March 7, 2016
Cherry Chen is the Music Education Coordinator at Yew Chung International School of Shanghai’s (YCIS) Hongqiao Campus. With more than 16 years of experience in education, Cherry has been part of hundreds of performances and recitals. Here she discusses how performance and developing a passion for music early on can help children with their confidence in the classroom and beyond.
Where are you from and how did you come to YCIS?
I’m Shanghainese, and I began my career as a teacher in the city after graduation. I joined YCIS in 1999 as a Chinese language teacher, and I also sang and played violin and the erhu, a traditional Chinese string instrument, in the Primary orchestra. Over time, my involvement with the music department allowed me to transition into my current role as the Music Education Coordinator at the Hongqiao Campus, which I love.
Where does your passion for music come from?
I began to learn the erhu at five years old and I completed a music degree in college. After graduating, I began my career in music education at a Primary school, where I taught music lesson and conducted the Chinese instrument orchestra for two years.
Tell us about your role as the Music Education Coordinator at YCIS?
I’m responsible for the Early Childhood and Primary music education at the YCIS-Hongqiao Campus. I also organize around eight annual events on campus or in the Shanghai community where we showcase the students’ musical progress to their parents and families. In addition, I also enjoy teaching one class of Chinese as a second language to year three students.
Could you describe the music programme for students in Primary?
We have a really dynamic, fun, and comprehensive programme for Primary! All students in Years 1-3 participate in our unique violin programme which helps them build a foundation in, and appreciation for, music by studying the instrument. All Primary students also take nearly one hour of music lessons each week where they are taught the basics of a variety of instruments, genres, and arrangements. For our older students, there are opportunities to participate in the orchestra and the choir, enabling them to take part in recitals that feature a mix of musical pieces ranging from classical to contemporary, and Western and Chinese. It’s amazing to watch the students as they develop both their skills and love of music! I also have to mention that music starts early at YCIS -- in Kindergarten, music is incorporated into the students’ learning and we introduce different instruments to the little ones!
How does learning the violin benefit students?
I get asked this question a lot! When learning to play any instrument, the learning process directly influences the functional development of the student. It enhances their memory skills, stimulates their imagination and creativity, and advances their personal development. Learning to play a new instrument also requires patience, discipline, and self-control. In the classroom, students have to focus and listen to the teacher, while performing on stage helps them develop self-control and confidence.
Why do you think music education is important for all students?
First and foremost, music is a global language, so it transcends cultures and brings people together. Second, music helps children develop important social skills and self-awareness, which is useful in all areas of life. Also, as they learn to perform, it’s about more than just learning to sing or play instruments because developing the teamwork skills that comes with being part of any ensemble is also really valuable. Students in the orchestra must listen and work together to harmonize and stay in tune, and it’s wonderful to watch the students as they grow as a group!
Do you have any favourite stories or memories to share about our students and the music programme?
Oh, I have so many special memories from our student performances! Students practice for several months for each concert, so it is the perfect opportunity for us to see how far they have progressed. Last year’s Christmas concert, “The First Christmas Story”, was one of my favorites because it was the first time we combined the orchestra with the choir and a Nativity play (performed by our Bible Club group).
Are students excited when they play outside of school?
Yes, the children are always very excited to perform, and you can see it when you look at their faces on stage. It’s rewarding to see them doing their best in front of their family and friends. Playing outside of campus requires careful logistical planning, but we have an extremely talented team that makes everything possible!
How can music be incorporated into more academic lessons?
I always try to incorporate Chinese folk songs into my lessons. Singing can help students recite complex Chinese poems, and parents tell me how amazed they are when their child sings them these pieces! I also aim to make the classes fun by using popular songs at times such as seasonal festivals for the students’ Chinese cultural studies. My only rule is not to speak English during class! However, the beauty of music is that it can be incorporated into nearly every subject. Beyond music and Chinese classes, students at YCIS integrate music and performance into their learning to showcase what they know in a specific subject.
Could you please tell us about teaching Chinese at YCIS, how does it work?
Teaching Chinese at YCIS has been a journey of achievement for me. As Chinese teachers, we have been part of writing the curriculum and publishing our own teaching materials. I’m proud when I see students who arrive with no prior knowledge of Chinese and after just a few years develop genuine fluency.
Any tips for parents who want their children to learn about music?
It’s important for parents to be fully supportive of students in the process of learning a new instrument. I also recommend allowing children to experiment with as many instruments as they want. They may start with one and after a few months want to move on to the next instrument – I say, let them keep trying!
What instruments do you play and what type of music is your favourite to play?
I play the erhu, violin, and piano, but erhu is definitely my favourite. It’s quite an emotional instrument. I’m not sure my son thinks the same though; he’s three years old and at the moment he prefers something with more of a jolly sound!