Vancouver Academy of Music helping to launch new school in Hong Kong

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      The Vancouver Academy of Music is using its educational expertise to help transform a Hong Kong heritage landmark into a training ground for musicians.

      A team of philanthropists, architects, and music educators are behind the project, which will see the historic Haw Par Mansion become an all-ages music academy.

      Vancouver Academy of Music is playing an advisory role by providing guidance on development of the new school’s curriculum, business model, and interior layout.

      “It’s a chance for us to really reflect on the programs that have been thriving here for 44 years and how do they translate across the ocean into a different culture, into a different learning environment,” executive director Joseph Elworthy told the Straight.

      The project is also expected to open the door to exchanges of students and faculty between the two music academies.

      Haw Par Mansion, now government-owned, was built in 1935 by the Aw family, who founded the famous Tiger Balm ointment brand. Perched on a hillside in Hong Kong, the design of the British colonial-era building blends Chinese and Western architectural styles.

      Hong Kong philanthropist Sally Aw, whose family built Haw Par Mansion, is spearheading the project through her Aw Boon Haw Foundation. Other partners in the project include Vancouver’s Bing Thom Architects, B.C. philanthropist Tom Chan, the Canadian Royal Conservatory of Music, and the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra.

      Elworthy said he was initially approached in late 2011 about taking part in the project by Bing Thom, whose firm is leading the architectural work.

      “I can’t adequately describe the sort of sparks that were flying in that initial meeting where we were absolutely on the same page,” Elworthy said.

      The $22-million plan to repurpose Haw Par Mansion is part of a heritage-conservation program launched by the Hong Kong government to restore historic buildings and readapt them to provide a social benefit.

      Elworthy said work is underway to develop an educational model at the new academy based on the Vancouver Academy of Music’s curriculum, including training approaches such as the Suzuki method. He said the new academy, which will teach Chinese and Western music, will also draw on the Royal Conservatory of Music’s exam system.

      As part of the project—officially known as the Haw Par Music Farm proposal—a temporary offsite school is to open in early 2014. The work repurposing the mansion is expected to be completed in 2017.