A New Code of Conducting
Professional orchestras in Hong Kong are very traditional, according to Jennifer Ho, doctoral student in musical arts and orchestral conducting. But her Millennium Youth Orchestra (MYO) challenges conventions and puts a spring in the step of the metropolis’ customary musical march.
While pursuing her degree at Claremont Graduate University, Ho also serves as the music director and conductor of MYO, which she founded in 1998. MYO, a community orchestra comprised of about 90 young musicians, aims to encourage young people to play music with the evident joy and enthusiasm that is sometimes absent among professionals.
After earning her bachelor’s degree from the Music and Fine Arts Department at Hong Kong Baptist University, Ho had the opportunity to conduct many school and district orchestras throughout the metropolitan area, and her idea for MYO was born.
“I found that youth really wanted to continue performing and playing their instruments outside of school. So I got them all together, and we started practicing weekly. Then we’d put on a concert,” Ho said. “I was inspired to start MYO because the young musicians wanted to learn more and to know more people who also love music.”
After their 10th-anniversary concert in 2008, Ho left Hong Kong to continue her education in orchestral conducting at CGU. But even from across the globe, she continues working with her orchestra, returning home two or three times a year to conduct the group’s versatile performances.
“The break is supposed to be a rest, but I have to work in Hong Kong and it’s very difficult,” Ho admitted. “Fortunately, I really love my orchestra, and I enjoy working with them very much.”
MYO’s mission is to defy convention by playing pieces from Broadway, Disney films, and even mainstream pop, along with the classics. The orchestra also employs a variety of nontraditional performance elements, including lighting design and video projection that differentiates them from the other orchestras in Hong Kong.
MYO is also a place for young musicians to individually shine. Ho invites amateur composers from the orchestra to compose and perform their pieces alongside the masterpieces from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Peter Tchaikovsky.
This sound resonates with the Hong Kong community. Last winter, MYO presented two series of performances. For one, they partnered with the Hong Kong Children’s Musical theatre to put on a Chinese version of Antoine de Saint- Exupéry’s The Little Prince , providing live music for the play. The other was a concert entitled “Let’s Celebrate!” and featured music from Broadway, Disney, Pixar Animation, and even Lady Gaga. Their performances at the Shatin Town Hall Auditorium, which seats 1,400, drew a full house for each of their five shows.
“The audience can feel our love and enjoyment with music from the smile on the musicians’ faces and the movements and gestures from our bodies during our performances,” Ho said. “Sometimes we will create dancing, singing, and drama elements during the performance. I believe visual perception is also a vital factor to stimulate the audience.”
While the musicians in the orchestra are moving their bodies in order to elicit an emotional response from the audience, Ho believes that the essential skills needed to successfully direct an orchestra entail more than a conductor’s movement of setting the tempo with a baton.
“Conducting is not only dealing with your hands, it’s in your head. The individual lessons at CGU help me improve the tactical side of my conducting, and help me to work on my mindset, how to interpret music,” she said.
With her doctorate in musical arts, Ho hopes to improve her own skills as a director, and she has big plans for the symphony orchestra scene in Hong Kong. Her goal is to establish a professional, adult orchestra that would provide a place for her aging MYOers to continue sharing their music, without giving up their diverse repertoire.
“My goal is to be well-equipped to start this professional orchestra, not just for the young musicians or for my self-improvement, but also for where I grew up, for Hong Kong.”
To see footage of NYO and an interview with Jennifer Ho, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikHD5AeWUto