Technology, charity sow arts seeds in rural soil

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Fourth grader Wang Xinyao's favorite song is "You Raise Me Up," which she said tells her story of a countryside girl enlightened and empowered by a once out-of-reach arts education.

The 10-year-old girl goes to a local elementary school in Xiong County, part of the Xiongan New Area in northern China's Hebei Province. While already a common course in urban areas, professional arts education still remains a luxury for schools in China's vast countryside, where about 60 million children have no access to quality music and painting classes.

About five months ago, Wang could only sing some off-pitch children songs. Now she can read staff and well render several classic pieces like "Jasmine."

"Singing has made me more confident," she said.

Wang's transformation was made possible by a pilot program launched by charity platform Hefeng Art Foundation and tech giant Tencent.

The two parties brought arts experts from Beijing-based Capital Normal University (CNU) to the Xiongan New Area, where they offered week-long intensive training to 700 local art teachers and live-streamed the classes to teachers in other rural regions. They also helped organize and drill choirs at local schools.

"These trained teachers are like seeds. They will help spread quality arts education to generations of students in rural areas," said Li Feng, founder and honorary chairman of Hefeng Art Foundation.

Li has been dedicated to promoting quality arts education in the countryside for about six years, and they have brought training to as far as Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in west China.

Arts can inspire children, stimulate their imagination and creativity and boost their confidence, said Li Gang, deputy dean of the music college with CNU.

"The surprising thing is, after proper teaching and training, choirs in rural areas can perform on a par with their urban peers," Li observed.

The charity campaign took off in late 2017 when the team partnered with Tencent to leverage its technologies and music and video platforms to maximize the training's coverage. They have produced online classes featuring top arts professionals such as pianist Lang Lang.

The two parties have announced an upgrade in their campaign, planning to use artificial intelligence and smart devices to invite 100 rural schools to log onto an online music classroom.

"Technologies and arts are not parallel lines," said Cheng Wu, a vice president with Tencent. "The development of the internet and technologies can enable wider availability and influence of cultural products."

The achievements of the arts education campaign were on display Friday, where students from local schools in the Xiongan New Area performed chorus, ballet and piano with peers from other areas and big-name stars in downtown Beijing. Wang Xinyao sang her favorite song on stage.

"You raise me up, to more than I can be," the lyrics go. "I would like to be a music teacher someday or a singer if possible," Wang said. 

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