An international gathering
As 2013 came to a close, music teachers from across South East Asia gathered in the Thai city of Chiang Mai for an ABRSM conference. Bill Thomson, our Hong Kong and Singapore Development Executive, reports. In December last year I joined more than 100 teachers from Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei, Jakarta, Singapore and Thailand for four inspiring days of discussion, exploration, networking and music making. The reason? An ABRSM conference in the beautiful northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, organised by our Hong Kong CT ABRSM (Certificate of Teaching) alumni organisation and our Thai Representatives, Khun Sira and Khun Boriharn Vattanasiritham.
Learning and sharing
Tim Arnold, ABRSM’s International Operations Director, had also travelled to Thailand to present at the conference and together we were privileged to meet many dedicated teachers from the region. We covered a wide range of topics under the broad headings of music education and internationalism. In particular, Tim led sessions on our revised marking criteria for graded instrumental and singing exams, providing delegates with a clearer and deeper understanding of the way examiners assess and mark ABRSM exams. My own presentations were on aural skills beyond Grade 8 and on Beethoven – the man and his music. With a focus on Barry Cooper’s recent biography – Beethoven: An Extraordinary Life, published by ABRSM – this session included a discussion about the book as well as performances and demonstrations from Hong Kong teachers Cynthia Luff and Madeline Kam. The conference also provided an opportunity for teachers from different countries and backgrounds to work together on common teaching issues, solving problems and sharing ways to approach some of the challenges we all face in our day-to-day work.
At the heart of the conference, of course, was music making, and with this in mind we were delighted to welcome the Lampang High School Band together with their inspiring conductor, Khun Rashane. Lampang is a small city, one hour’s drive south of Chiang Mai and the band of 130 players has represented Thailand internationally in Shanghai and in Seoul. In an interview session their conductor told delegates about the band, their rehearsal procedures, their outlook and their aspirations – they are currently working towards a tour of Germany. Highlights at our conference included a performance of jazz favourite Fly me to the Moon with Singaporean teacher Saedah Alkaff playing the piano, and a very special moment when one young student thanked everyone for listening to his school band. He did this with such polite Thai humility and with impeccable Mandarin – something that was met with spontaneous applause from everyone present.
Creativity and discovery
Apart from the hard work and formal sessions there were plenty of opportunities to get to know other teaching professionals in an atmosphere of creativity and discovery – at a cultural evening featuring spectacular Thai food and dancing in an ancient open air theatre, and during our final conference recital. This concert featured many of the teachers attending the conference as they performed a wonderfully varied range of repertoire: a Chinese song from a Beijing teacher; a collection of classical guitar pieces played by a Chiang Mai teacher; a Taiwanese ballad by the late Teresa Tang; violin solos; a piano trio, with three players on one instrument playing the Rachmaninov Romance; and finally the voices of the combined Hong Kong and Singapore CT ABRSM alumni choirs. It was a fascinating mix of Eastern and Western music with teachers becoming performers and their colleagues forming the audience. There was a tremendous and very real sense of support and solidarity among performers and audience alike. Looking back, it’s clear that the conference demonstrated many of the things that make ABRSM special: promoting music making; encouraging networking; and supporting teaching and learning internationally. For all of us attending there is now one other important thing on our minds - where to hold the next conference!
This article was originally featured in the March 2014 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.
You can find out about courses, events and conferences in your area at www.abrsm.org/events.