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Opera strikes a chord with kids

October 01, 2017

In the spotlight

In the spotlight:  Celia Wong and Wing To show off their skills in a performance at a Lam Tin shopping mall after completing a Cantonese opera summer workshop.

Stage support

Stage support:  Celia is comforted by an instructor after being scared by balloons popping onstage.

Parent’s pride

Parent’s pride:  Celia's mother Doris Chan (right) is proud her daughter overcame her fear of new environments by going on with the show.

Educational value

Educational value:  Cha Duk Chang Children's Cantonese Opera Association Director Stella Ma says the traditional art form is a great way for children to stay focused and learn about Chinese culture.

Transforming under heavy make-up and vibrant costumes, children learning Cantonese opera are preparing to take the stage.


Cantonese opera is a centuries-old art form originating in southern China.


Apart from giving youngsters an opportunity to play dress-up, the traditional performance art also has educational value.


This belief inspired Cha Duk Chang Children's Cantonese Opera Association to team up with the Hong Kong Association for Specific Learning Disabilities to hold a summer workshop this year for children who struggle in the classroom.


Growing confidence

One participant was 10-year-old Wing To, who has difficulties reading and writing.


Her mother Rita Cheung enrolled her in the course, hoping it would help her shy daughter to open up.


Ms Cheung saw a significant change after just a few lessons.


"She was timid in the first lesson, but I could see her becoming more and more confident after a few more classes," Ms Cheung said.


"She has to sing and read out loud when she does Cantonese opera, and accuracy and tone are also important. So learning Cantonese opera has really helped her with her problems. The most important thing is she likes it a lot."


Fellow participant, eight-year-old Celia Wong finds it difficult to join in activities as she struggles with adapting to new environments.


Her mother Doris Chan recalled the first class was an ordeal.


"She cried so hard during the first lesson. She cried for an hour. I still wanted her to try so I stayed with her for the lesson," Ms Chan said.


Thanks to an encouraging instructor, Celia became interested in Cantonese opera and fell in love with it.


"She is happy and confident now. She remembers all the lyrics and sings at home. She even teaches songs to her little brother and asks him to sing with her."


Dramatic skills

Instructor Ice Lam said learning Cantonese opera provides children with valuable training.


For example, singing helps them to learn Chinese words and dancing develops muscle co-ordination.


Despite the students' learning disabilities, Ms Lam found once they took an interest in the art, they easily picked up the skills.


"This is my first time teaching children with learning difficulties. It was challenging for me. However, I've found many of them are very talented. If you spark their interest, they learn quickly," Ms Lam said.


Cha Duk Chang Children's Cantonese Opera Association Director Stella Ma has been promoting children's Cantonese opera for about 15 years.


She said the dramatic art is both entertaining and informative for young students.


"Cantonese Opera is a great way for children to learn about Chinese culture. Studying books and history may be dull for them, but Cantonese opera is lively and beautiful. Children love dressing up and having fun," Ms Ma said.


She believes the extra-curricular activity can equip them with valuable tools.


"You have to stand up straight and stay focused. If the children continue to learn and practise, they will not only do well performing Cantonese opera, but also with learning in school."


Overcoming obstacles

After 10 lessons, it was time for the children to show off their skills in a performance at a shopping mall in Lam Tin.


While most had a few butterflies, Celia was especially anxious in an unfamiliar environment.


She was scared when she heard balloons popping onstage and almost backed out of the show.


The instructors helped put her at ease by taking her for a walk to calm her nerves.


Celia came back to the venue on time and was able to pull off a successful performance.


Her mother was very proud Celia overcame her fear.


"I am so glad that she did it. This is her first time performing. I think she did really well," Ms Chan said.