The sound of music

Luo Chen, Min Zuntao, Peng Zhaozhi & Peng Peigen

NANCHANG (Xinhua) – As the bell rang, students from Yantian Primary School ran out of the classroom with their melodicas, rushing into the music classroom next door.

Yang Hao, the only music teacher of the village school in east China’s Jiangxi Province, then guided the students to review the tunes from the previous class and helped them correct their fingering one by one.

Over the years, students from the school – many are left-behind children whose parents work outside the village – have set up their own melodica band and led a more colourful life thanks to Yang’s guidance.

Yang’s music course has been the favourite of the students in the school located in the remote mountainous Wanzai County.

Yang, 30, still remembers the first day when he came to the school – it was nearly a two-hour drive from the county town to the village, along a long and winding mountain highway.

In 2017, he chose to be a rural teacher after graduating with a degree in music, and then was assigned to the school. At that time, there were over 100 students and only nine teachers in the school, with no one specifically assigned to teach music, physical exercise or art classes.

ABOVE & BELOW: Li Jiating (C) plays a new melody for her mother as the band’s instructor Yang Hao (L) pays a home visit in Wanzai County in China; and Yang, who majored in saxophone at college, picked the melodica as the instrument for his students to learn music. PHOTOS: XINHUA

With Yang’s endeavour and patience, the children gradually grasped the basics of music and began to enjoy playing the melodica
An aerial view of Yantian Primary School

To fill the need for music education, Yang started thinking about an appropriate way to teach his students.

After comparing several musical instruments, Yang, who majored in saxophone at college, chose the melodica as the instrument for his students to learn music.

“The melodica is easier for primary school students, and is affordable. An ordinary melodica costs just over CNY80 (about USD11.65),” he said.

Yang’s idea was supported by the school’s headmaster Luo Xinping. When the autumn semester of 2018 started, a melodica band consisting of 28 students was founded in Yantian Primary School.

It was not easy to start a new course in such a village school.

These 28 students had barely received any formal music education before, thus Yang had to begin with the very basics.

Moreover, some of the parents did not support the idea, thinking that learning the melodica would affect their children’s grades.

“When we first started learning the melodica there were many things I didn’t understand, so I asked Mr Yang. He explained them for me one by one,” recalled Li Jiating, a fifth-grader at the school.

With Yang’s endeavour and patience, the children gradually grasped the basics of music and began to enjoy playing the melodica.

“Before I learned to play the melodica, I always watched TV, helped with the housework and played with my friends outside after finishing my homework,” Li said. “But now, I practise the melodica. Every time I finish a tune, I feel a sense of achievement.”

At the school, most of the students are left-behind children raised by their grandparents. Yang found that many of them had no special hobby, and some of them were even addicted to playing mobile games. However, with the introduction of the melodica, many students saw their lives transformed.

Last year, 16 students from the melodica band took part in a county-wide contest on behalf of the town. For the contest, Yang had taught them a new tune and led them in practicing it for several months.

For the children, this was a rare chance to leave the mountains and experience the outside world. Even though they were nervous before taking the stage, their performance still won warm applause from the audience in the hall.

“With the success of the performance, those parents who hadn’t supported us changed their mind, and many students that hadn’t studied the melodica started asking to join,” Yang said.

Taking this opportunity, Yang and Luo decided to promote the teaching of the melodica in the school and more and more students started playing the instrument.

Nowadays, the sound of melodica can often be heard around the village.

“This is a good start for our school’s art education,” Luo said. “We want to recruit art teachers to enrich our art education so that the children in our village have more opportunities and platforms to realise their dreams.”