Growing up in Shanghai, China, music was always the driving force of Hui Cao’s life. He started singing at the same time he began speaking. One day, when he was just a child, he saw something on the television that changed his life; it was a man playing the violin. Immediately, Cao picked up a pair of chopsticks and began imitating the man on the screen. The next day, he went to his first violin class, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I became a professional violinist when I realized I could transform my hobby into my dream career. I now travel to many countries in the world, doing what I love. Through playing music, I know many other famous violinists and conductors. It’s also nice to talk about shared experiences. Also, as a violinist, I have many opportunities to play music for all kinds of people and give back to my community,” he said.
As one of China’s leading violinists, Cao is incredibly sought-after as both a musician and a teacher. This year, audiences can look forward to both of this violinist’s talents at the 2018 Music String Festival in Zhuhai Jinwan. Cao has made a name for himself in Zhuhai for the past three years directing the region’s chamber orchestra. He aims to spread the joy of music everywhere he goes.
“Mostly, I play classical music, but I am interested in all kinds of music, especially pop. I like to play pop songs that I have arranged in a unique way during my performances. Some audiences in China are not very familiar with classical music, so playing pop music is an easy way to attract them to the violin,” said Cao.
Cao first began teaching violin at the beginning of 2013. At the time, he was a well-known musician, travelling and playing in groups and putting on solo performances, and was a member of the Macau Orchestra. Every year, the orchestra did a concert at the schools in Macau. When playing at Macau Pooi To Middle School, the dean was immensely impressed with Cao’s talents as a violinist. She reached out for many years, and when she decided that she wanted violin lessons at her school, she knew just who to ask. When Cao was offered the job, he was intrigued at the prospect of imparting his gift with future generations and wanted to expand his role as a musician beyond simply playing.
“Teaching beginners is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done as a musician. You need to be very patient and find so many different ways that the students can understand and then successfully do it. I always encouraged my students that their determination would pay off in every lesson and often buy some small gifts as reward. They always asked me to teach them many popular songs they liked. I would spend my spare time adapting a song that wouldn’t typically be played on the violin to then teach it in class. With these efforts, more and more students liked to play violin,” said Cao.
When Cao began the teaching position in Spring of 2013, his goal was to get students into his class. To attract students, he held a lecture at school and played songs he thought they would recognize hoping to excite them. When the time for classes began, only 13 students had signed up. After a few months of teaching, the students, led by Cao, played in the local summer festival. The parents and other teachers were completely shocked by the performance and the progress the students had made in such a short time. When the new semester began, the number of students signed up was substantially more than before. In four years of teaching, Cao’s class grew to almost sixty students. As more students signed up, Cao became more determined to go from simply a lesson to building a chamber orchestra in the school.
“Hui is a very responsibility person and a fantastic teacher. He helped our school have a wonderful string group. We played all over the Macau and got lots of recognition,” said Constance Cheung, Principal of Macau Pooi To Middle School.
When he was teaching at Macau Pooi To, Cao arranged four one-hour classes per week. During each semester, he conducted a small competition where the winning students received their own certificate of merit and reward. Every year, Cao led his students in festivals and other activities in Macau. Through these rehearsals and performances, the students did not only become exceptional musicians, but their overall academic performance improved, and they made lasting friendships with the other violin classmates.
“When I watch my students play violin on the stage, I am so proud for them. I spend almost every day with these children. I can feel their passion. I enjoy it so much. As a violin teacher, more and more students joined my classes, enjoying the music they played. That is how I measured my success,” said Cao.
Because of Cao’s work leading the violin classes, Pooi To found their overall attendance rising, as many parents with children in other schools requested transfers after seeing the student orchestra perform. When students were in his classes, they found a love for music they had not discovered before. With such dynamic success, Cao’s reputation in the community began to grow, and he was even more in demand than ever before. In 2016, he even received the award for “Best Teacher in Macau”. However, the impact he left on his students was, he found, to be the greatest reward of all.