A Performance Enjoyed By All

If you’re new to Hong Kong, you may have noticed that just about every Hong Kong kid seems to take music/art lessons. But most don’t take them at school, or at individual instructors’ homes or studios. Instead, their parents sign them up at for-profit organizations that serve as venues/clearinghouses for piano, singing, drawing and drama teachers to practice their necromancy – uh, I mean to apply their talents in passing along our civilization’s cultural heritage to today’s youth.

But since most of these businesses are shoehorned into small shop spaces and the odd corners of big housing estates, they have no grand halls sufficiently lavish to display the glories of their young clients’ gifts. Many of them therefore rent spaces to hold once-a-year American Idol-like free-for-alls in which each and every kid gets a chance to get up there and face down the spotlight. For example, Daughter Tall’s arts tutorial center has for the past couple of years booked the musty little hall deep in the basement of the Hong Kong Arts Centre.

The programs themselves are part church Christmas pageant, part talent show, part (semi) formal recital, and part unholy chaos, as we shall see . . . .

Allow me to share with you some of the highlights of Daughter Tall’s center’s showcase, which we attended last week:

  • The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy, whose exertions on the skins clearly had not been sufficient to work off all of those Twinkies. His performance was puzzling. An obviously studio-produced song was played on the auditorium sound system, and he just kind of drummed along. Isn’t the point of a drummer (other than to beat up hoodlums who rush the stage, a la ‘The Commitments’) to set down the beat himself? Oh well, at least the song in question was a competently-executed if anodyne cover by what seemed to be a British (!?) blues band, so it was not especially painful.
  • A song 'performed' by a choir of the tiniest tots, i.e. the just-turned three-years-old set. Not much singing went on (none, come to think of it) but occasional hand motions were made. This gig featured the whole range of stock behavior one expects, and frankly loves to see, from kids in their first performance: one kid crying his eyes out, another lifting her dress over her head, one spending the whole performance waving to Mommy in the audience, another wandering off the side of the stage and being hustled back into place by Teacher, and so on. 
  • A violin rendition of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ identifiable only by the title in the program. Come to think of it, the poor boy playing it might well have been trying out a wholly different song. His accompanist, one of the arts centre’s employees, clearly suspected this was the case, evidenced by the glares of deep frustration and badly-disguised contempt she directed at our soloist throughout this number. Let’s just say she did not appear to be the model of patience and long-suffering one desires in a children’s music teacher . . . .
  • Long sets of beginner piano students playing their recital pieces. Not much need be said here, except that these miniature Lang Langs are awfully cute when they pop up and do their lavish bows after finishing their pieces. At least their teachers get that part down pat!
  • A ‘drama’ with environmental overtones. Not only did Daughter Tall have a big speaking part, as the oldest child involved she was granted the privilege of holding the single available microphone, and of shoving it into the faces of the tots responsible for the remaining lines in the play. All went well at first, with Daughter Tall demonstrating only a mild tendency to jerk the instrument away from others (and back to herself) just before they’d been able to finish off their bits. This rough equilibrium deteriorated, however, during the drama’s climax – a song about trees, or perhaps bunnies – during which Daughter Tall took upon herself both sole possession of the microphone, and the heavy burden of Singing Leader, culminating in the song’s final extended high note, which Daughter Tall screeched into the mike in the style of a six-year-old female Tom Jones. The audience went wild, but as her father, I can’t say this was an unmixed blessing.

The program ended with all participants lining up on the stage for a rousing rendition of ‘We Are the World’. After the first couple of bars, however, the kids threw off the shackles of bourgeois etiquette and began energetically pursuing a mass expression of civil unrest. The ringleader of the vanguard (her father notes with a heavy sigh) was again Daughter Tall, and a fervent revolutionary urge to liberate the microphone from the hegemony of the running dogs of fair sharing was again the historically deterministic cause underlying the assault on the rotting moral superstructure, if you know what I mean. Ah, well. We got some good video.

As the song ended, but the rioting carried on with no decrease in intensity, parents organized themselves into search-and-rescue parties and stormed the stage to reclaim their offspring, and smiles and head-patting ensued – until next year’s extravaganza, that is.

The kicker for these programs is that parents must not only sacrifice several valuable hours of their lives and spend them witnessing the desecration of the flowers of human culture, they have to pay for the privilege. Renting that hall isn’t free, and given that there’s certain to be a captive audience of parents and other relatives, a rather shocking three-digit/ticket price is charged. I suspect it ends up being a nice little earner for the arts tutorial center.

Hong Kong parents: any similar tales of your own? I guarantee you a sympathetic ear, assuming mine still function after last week . . . .


Performance enjoyed by all

How wonderful that parents take such an interest in the cultural development of their offsprings.