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Rural Children Thrill to the Sound of Music


Zhang Mingxu loves music but he did not possess even basic singing skills until he joined a vocal music class.

The 12-year-old schoolboy was inspired by a music teacher at Dalian Youth Recreation Center on July 29. After the class, he kept practicing the song he had learned with his classmates.

Zhang and another 52 primary school students and 35 teachers from rural areas around Dalian were taking part in a music camp in Dalian, a coastal city in Northeast China's Liaoning province.

During the five-day camp, they had lessons from professional music teachers, enjoyed live art performances and hung out with their peers in downtown Dalian.

"It is quite different to learn from a professional teacher," said Bai Suhua, 50, a music teacher from the Mingde Central Primary School at Shahai township, Chaoyang, in the west of Liaoning province.

"Not only the students but I myself also felt suddenly enlightened by Professor Ren Guanjie," said Bai, who has been teaching music for 29 years.

Bai said she taught herself music. The two-hour class was the first time she had been taught by a professor. It gave her much inspiration.

"For instance, I usually told my students to open their mouths wide when singing. But how wide, I couldn't express clearly," she said.

"Professor Ren taught us to feel the joints behind the ears with forefingers to judge whether it is wide enough. Now I understand. It will certainly help in my future teaching," she added.

The music camp is part of a charity project in Dalian called Sound of Yida - Love Music Classroom.

Initiated in April 2011 by Dalian Charity Federation, Dalian Music Radio and Dalian-based Yida Group, the project was expected to provide 20 music rooms for rural schools within three years.

However, according to Yao Jiange, chief inspector of Dalian Music Radio, they have already set up 25 music rooms, each equipped with a piano, clarinets and some percussion instruments such as drums and triangles.

"At the beginning, we just wanted to donate musical instruments. But when we paid return visits, we found the schools had a serious lack of music teachers. The instruments were under-utilized, and most students could not even sing one complete song," Yao said.

They therefore laid out plans to train music teachers and students with potential, respectively called Leading Geese and Stars of the Future. From time to time, they organize professional music teachers to give lectures at the rural schools.

This time, they gathered the students and teachers together in downtown Dalian to attend the camp. Yao said this kind of camp will be organized more often in the future.

"We clearly can see the effect of the camp. In the first class, the students knew nothing at the beginning. But, within two hours, they were able to sing a chorus in quite a professional way under Ren's instruction," she said. "Their progress almost moved me to tears."

According to Yao, the plan for Stars of the Future is to skim off the best students and send them to study at professional music academies.

Ling Min, 26, a teacher from a village school in Kazuo county, Chaoyang, said she appreciates the project that makes it possible for students to pursue their dreams.

Two youngsters from her school were selected to attend the camp. When they arrived at Dalian after a five-hour trip, they were curious about everything - from the tall buildings and the funfairs to the supermarkets.

"The poor conditions in their hometown limited their development. But they are talented and hardworking. I think they deserve more," said Ling.

She said when they came back to the hotel from a clarinet class, the kids did not relax. They kept practicing. In order not to disturb the others, they just made gestures and tried not to make sounds.

Ling volunteered to work at the primary school when she graduated in 2008. As with most teachers in rural primary schools, she teaches both Chinese and mathematics. But she also teaches music.

"As a school constructed under the Project of Hope, its facilities are not bad. For example, we have a music classroom. But it had only one piano and nobody dared to touch it because no one would come a long way (about two-and-a-half hours) to tune it for us," she said.

In June this year, the Sound of Yida - Love Music Classroom project provided the classroom with more instruments, including a new piano, clarinets, harmonicas and some percussion instruments.

"The students were very happy. Finally, they knew that music does not only mean singing," she said.

Many warm-hearted people are supporting the project. Some companies and residents donated money and musical instruments. Local property giant Yida Group is the biggest contributor, donating 500,000 yuan ($78,500) every year.

"For many years, Yida has been active in repaying society. We have contributed 700 million yuan for social welfare and philanthropy," said Bao Hongkui, vice-president of Yida.

Yida Group was founded in 1984. It is a large-scale enterprise group focusing on real estate development, management of a software park, IT consulting services, IT education and training, construction and decoration, supporting services, modular machine tool manufacturing and cold chain logistics.

Yao Jiange of Dalian Music Radio said charity has a strong ability to gather people together. At present, all the hosts of Dalian Music Radio are engaged in the project. In addition, more than 70 professional art teachers in Dalian volunteered to give lectures to the teachers and students.

"When you're doing something good, you're filled with positive energy," she said, saying charity makes her happier and healthier.

Yao said they will make the project sustainable and promote it to many other regions so that more students in rural areas can benefit from it. She said Chaoyang Music Radio has joined in their efforts.

"I told the students to share their experiences with their classmates and teachers when they come back. In that way, we are spreading the spirit of music all the way along," said Yao.

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Ren Jinxia contributed to this story.