Over the past 40 years, Music Office has nurtured generations of musicians and music lovers. To commemorate this moment, Music Office has invited some outstanding alumni and former Music Administrators to share their precious moments at Music Office.
Elizabeth Wong, JP (Former Music Administrator of the Music Office)
|Elizabeth Wong took over from Gordon Siu and became the second Music Administrator of the Music Office in 1979. She witnessed the ample support given to young people from the Government of the time. “The Government prescribed two major targets for us: first, to nurture our next generation of musicians and to provide Western and Chinese instrumental training; second, to build up an audience, for music needs an audience to appreciate. More importantly, we were to pave the way for young musicians. How could they survive in a society without an audience? Audience was crucial.”
The then Hong Kong Governor Sir Murray MacLehose paid particular attention to the city’s cultural and social development. “Previous Governors did not attach much importance to music, but Sir MacLehose was different. He loved music, and he was also quite popular among youngsters. He was a frequent concertgoer and often received applause from young audience as a sign of welcome.” Mrs Wong also recalled an interesting conversation with the Governor. “My immediate supervisor at the time was the Commissioner for Recreation and Culture. One day, the Governor bypassed my supervisor and called me directly. I took the call as a joke from my supervisor, and the Governor politely confirmed, ‘I am your Governor!’” The Governor knew that a famous musician would be en route via Hong Kong, so he called Mrs Wong directly and asked her to organise a masterclass out of it. It was by this chance that Mrs Wong got acquainted with violinist Isaac Stern.
To achieve the two major targets, the Music Office began to organise instrumental training classes to nurture performers and to promote music to the public through the “Music for the Millions” concerts. During Mrs Wong’s tenure, one of her strategies was to showcase the talents of Hong Kong musicians around the world. “It’s not just to say how good our students are, but to let the audience hear and see how good they are. Music is a universal language. The best way to understand music is to bring it with you to the world.” Stern later set up a music institute in Cyprus. Through different channels, the Music Office provided subsidies for young people in Hong Kong to receive coaching from great masters in Cyprus and to perform along the way. Some trainees even went to London for exchange activities. That was how the local music talent started their overseas exchanges.
“Hong Kong musicians often had an edge in overseas performances.” Mrs Wong recalled that Chinese music was always on the programme when their trainees went on overseas concert tours, and Chinese music was popular in many parts of the world. “The audience was very passionate about and deeply impressed by the excellent performance of both Chinese and Western music staged by Hong Kong young musicians. There were repeated requests for encores, keeping us from leaving.” Such exchanges not only enabled musicians to make friends with one another, but also introduced Hong Kong’s Chinese and Western music to overseas audiences.
Having chaired many meetings on strategy for music development in Hong Kong, Mrs Wong’s experience was unparalleled in the Government at that time. “During the days when I was in the Music Office, I certainly had meetings with Administrative Officers of different departments and got in touch with a lot of musicians. Their backgrounds were so diverse, say Thomas Wang was from Shanghai and Tong Leung-tak was from Beijing. They all spoke different dialects.” However, according to Mrs Wong, exchanges were always smooth despite the fact that they spoke different dialects. “Chinese music experts speaking Shanghainese and Putonghua met with English-speaking officials, working together in the Government.” The discussions, with Mrs Wong’s endorsement, became official minutes written in English, and are now archived in the Government Records Service.
Mrs Wong witnessed the early music development in Hong Kong. Being an Administrative Officer mainly responsible for administrative work did not preclude her love for music. As an outstanding pianist, she was a frequent award winner during her earlier years. “Music lovers easily radiate their passion for music. After all, music is an art of communication,” Mrs Wong said.