Arts enhancement+ through musical production
Jane Cheung-Yung Wai Yee
Department of Cultural and Creative Arts
Hong Kong Institute of Education
Hong Kong SAR
This paper describes how producing a musical has given the Music and English
elective students at the Hong Kong Institute of Education not only arts enhancement,
it has also facilitated their language skills and generic skills through the learning
process. Furthermore, the production has provided an effective avenue for
departments within the Institute to collaborate, for students of different year groups
and subjects to interact with each other and with the primary and secondary school
children, as well as for staff and students to work with professional artists and
industry for a common goal. Some issues are identified, which include designing
efficient approach to integrate the arts, ways of maximising students’ creativity, and
finding cost effective strategies to involve the artists and industry.
At the turn of the 21st Century, the Hong Kong Government has started to introduce an
education reform, which aims to prepare well-rounded, knowledgeable, resourceful
and creative citizens, who should possess global vision and concern for local
community needs. Curriculum changes were introduced, emphasizing an all-rounded
education to develop children’s ethics, intellect, physique, social skills and aesthetics.
Priority is given to students’ joyful learning, effective communication, development
of creativity and sense of commitment (EC, 2000).
In order to achieve the above aims, some policies and strategies are introduced in the
primary and secondary schools. These include grouping all the subjects into eight Key
Learning Areas (KLAs), where Music and Visual Arts belong to the Arts Education
KLA, together with Dance, Drama and Media Arts. Integrative learning across the arts
and interdisciplinary learning of other Key Learning Areas through the arts are
encouraged to reduce compartmentalizing the subjects, to enhance curriculum
coherence and broaden students’ perspectives. The development of generic skills,
such as creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking,
self-management, study skills, numeracy and IT skill is stressed. Life-long and life-
wide learning are promoted, emphasizing that learning takes place both in formal and
informal hours (CDC, 2003).
The use of Mother-tongue as the Medium of Instruction (MOI) was thought to be
most effective to facilitate student learning, hence about 90% secondary schools were
assigned to use Chinese as MOI. This policy has created problems bridging over from
junior secondary to senior secondary and post-secondary levels, where English is
generally used as the MOI. The policy has resulted in a general decline in English
standards in recent years, and in order to raise students’ English standards, more
opportunities are created to expose students to practice English.
The Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) amalgamated five institutions in
1994: three Colleges of Education, i.e. Northcote Colleges of Education, Grantham
Colleges of Education and Robert Black Colleges of Education; the Institute of
Language in Education and the Hong Kong Technical Teachers' College to form an
institute of education. It consists of three Faculties and a Language Centre to provide
teacher education in a range of subjects from the Early Childhood, Primary to
Secondary levels. In early 2008, the Music Division of the Creative Arts and Physical
Education Department (now renamed the Cultural and Creative Arts Department)
jointly produced a musical Aladdin with the English Department and the Centre for
Language in Education. The main aims were to i) enhance Music and English
students’ experience in the arts: dance, drama, music and stage management; ii) raise
the standard of spoken English; iii) improve singing skills; iv) develop generic skills
and broaden life experience and v) explore the interdisciplinary approach of the arts.
The one-hour production was an adapted version of Walt Disney’s Aladdin. The main
casts were chosen from HKIEd’s students with a few characters chosen from the
nearby secondary and primary schools and a staff from the English Department. Two
production directors were staff from the English Department while the music director
was a Music staff. Other members of the production team included an artistic
designer, a choreographer, a stage manager, a costume designer and a graphic artist,
who were the English Teaching Assistants and professional artists. For five months
from October 2007, the casts went through very disciplined rehearsals in acting,
dancing, learning and memorizing the songs, which they found quite difficult, and
putting everything together from scene to scene until the musical production became a
coherent whole. One of the co-directors gave individual and group coaching to those
who needed help with their spoken English. They rehearsed twice a week until
February 2008, when they finally produced five performances for the general public,
including staff, students, parents and guests.
Arts and English Enhancement
Ten Music and English elective students were interviewed three times: at the
beginning, interim and final stages to investigate any changes of attitude and what
they have learned from the production. The Music and artistic directors were also
interviewed to triangulate results. Both the staff and students have found the learning
process beneficial in several aspects. The students eventually mastered their English
and spoke with good flow and confidence in front of an audience.
“The biggest progress I’ve ever made is speaking English fluently.
For every sentence we’ve to speak so many times using the correct
intonation and stress. We’ve learned where the focus is and how
different it is from speaking Cantonese.” (Princess Jasmine)
“I’ve made more friends, I have confidence to speak in English, to
dance and sing.” (a reporter)
Although the music students have vocal classes and choir experience, they have found
great improvement and enjoyment in singing through this integrated arts approach.
Some music students pointed out the similarities and differences between singing
classical songs and singing in a musical, and they were able to apply relevant skills to
sing in the production. Although some dancers felt that they were weak in dancing,
their gestures and body coordination were much improved after months of regular
rehearsals. When performing, they realised that they have to consider the cast, the
story, the mood and the context in order to produce the best dramatic effects. The
integrated approach has enhanced their confidence in singing, acting, dancing, as well
as expressing their feelings and emotion.
“At first I wanted to sing in the musical, as this is my strength.
