Schools in Hong Kong let out for the summer holiday in mid-July, but exams finish a few weeks earlier, thus disproving the claim that the city’s students do nothing except for an exam. My school’s grade 12 students, having finished their Education Department or IB exams, maintain a minimal presence on campus, with exceptions to be discussed below; but the lower grades have ‘post-exam activities’ and, in the IB division, continued classes. Among the most prominent activities at this time of year are musical and dramatic productions.
The four year-end concerts are done without the competitive pressure of the citywide Interschool Music Festival held in March and, some people including me think, produce better music as a result (though the competitive results are also formidable). I attended two of the four.
One highlight was the appearance of the senior mixed choir comprising choristers from our school and our sister-school with the senior orchestra, including the former first violinist, a 12th-grader who had given up his chair to a junior. Together the groups played and sang ‘Wenn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras’ from Brahms’s German Requiem. The performance was dedicated to the memory of two popular members of staff who had died recently. Another was Francis Poulenc’s four little pieces of St Francis of Assisi. Light pleasure came from a number of jauntily done barbershop numbers.
The Drama Committee performed an original murder mystery, with the audience seated as if at a wedding banquet. It was done with great verve and dedication by a cast including many 12th-graders in their valedictory performance, and seems to have fooled most of the detectives in the audience. One might prefer the Drama teacher’s choice of new material and stages, or the music teacher’s more traditional choices, but I think that that is not the main point in school productions.
The main point is to give students a chance to immerse themselves in their art and then to share it with a receptive but critical audience. It is to show that art matters and, as Wallace Stevens said of metaphor, it engages with the ‘primary high noon of being’.