The melody of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star floated out of Xidi Elementary School of Duancun Township in north China's Hebei Province on August 31, which was the last Saturday of the summer vacation.
More than 40 pupils were playing orchestral instruments in accompaniment for student choir while under the shade provided by a bungalow in the tiny and shabby campus. Standing beside them were volunteer teachers who came every weekend from Beijing, some 150 km away, to offer free classes in the arts.
The orchestra was rehearsing. They will perform on September 28 at the inauguration ceremony of the new campus, which covers an area of 20,000 square meters. Three elementary schools in the township - namely Dongdi, Xidi and Henancun - would be converged into one, benefiting some 1,000 local pupils.
Each performer, aged between 7 and 11, showed a sense of professionalism no different to any world-class orchestra although their technique still needs refinement. The parents and other family members waiting to pick them up after the rehearsal applauded when the song finished. The five-months of practice had paid off.
Before March this year, no arts classes were available for some 600 local pupils due to the lack of teachers. The only orchestral instrument they knew was the violin.
The Beijing-based Hefeng Art Foundation, the country's first private foundation that aims to provide arts education and promotion, offered free arts classes – including ballet, orchestral instruments, drama, choir singing and painting – to local students every weekend as a complement to the curriculum. The volunteer teachers all came from well respected national-level arts institutions in Beijing such as the Central Conservatory of Music, the Central Academy of Drama, the China Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Beijing Dance Academy. They also helped initiate arts class teaching plans for the local elementary schools.
Li Feng is the man behind the Hefeng Art Foundation and he has been working on the new campus since 2011. The fifty-something businessman believes in the power of arts, and dreamed of something big. He wanted to let the power of the arts guide the future of these rural students, and help make their progresses an engine for cultural development in China's rural communities.