The Hanoi Miracle Choir and Orchestra: When music changes life

Monday, June 06, 2016 - 11:16:08

(VOVworld) - Every Sunday afternoon, the Miracle Bus starts its trip around Hanoi to pick up students, who are residents of several charity houses and social protection centers for orphans and poor children, before delivering them to the Korean International School, where the miracle of music is about to happen.

By early June, summer has officially arrived in Hanoi. The cloudless sky even keeps the heat outside annoyingly unbearable. Yet, inside some art rooms on the second floor of the Korean International School in Hanoi, there is another kind of heat that I am sure will make you stand in awe. That is the heat of motivation from some orphans or children of difficult background, who want to change their lives through music - something even a child from a normal family could not easily do.

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The choir class begins with vocal training to help students improve their singing technique. (Photo: VOV/Dieu Ha)

The choir class begins with vocal training. Around 20 students stand in 3 rows trying to mimic the sounds made by their teacher in order to improve their singing technique. Though those sounds are not familiar to Vietnamese, these children are still trying their best to take a deep breath, and from their stomachs, create high and echoic musical notes. 

The choir class is part of the Miracle Choir and Orchestra in Hanoi, together with violin, drum and guitar classes, which about 80 children have currently joined. Seeing their happiness when learning, it’s hard to imagine all of the difficulties they face in life. Nguyen Thanh Cong, tutor in the drum class, says: “Though they are under-privileged children, they are nothing different compared to a child born and living in a normal environment. They are still very mischievous, naïve and active. My only problem with them is, as they barely have any experience with music, I sometimes feel it’s hard to teach them about music knowledge. The only power other tutors, volunteers and I find to overcome such obstacle are enthusiasm, patience and our love for the students.”

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Under-privileged children have a chance to study music with the support of volunteering teachers and tutors (Photo: Miracle Choir and Orchestra)

Tran Trong Khanh is another teacher in the guitar class. Though he only joined the project 2 months ago, Khanh can’t help but appreciate the motivation from of young students. He says: “Though they are aslo children, they don’t have the same favorable living environment compared to the children I taught before. But these students learn quickly and they are really smart. What we give them here is just some basic knowledge about music and instructions on how to play instruments. It would be ideal if they can continue working with that. But that depends on their passion and ability. I just try my best to partly compensate for their difficulties in life with my teaching and my love.”

Do Hong Trang, Head of Communications for the project and tutors to the violin class, recalls the awkward atmosphere between students and teachers during the first few classes. She says: “Some children started with openness and friendliness. But many others were quite scared and more closed. We have to gradually approach them, make sure of our presence whenever they need help, and continuously talk to them until they become more open to us”.

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The viloin class (Photo: Miracle Choir and Orchestra)

Founded in Hanoi in 2013, the Hanoi Miracle Choir and Orchestra was inspired by El Sistema, a voluntary music education program in Venezuela. The project aims to provide free classical music education to promote human opportunity and the development of impoverished children. Park Sung Min, a Korean and co-founder of the project says these classes were a shared dream of him and his Vietnamese wife when they got married. He says: “Our dream is to help them through music. It’s the first ever project in Vietnam so not many people know about it. At the beginning, we had to go to many orphanages and ask the children if they wanted to join us. But not many of them had seen this before so we had to tell them what the project is about and how good it is. We started with only 15 children and now we have 80. Yeah, it was hard at the beginning but as people can see the children are getting better and we are trustworthy, our project is getting bigger and bigger”.

The Miracle Choir and Orchestra is more than just free music classes. When Park Sung Min and his wife, Trang Trịnh, started the project, they wanted to build a real family – a perfect environment for children to grow up and a kind of life that their students unfortunately do not have. Teachers, tutors and other volunteers aren’t just some strangers standing in front of the whiteboard but have become real brothers, sisters and some close relatives to these children. Nguyen Phuong Thao, a 11-year-old student in the violin class says: “I am learning violin and it is fun. My teacher teaches me to play that instrument and how to read music notes. She even tells me stories. When I started, it was really difficult but now it’s much easier. I can play the song Happy Birthday by myself.”

