Dr Kirk Ma’s fond memories of studying music at EdUHK

Members of the Educators’ Singers join the EdUHK Alumni Concert at Tsuen Wan Town Hall on 10 March 2023. Dr Kirk Ma is at the centre of the front row.

Once Dr Kirk Ma Yiu-on finished his conducting at the EdUHK Music Alumni Gala Concert on 10 March, his memory flashed back to a time when he was still a music student at Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd). In those days, he attended music lectures, listened to different music genres, sang tenor in various musical ensembles, and learnt how to conduct a choir. As Dr Ma recounted the time he spent exploring the vast world of music more than twenty years ago, he found that it had become an integral part of his life.

Dr Kirk Ma was among the first batch of students of the Bachelor of Education (Primary) programme taking music as their major. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 2003 at the then HKIEd (changed to The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK) in 2015), he completed a master’s degree programme at the institute before moving on to pursue his doctoral degree, specialising in the vocal and linguistic acquisition of boys through distance-learning, at the University of Bristol.

“At HKIEd, my major subjects were music and English. In my music major, I specialised in vocal performance and the conducting art. There were very few male students specialising in those areas during my time. I was often the only male student in the music classes of these subjects,” Dr Ma, now the Deputy Headmaster of St. Paul's College Primary School, said. He added that back in the day, the Department of Cultural and Creative Arts (CCA) – the home of EdUHK’s music and visual arts education today – had not yet been formed. “Although there wasn’t a formal music department like today’s CCA, the institute still offered a very rich curriculum in music taught by many distinguished and dedicated teachers,” he said.


Becoming a student conductor of the University Choir

On top of classroom lectures, Dr Wong spent long hours coaching her students to correct their little idiosyncrasies in singing and conducting. She was always willing to put herself out in order to raise her students’ musical abilities and teach us how to become good singers and conductors.


Dr Paulina Wong was among one of the teachers whose dedication to music inspired and left a life-long impact on Dr Ma. Dr Wong noticed his passion for music shortly after he joined the institute in 1999 as a freshman. She invited him to be a student conductor for the school’s mixed choir for its on-campus performances. “On top of classroom lectures, Dr Wong spent long hours coaching her students to correct their little idiosyncrasies in singing and conducting. She was always willing to put herself out in order to raise her students’ musical abilities and teach us how to become good singers and conductors,” Dr Ma recollected.

Dr Ma’s conducting skills were greatly honed and his affection for music was further nurtured after four years of studying music here. Even after graduation, his fondness for music and the stage did not diminish. “In the first five years of my career, I taught at St. Paul’s Co-educational College Primary school and led its school choir. After that, I joined St. Paul's College Primary School, where I spent a lot of time coaching its school choir. However, my administrative tasks have grown increasingly heavy in recent years, so much so that I have not been able to continue such coaching work,” Dr Ma said.

Coaching primary school choirs has been one way Dr Ma has maintained his enthusiasm for conducting. It also links Dr Ma with his alma mater after graduation. “Dr Paulina Wong invited many international experts and scholars to come to EdUHK to provide different kinds of workshops and master classes that primary and secondary school choirs can join. As a music teacher leading a school choir, I came back to EdUHK pretty frequently to participate in these activities organised by CCA,” he said.


Conductor of Educators’ Singers

Educators’ Singers participate in a performance of sacred music at a local church. Dr Paulina Wong (far left, front row) poses with the ensemble, with Dr Kirk Ma (far right, back row).

While leading school choirs connects Dr Ma with his alma mater, his love for singing bonds him with his fellow alumni. In 2012, he joined the Educators’ Singers, a singing group formed by CCA alumni in 2008, as a tenor singer. Dr Paulina Wong used to lead Educators’ Singers, starting from its establishment. Anticipating that she was going to retire in a few years, Dr Wong encouraged Dr Ma to take up the conductor’s baton of the ensemble. “I succeeded Dr Wong and became one of the leaders and the conductor of Educators’ Singers in 2015,” Dr Ma said. Speaking of Educators’ Singers, he said the ensemble has grown gradually since it was established. “It has around 200 members now, all graduates from various music programmes at EdUHK,” he said.

At EdUHK, Dr Ma has gained not only a good deal of experience in conducting and singing, but also broader knowledge in music and music education, aiding his job-seeking. “When I attended the interview at St. Paul’s Co-educational Primary School, I was asked to lead a rehearsal of the school choir. It came to my mind immediately that I could use rhythm pedagogy l learnt from Miss Lai May-tan to strengthen the primary school boys’ sense of rhythm. The method helped the school boys sing the song well at the rehearsal, which actually doubled as a test for the interview,” Dr Ma said. He added that over the years, he has enjoyed sharing how to use rhythm pedagogy to develop students’ rhythmic ability with junior teachers.

Dr Ma (far left, back row) with members of the SPCPS Senior Choir who performed at St. Paul’s College’s 165th Anniversary Concert in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in November 2016.

Dr Ma (second from right, back row) and members of the SPCPS Senior Choir who performed at the St. Paul’s College Alumni Choir Concert at the Hong Kong City Hall in November 2017.

I am so glad to see that several students of mine have become professional singers and musicians.


Dr Ma’s teachers at EdUHK not only taught him knowledge in music and ignited his passion for music, but also inspired him to fire up a younger generation of music lovers. “When I joined St. Paul's College Primary School fifteen years ago, I found that there were students who demonstrated great singing potential. I initiated setting up solo singing classes to nurture singing techniques in small talented kids. Over the years, these solo singing classes discovered many talented students and transformed them. Some of them continued to pursue music studies in university, receiving opportunities to groom their talent in singing and in music. I am so glad to see that several students of mine have become professional singers and musicians,” said Dr Ma with a broad smile.


Treasure every opportunity to broaden your musical experience

Twenty years on after Dr Ma’s graduation, EdUHK and CCA have changed a lot. CCA is now a department that boasts a professional team of scholars in music and visual arts, and offers a very rich and diversified curriculum in these two disciplines. “I am very proud to see that music has taken root at my alma mater. I’d like to advise my juniors to make good use of university facilities, like the library, to enhance their knowledge, and to treasure every opportunity to broaden their musical experience through singing, conducting, and playing during their school time,” Dr Ma said.

Music evokes fond memories, and keeps such memories fresh, even decades later. To Dr Ma, the excitement of learning music from his beloved teachers and the joy of exploring the world of music during his university studies has become a life-long memory. It is that memory that motivates him to work hard to cultivate a love for music in the younger generation in his present position as a school administrator, and will continue to motivate his future endeavours.

Please click here to read the related story about EdUHK Music Alumni Gala Concert.