Students receive weekly ensemble training free of charge, including instruments and free tickets to performances by professional musicians. There are three small ensembles: a percussion ensemble, a violin ensemble for beginners, and an intermediate-level ensemble of violins, cellos, and percussion.
The Western District Núcleo serves 30 senior citizens above the age of 60 with no musical background or very little musical background. The program promotes a healthier lifestyle through music through socialising and helping to improve motor skills and memory. We believe that it is never too late to learn to play an instrument, and that our senior citizens deserve to enjoy the fun of music making. Current training includes a percussion ensemble and a violin ensemble.
A special feature of ESHK is our social inclusion program, which involves young musicians from the most privileged schools in Hong Kong volunteering to teach music in our centres. This initiative aims to bring awareness and strengthen ties in a community divided by social classes. Currently, we have the participation of top schools including the Diocesan Boys’ School and Diocesan Girls’ School.
Often, our students at Núcleo Tin Shui Wai perform together with the senior citizens at the Western District Núcleo. The seniors feel happy and appreciated, and for the children, it is an eye-opening and inspiring experience to play with the elderly.
Author: Melissa Alexandra Niño, Artistic Director and Strings Principal, El Sistema Hong Kong
Date: 28 May 2019