Nguyen Manh Quan is a 12-year-old student in the drum class. With an ultimate innocence in his eyes, Quan shares his modest dream to become a drums player in a café. He says: “I chose drums before I saw some drummers play on TV. Playing drums is really difficult but my teachers kept teaching me so now I feel it’s easier. I have two teachers, brother Cong and brother Thang, who I really love. They teach me to make great drums sounds and put them together to create a song. Now I can play many songs. I love playing a song called “After all” the best”.

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Teachers, tutors and other volunteers have become real brothers, sisters and some close relatives to these children. In picture were Nguyen Thanh Cong (C) with his students of the drums class. (Photo: Miracle Choir and Orchestra)

Music is recognized as an agent of social development because it transmits solidarity, harmony, and mutual compassion. It also has the ability to unite an entire community, and to express sublime feelings. Via their lessons, the Miracle Choir and Orchestra wants to build in these under-privileged children self-confidence and equip them with skills to overcome difficulties in life such as self-discipline and teamwork. Park Sung Min continues: “Learning music and learning an instrument are similar. In the beginning it’s very hard to learn new instruments or music notes. But the children keep practicing and practicing, and at some point, they perform in public. They can see people love them and thus, gain more confidence. They think: Yes, I did it! That is similar in social life too. Life for poor children is hard. But if they make efforts to learn skills for living, they can do it. They can do similar things in life as they do with music”.

Nguyen Thanh Cong also agrees that there is more to teach these children than just music. He says: “The best thing about this project is children with difficulties having the chance to experience and work with music. It helps them to stay away from the negative things in life. Music also helps them to express themselves and gain confidence for even later when they enter adult life.”

During the last two years, with efforts from both students and teachers, the Hanoi Miracle Choir and Orchestra project has achieved many successes such as featuring on the “Celebrating Vietnamese Tet” show, or being honored in “The Kindness” program, both on Vietnam’s National Television Network. They also performed in front of an audience of 2000 people with Nick Vujic, a famous motivational speaker characterized by the absence of legs and arms. Student Nguyen Hoang Quan recalls his first time performing in public. He says: “I have participated in the project’s public performance and I was quite shaky and nervous at that time. But then I told myself to try my best and not to be afaird and I did it. In the future, I will continue to work hard so as not to disappoint my teachers and do good things for my country”.

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The Hanoi Miracle Choir & Orchestra marked its 2-year development with their very own Sing for Joy Concert at the Hanoi Opera House. (Photo: Miracle Choir and Orchestra Official Facebook Page)

Violin tutor Do Hong Trang proudly talks about all the amazing events that the Miracle Choir and Orchestra have participated in: “There are many events that invited us to perform. We also host our annual solo-concert titled “Sing for Joy”. We tutors and volunteers have to mobilize financial supports and donations ourselves. But we did receive a lot of help, especially from the Korean Cultural Center in Hanoi. There are many people and donors have supported us as well. They bought tickets and came to see our students perform at the Hanoi Opera House”.

In the class, not only children are students. The Hanoi Miracle Choir and Orchestra is in fact a two-way learning project: as the children learn music, teachers also learn from them motivation, determination and braveness. Park Sung Min says: “Before I had never had any experience teaching these children. I just had my ideas about poor or orphan children. But I was wrong. They are just normal children. Actually by doing this project, I learn many things from them. It broke my fixed ideas about poor children.”

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Trhough music, these children can now understand the harmony between different peoples in life. (Photo: Miracle Choir and Orchestra)

Together with the El Sistema movement around the world, the Hanoi Miracle Choir and Orchestra tried to demonstrate that music education has the transformative power to change lives and can serve as a gateway to a better future. By learning music and participating in various activities, these children can now understand the harmony between melodies and lyrics, between vocals and instruments – the same harmony between different peoples in life.  A deep sense of value, of being loved and appreciated, and a trust in group and cooperation, will surely enable children from difficult backgrounds to feel that excellence is in their own hands.

This has been the Sunday Show on the Voice of Vietnam. If you have any comments or suggestions about the program, send your letters to: The English Section, Overseas Service, Radio the Voice of Vietnam, 45 Ba Trieu Street, Hanoi, Vietnam. Our email address is englishsection@vov.org.vn. Or you can log onto our website at: www.vovworld.vn to listen to recorded programs.
And if you want to join hand to build a society of harmony by making donations and giving these children musical instruments, please head to http://www.miraclevietnam.org/#!donation/cowl for more information.
We hope you’ll join us again next time. For now, good-bye!

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