But I was asked to dance and I can do it. I practiced hard, and it has
strengthened my ability.” (a dancer)
“Among the arts, the most unforgettable experience is acting,
because I didn’t think I could actually do it…now I can feel the close
relationship between music and drama.” (Aladdin)
Developing generic skills
Apart from enhancing the artistic skills, the students found that the musical
production has also helped to develop their generic skills such as communication,
critical response, collaboration, time-management, problem solving and self-esteem.
The casts consisted of students from the English and Music departments, some pupils
from a primary school, a few English speaking pupils from an international school,
and a few students from mainland China studying in Hong Kong. At first they found
difficulties to communicate with one another, especially when one of the co-directors
was very strict and hard to communicate with. Gradually they have gained more
interpersonal skills and managed to employ flexible ways to communicate with the
directors and the other casts. They have developed critical response to appraise each
other and their self-esteem was raised when they saw their performance improved.
The rehearsal process has helped them to understand and appreciate each other more
and they were willing to collaborate with one another more readily. The students have
broadened their perspectives through experiencing various art forms. They have
shown great excitement with a sense of achievement and satisfaction after the final
Students participated in the musical have reflected how much they have enjoyed and
found the musical experience useful. One emphasized that this valuable experience
could not be achieved through formal music lectures, as they have learned several
artistic skills, English language and generic skills through a lengthy period of time.
Some found they were empowered with improved communication skills and self-
confidence, which they regarded as important life skills. Some were stimulated and
have started writing their own musical for new production. The findings echo those
reported earlier from the Arts-in-education programme (2000-2003), where secondary
schools teamed as pilot and partner schools to produce their school-based musicals
through close collaboration with the artists (Cheung, 2005). The students
demonstrated great interest with enhanced skills and appreciation of different arts
experience. They had increased communication among their peers, better bonding,
and undergone peak experience at the end of the performance.
Networking through musical production
Musical production is not only an integration of various art forms such as music,
drama, dance, and language arts, it is also a production through active participation of
many casts and parties. The production team includes the main and minor casts,
dancers, chorus, artistic and music directors, stage manager, choreographer, set and
costume designers, artistic designer, makeup team and photographer. It has networked
staff from the Music and English departments, students across the first to the fourth
year of both Music and English subjects, professional artists and industry to
collaborate closely in order to produce the musical successfully. This resonates
findings from previous study about teacher and artist collaboration, that school music
teachers, whose strengths are in music, education theories and child psychology but
lack an in-depth knowledge of a range of arts, and performing artists such as dancers
and actors, whose strengths are their artistic skills and charisma but lack the
experience to deal with different age groups, could bring about successful and
effective student learning through meaningful partnership (Cheung, 2008).
Musical is a good platform to showcase different forms of art, but unfortunately the
Institute has only Music and Visual Arts subject groups. Although there are drama
experts in the Department of Languages, there also needs expert advice from
professional dancers in the community. A lot of the casts were first year students, who
knew very few students when they first joined the institute. The production has
provided an excellent opportunity for them to integrate with the upper forms and
children from local schools, so that they could understand more about the real
teaching situation. It has also provided a good chance for staff’s professional
development, either to learn about other performing arts or the language art. Fund
raising to stage a production would be an issue, which needs careful planning,
networking, organisation and time investment.
Challenges in musical production
Although much strength is found in the musical production, many challenges also
emerge. It is not easy to design appropriate strategies to integrate the arts effectively
and efficiently. While some students found learning the arts separately more suitable,
others found it more appropriate to learn singing, dancing and acting of the songs one
after another. Some students have found memorizing the lyrics rather difficult while
some have found singing with dancing or singing with acting hard to coordinate.
Since there are only Music and Visual Arts subjects in the Department, one has to rely
on professional dance expert when producing a musical. Furthermore, communication
between the director and the casts can be difficult if the director is not sensitive to the
need and response of the students.
Although producing a musical like Aladdin is rewarding, there is still room to develop
students’ creativity since the songs, lyrics, story plot and dance were already
composed or set. Students mainly reproduced the musical and there was limited room
to nurture their creativity. It would be more beneficial for students to create and
produce their own musical, write their own storyline, compose their songs and lyrics,
and choreograph their dances to maximize creativity. Unlike staging a concert
performance, a musical involves appropriate facilities and sophisticated equipment,
wider network to oversee the front and backstage, and it is also costly to obtain the
right to reproduce a musical like Aladdin. The production team has to stage five
performances with full turnout rate in order to balance the expenses. Finding
sponsorship and adequate subsidy to fund the musical and finding cost effective
strategies to involve professional artists and industry are among the many challenges
when producing a musical.
The way forward
Compare students’ performances at the beginning and final stages, some of them were
transformed into livelier, versatile and more confident characters. Despite the
substantial cost and effort, the positive feedback have reinforced that musical
production is effective to enhance not only artistic, but language and life skills in the
tertiary level. It is worth examining more creative pedagogies to implement arts
integration, so that students’ creative and artistic potentials can be maximized.
Recreating a well-known musical is appropriate for students to experience multiple
arts to arouse interest and attain a sense of achieve. They would develop more
confidence to direct musicals when they become teachers in schools. To be able to
write script and produce their own musicals should be the final goal.
The musical production has raised some questions of concern:-
How to maximize students’ creativity through participating in a musical production?
How to effectively integrate the arts with other Key Learning Areas in a musical
How do we network stakeholders, sponsors and parties involved to achieve mutual
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