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Selected Development Project
Project Title

The Nature of Creativity in Cantonese Opera: Perceptions of Artists, Connoisseurs and Beginners and their Interaction

Principal Investigator Professor LEUNG Bo Wah
Area of Research Project
Creative Arts and Culture Development
(Humanities and Creative Arts)
Project Period
From 01/2015 To 06/2017
  1. To examine and identify musical creativity in selected repertoires of Cantonese opera performed by eminent artists in the 20th century;
  2. To investigate and identify the socio-cultural factors affecting the changes in perception of artistic creativity; and
  3. To investigate the possible different perceptions and expectations among professional Cantonese opera artists, connoisseurs and beginners regarding artistic creativity in Cantonese opera
Methods Used
The study is undertaken in three phases. Phase 1 involves a musical analysis of selected audio-video recordings by different artists with a focus of similarity and differences in personal interpretation. Through an ethnographic study at two local Cantonese opera institutions, Phase 2 aims to investigate how the socio-cultural contexts in Hong Kong affect the development of Cantonese opera. Through observation of classes and interviews with stakeholders, an updated understanding can be obtained. Phase 3 aims to solicit the perspectives of current practicing artists, connoisseurs and beginners on their views of creativity in Cantonese opera. A questionnaire survey on artists (including actors, actresses, professional students and musicians), members of fans club, and university students who have undertaken a course on appreciation of Cantonese opera.
Summary of Findings

The project will be officially completed in June 2017. Preliminary findings include:

  • Creative personal styles of eminent masters are developed due to a strong intention for success of artists, keen competition among artists, and expectation from audiences.
  • Some eminent artists learnt from their master with personal development according their personal characteristics.
  • Since mid-20th century, the style of Yam Kim-fai and Pak Suet-sin has been dominated the field while other schools including Ma Si-jang and San Ma Si-jang have vanished. Imitation of Yam and Pak has been commonly found with the facilitation of modern technology including audio recordings. However, accurate imitation seems to be the ultimate goal of many artists since the audience are satisfactory, leading to satisfactory level of income.
  • Development of personal style and creativity in Cantonese opera may comprise three developmental stages:
    • Inheritance: Learners receive, accept and imitate holistic artistry of their master without preservation;
    • Development: Awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses of both self and master, and start to modify master’s style and approaches;
    • Proposition of personal style: Exposition of personal style with new and appropriate artistry, which are recognized by the field and the audience.

This study may impact on three aspects. Creativity and development of personal style in Cantonese opera have rarely been addressed and studied. Through analysis of audio recordings of selected grate masters, as well as investigation of the perspectives of artists, patrons and beginning, the findings will reveal the particular characteristics and nature of creativity in Cantonese opera. In addition, the study will investigate how and why the conceptions of creativity of both artists and patrons have changed. The findings will enrich the current understanding of Chinese perceptions of creativity in Cantonese opera in relation to socio-cultural context and fill the gap in the current creativity literature in which Western perspectives are dominating.

Second, the findings will serve as useful references for professional training and development of current and future artists. The analysis of selected repertoires will inspire both teachers and learners in professional training institutions to develop their personal artistic creativity. As a result, practicing artists may reconsider developing their personal style and re-value creativity in order to help contributing to the continuous development of the genre which has been criticized as “outdated”. It is also timely to contribute to the first and only bachelor degree programme for training Cantonese opera artists, founded in Hong Kong in 2013.

Third, nurturing the new generation to learn and appreciate the genre is another important issue for sustainability. The findings of the study will shed light on tertiary education and professional training relating to the notion of artistic creativity, so that new generations can develop a more comprehensive view and positive perception of artistic creativity in Cantonese opera. Their changing views would be able to influence the artists towards a direction in which artistic creativity is a core value in performances, and inform the training programmes of professional artists in which ways future artists should be nurtured to become creative. Young artists of the genre will be hopefully fostered with unique artistic styles, which may further promote the art form locally and internationally.
Selected Output

Leung, B. W. (2015). Creativity in Cantonese Operatic Singing in Hong Kong since Mid-20th Century. Paper presented in the 43rd World Conference of International Council for Traditional Music, July 2015, Astana, Kazakhstan.

Leung, B. W. (2016). Conception of creativity as personal style in Hong Kong Cantonese Opera. Paper will be presented in the 32nd World Conference of International Society for Music Education, July 2016, Glasgow, UK.
Biography of Principal Investigator

Professor Leung Bo-Wah is currently Professor and Head of the Department of Cultural and Creative Arts, and Associate Dean (Quality Assurance & Enhancement) of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. He is award winning professor of music for his research in incorporating Cantonese opera into formal music curriculum. He received the prestigious Musical Rights Award from the International Music Council in 2011 as well as the Knowledge Transfer Award from the HKIEd in 2012 for his leadership in a research project entitled “Collaborative Project on Teaching Cantonese Opera in Primary and Secondary Schools”. During his tenure in HKIEd, Professor Leung has developed a teaching kit, Teaching Package on Creative Music Making in Schools, and a series of music textbooks for the general use of all schools in Hong Kong.

Professor Leung has published different research papers in leading journals and edited books including the International Journal of Music Education, Research Studies in Music Education, Music Education Research, Pedagogy, Culture and Society, and the Oxford Handbook of Music Education. His Chinese book, Teaching Creative Music Making: New trend for the new century (Excellence Pub., 2005), is Hong Kong’s first publication of creativity in music teaching and learning. A revised version of this book has been published in Beijing tackling the music curriculum reform of mainland China (People’s Music Publisher, 2014). His edited book, Creative Arts in Education and Culture: Perspectives from Greater China (Springer, 2013) features the development of creative arts in the transforming region influencing the globe.

Other than his professional practice with HKIEd, Professor Leung is co-chair of the Research Commission of ISME and Board Member of Asia-Pacific Symposium for Music Education Research (APSMER), Adjunct Professor of Music at the Northeast Normal University, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, and Guangzhou University, China, and co-editor of the eminent International Journal of Music Education and Asia-Pacific Journal for Arts Education, and Subject Specialist (Education and Performing Arts) of the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic & Vocational Qualifications. Professor Leung served as a Board Member of the International Society for Music Education (ISME), the Chair of the Music in School and Teacher Education Commission (MISTEC) of ISME, and the founding President of the Hong Kong Association for Music Educators (HAME).

Professor Leung received two General Research Funds from the Research Grant Council in 2011 and 2014, and a QEF grant in 2009. He received his BA in music and PGDE from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (1987 & 1991), MA in music education from Hong Kong Baptist University (1995) and PhD from the University of New South Wales (2002).
Funding Source

General Research Fund