An advocate of music education – Professor Grace Chou Ai-ling
“I hope students will see music classes not as another exam to pass or credits to earn but rather as a means to increase their health and happiness in life,” says Prof Grace Chou Ai-ling, Head of the Wong Bing Lai Music and Performing Arts Unit and Associate Professor of Teaching in the Department of History.
Many staff members and students know Prof Chou is a pianist and an advocate of music education. Her love of music, however, did not begin to blossom until she reached her teenage years. “My parents, who believe that music is a core part of a person’s development, arranged piano lessons for me when I was four. But I wasn’t keen on practicing until I was about ten, when music became a safe harbour for me to hide from daily worries and a channel for me to express my feelings,” she recalls.
In high school, she continued to play the piano and the flute and to sing in choirs. She achieved second place in the national finals of the Canadian Music Competition and the silver medal for grade ten piano performance at the Toronto Conservatory of Music. At university, she initially chose to major in music, hoping to combine a pursuit of music with broader liberal arts learning. However, she found the structured requirements of university music training too restrictive, sapping instead of encouraging her passion and preventing her from pursuing other interests: “I didn’t want my music to become clouded with all the problems associated with making it a career. Music has a very special place in my life and I wanted it to stay special.”
After trying various other subjects, from philosophy to psychology to political science, Prof Chou changed her major to history, a discipline seemingly unrelated to music. “History and music may seem to be very different fields, but actually both aim to understand the fundamental nature of human life and both express the central experiences of humankind,” Prof Chou explains. Since then, Prof Chou has been devoted to the history of culture and education, with a special interest in how formal learning shapes our identities and life experiences.
Her research interests in education have inspired her devotion to expanding Lingnan’s liberal arts curriculum. Since her appointment as Music Coordinator in 2014, she has been seeking to maximise the benefit of music education for all students, regardless of their musical background. She has experimented with how students’ concert experiences may be enhanced by providing targeted information about the political and social background of the music. She also plans to further develop creativity workshops, giving students the opportunity to experience first-hand how playing music can stimulate their creativity in non-musical areas. As Prof Chou explains, “I want all students to see how music can help them have more love, more compassion, more understanding, and more confidence. Everyone can make music and everyone can benefit from music.”
Prof Chou plans to build upon Lingnan’s existing Artist-in-Residence and Writer-in-Residence programmes by launching a Musician-in-Residence programme in 2018-19. A German jazz drummer will come to campus to facilitate a new creative instrumental ensemble course, and an American singer will host vocal workshops and provide guidance to the University Choir. Not only will these professional musicians help students to develop their musical talents, but they will also serve as models for how to connect music to life and to other art forms. “Liberal arts education is about the cross-fertilisation of different fields and disciplines,” says Prof Chou. “The more courses and activities we offer that connect music to politics, literature to drama, music to film, and so on, the more we can enable students to see music and the creative arts as a means to finding their own voices in the world."