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June 28, 2022

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The choir that is transforming lives of ‘left-behind’ children

“Under the moonlight, in silence, I started to miss you, mom.” A soft, crystal-clear choir singing wafts by the breeze in the lush mountains of east China’s Jiangxi Province, narrating the deep thoughts of young minds.

The Little Stream Choir was established at a primary school in the remote Dongcun Township, with the nearest county seat about 30 kilometers away. Of the school’s 282 students, 215 are “left-behind” children whose parents work hundreds of miles away in the coastal regions and can only come back once or twice a year.

Dongcun, meaning “Cave Village,” is surrounded by green hills and natural caves, with clear streams flowing out of the caves to nourish the paddy fields. That is also how the choir got its name.

“We hope that the children, like a rushing stream, will flow along the mountains in their hometown to the big rivers and seas outside,” said Zhong Linshan, head of the choral team.

A hard-won try

“Mom, when will you come back?” In the dormitory, sixth-grader Yan Jiaxin is on a video call with her mother. Having joined the choir in Grade 2, the once shy child has grown into a confident, sunny girl, just like her fellow choristers.

But the road to starting the choir was not even.

Until 2017, there were no full-time music or art teachers in the school. The piano provided by the local education department was put in the corner, lying idle.

In May 2017, a pair-up project was inked between the school and the art school of Xinyu University, with the latter sending student volunteers twice a week to give music, fine art and handiwork lessons.

But that endeavor was not quite accepted among parents, who blamed the after-class courses for taking time away from homework and academic classes. But Huang Hongbo, the school’s principal, insisted on opening the courses.

“Entering college or getting a job is just one aspect of life. Yet the pursuit of beauty and yearning for happiness are lifelong,” said Huang, who had to commute twice a week between the school and the city center to shuttle the volunteers.

Four months later, the children welcomed Zhong, their first full-time music teacher.

“Desolate” was Zhong’s first impression of the school.

“I specially bought a car to commute, but it was like there was no end to the muddy road,” Zhong, then 25, recalled.

After graduating from the music school of Guangxi Minzu University, the young woman had a lot more to tackle.

For example, children in the rural school had little knowledge about music, and she had to teach them from the very beginning, “Do-Re-Mi.” The tedious, monotonous voice training also drove many kids away.

“I was quite persistent and passionate when I came here and all I wanted was to make them stay,” recalled Zhong.

The new teacher figured out several tricks to keep the children.

“I tried hard to make the training fun, drafted a seemingly formal contract with each student, and also prepared some gifts to reward their hard work,” she said.

Huang, on the other hand, persuaded the parents to accept the choir.

Their combined efforts bore fruit. The choir is getting more professional and even performed at the New Year music gala of Xinyu City in 2018.

The children, too, have taken on a new look.

“They are more confident, brave and have made new friends. And by performing on bigger stages, they’ve broadened their horizons and are envisioning a beautiful future for life,” said Huang. “Moreover, they’ve become more independent and cooperative.”

“Music consoles their hearts and helps them express their deep emotions,” Zhong said. “I myself also harvested love from them and the chorus class is the moment I’m most looking forward to every day.”


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