Nov 2019 South China Morning Post
Keeping the violin firm between her left shoulder and jaw, Jesse So Ka-po slides the bow smoothly along the strings to produce an elegant, high-pitched melody of the popular Canto-pop song Proud of You. It is no small feat for someone born with hearing loss. The 13-year-old started learning to play the violin at six, after cochlear implant surgery to improve the hearing in her left ear. She is deaf in her right ear. Jesse, who has passed Grade 7 in violin, became interested in music from watching her older brother, now 16, play the trombone. She loves Ludwig van Beethoven’s music most, and relates to the German composer and pianist who was born in 1770, became deaf as an adult, and continued composing music. “We have somewhat similar experiences,” she says. “But he encountered far more difficulties in his pursuit of music than me.” Jesse is among 12 winners of this year’s Szeto Wah Award, presented by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union to commend good students and teachers.
Jesse faced challenges growing up. In kindergarten, teachers scolded her when she could not hear what they were saying. Other children stayed away from her when they saw her hearing aid. Things improved during her last year in kindergarten, after she moved to the Sign Bilingualism and Co-enrolment in Deaf Education programme. Launched in 2006 by the Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies at Chinese University, the programme enables deaf children to learn together with other children, using both sign language and speaking. Mr Chan Hei-long, So’s sign language teacher in the programme, recalls that Jesse gained confidence as she established her own way to express herself, combining signing with spoken language. “She is smart, and she likes asking questions,” he says. “From her progress, I can see the effort she made both at school and home.”
Jesse’s partial deafness also made her pursuit of music less than smooth. She recalls nagging her mother for more than four months to let her take up the violin. “Many people think it is impossible for deaf people to learn to play music,” she says. Jesse’s mother, Ms Yonnie Wong Yin-fong, says she was too concerned about her daughter’s hearing and language ability at the time, but was moved by her passion to learn the musical instrument. “She has this unrelenting spirit. Since she was a little girl, she has often come to hold me in her arms and say, ‘I know I have a disability, but I can do it’,” Ms Wong says.
Despite practising hard, Jesse sometimes misses a note, and the difficulty can leave her frustrated. She found it such a struggle preparing to advance from Grade 3 to Grade 5 that she sometimes thought of giving up. That was when her brother encouraged her by bringing her books about Beethoven. Jesse practises the violin after school every day, and picks up the musical instrument during breaks from doing her homework. A Form One pupil at St Stephen’s Girls’ College in Mid-Levels, she is preparing to advance to Grade 8 in violin. She also plays the piano, and has passed her Grade 5.
She was nominated for the Szeto Wah Award by a former teacher at Kowloon Bay St John The Baptist Catholic Primary School. The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union said she was chosen for her perseverance in learning to play the violin despite her physical disabilities, and overcoming social barriers