The Birth of the Peace International Youth Orchestra

Kindling a Peaceful Future – The Birth of the Peace International Youth Orchestra

As the last applause echoed in the City Hall Concert Hall in the evening of 22 September 2014, the newly established Peace International Youth Orchestra (PIYO) celebrated their successful debut during the Hong Kong Peace Festival 2014.

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It may come as a surprise to many that the 50-person strong PIYO had in fact only been formed two weeks before the concert and had only managed to gather for two rehearsals before their first performance. Nonetheless, when they emerged on stage and played a series of selected classical pieces carefully chosen by PIF’s Principal Conductor, Mr. Philip Chu, the audience was entirely captivated by the PIYO’s mastery of the songs and their musical talents.

It was truly a unique and magical experience, and every single student in the PIYO collaborated so well with their peers such that it appeared as if they had been playing together for a number of years. However, these young musicians in fact all come from different schools and backgrounds in Hong Kong and had only met two weeks ago. Among the members of the PIYO, the youngest is 13 years old while the oldest is 19 years old, but yet they managed to find common ground through their shared love of music and peace.

image006 Abiel Ma, 16, the Concertmaster of the PIYO, is at the centre of the team and had worked closely with Mr. Chu to identify and invite talent musicians to join the PIYO. Abiel started his musical career in primary school and has blossomed into a bright young star of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Abiel said that this was the first time for him to participate in the formation of an orchestra and he was “scared at first” but also “excited”.

Marvin Kam, 13, plays the viola and typically spends his weekends going over the lessons at school. However, he had dedicated his recent two weekends to rehearsing with the orchestra and indicated that he was “very happy to be part of the orchestra”.

Keung Hoi Tong, 19, plays the timpani and is currently a second year university student. She has been playing the timpani for 10 years and when asked about why she joined the PIYO, she said, “It is good to use my skills and ability to promote peace and not only playing for my own enjoyment.”

image011 PIF Principal Conductor, Mr. Chu, is exceptionally pleased with the performance of the PIYO at the Ode to Peace Concert and continues to act as both a mentor and a friend to the PIYO members. His own success story and illustrious music career serves as an inspiration to the young musicians and Mr. Chu has much to share about his experience in working with his orchestra in the following exclusive interview.

PIF: When did you get interested in music and how? If you can choose whatever you like as your career, then what would be your first choice?

PC: “I think music is an essential part in my life. I first got interested in music when I moved to Australia back in 1995, when I had a very good music teacher who taught me how to really appreciate music as an art form. I would like to have a forever music career if possible! It’s a blessing that you can do what you love on a day to day basis.”

PIF: What are your thoughts on peace and what personal relationship do you have with the concept of peace?

PC: “Peace is especially important when conflicts are around us every day. When there are so many different opinions and voices around you, it is very important that we can find time to search within our own mind and soul and try to maintain that inner peace which can make us more accommodating and accepting of what is happening around us.”

PIF: What do you think of the PIYO? Tell us about your experience with these young students.

PC: “PIYO comprises of incredible local talents. Despite their young age, they showed high adaptability and potential. With the proper guidance, I believe they can achieve great results. With a group like this, the most difficult aspect is to sustain their commitment over a period of time since Hong Kong students at this age are very busy with lots of concurrent extracurricular activities. It is inevitable that we cannot get 100% of the group at every rehearsal or even every performance. This affects the overall growth rate of the group, but I am nonetheless really surprised and pleased to witness the results they have already achieved under these conditions.”

PIF: When you were on-stage and everybody was looking at you before the first piece was played, how did you feel then?

PC: “Calm and excited at the same time. Actually I felt very calm before I walked on to the stage because I felt the PIYO was ready, but at the same time very excited because I couldn’t wait to show the world what these amazing young talents have achieved in such a short amount of time.”

PIF: In the debut performance, you made some small speeches during each of the pieces to provide the audience with the background story of those pieces were chosen and how they were related to peace. How did you come up with the idea?

PC: “I decided to talk in between each piece because I think we are lacking a lot of face to face communication nowadays, especially we are now in a world where technology is becoming a vital part in our daily communication with each other. So I thought it would be a good idea to connect with people on a personal level by talking to them and sharing my thoughts on stage as if we were having a gathering of friends. As such, I hoped to foster a closer relationship between the orchestra and the audience.”

PIF: What kind of values do you think the PIYO should have?

PC: “With a youth orchestra, their energy and enthusiasm are their most valuable assets. They have an endless energy supply and this is an important element to a passionate performance. Being a orchestra dedicated to peace, it is also important for our young members to grow and develop their understanding of the concept of peace so that in turn, they can help to spread the message in their future performances.”

PIF: What was your experience of establishing and managing a youth orchestra dedicated to peace?

PC: “When every member is so busy in this group, organisation skills is the key to success. A strong supporting team is vital because there are lots of logistics and administrative aspects involved with managing an orchestra, and we cannot expect the students to do everything by themselves. We need to provide the PIYO with a pleasant environment so they always remain interested in working with the rest of the group and use their musical talents to introduce peace to the wider general public.”