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All About The Bass For This Master of Music

Olive Chan came from Hong Kong to Rotherhithe to teach and play double bass in Britain. Alas, Olive came in March 2020 and has more or less been in lockdown ever since, writes Michael Holland.

Ms Chan first picked up double bass when she was 10 and recalls having ‘very good teachers’. In 2000, aged 16, she then decided to study music at what she describes as ‘the best Music Academy in Hong Kong – the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts’. 

Olive shone straightaway and along with her studies became double bass principal of the Asian Youth Orchestra, joining their 2002 tour to Japan, Taiwan and China. She was also a part-time member of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. In 2008 she left the Academy as a Master of Music.

All throughout her childhood and formative years she had the support of loving parents: ‘They supported me financially and mentally, and encouraged me to chase my dream,’ she says now. 

That dream led to teaching at the Chinese University, the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (Junior Division) and the Music Office, as well as in various schools in Hong Kong. Olive is a founding member of the Hong Kong Double Bass Society and Bassmen, and chairlady of the Hong Kong Lower Strings Ensemble.

These days Olive, who also plays piano, gives private tuition at home – when possible – and online.

I wanted to know what Olive loves about her work. ‘What is better when your interest is your work?’ she retorted straight back. ‘Music will never make you feel dull. As a performer, there are new challenges every day when I practise. As a teacher, I enjoy solving problems with my students. I feel really proud and full of energy when my students overcome difficulties and reach a higher level.’ Many of her students have achieved distinctions and merits in exams and prizes in various competitions, which is its own reward for anyone who teaches.

Until Olive can get back to performing in Britain she has happy memories of playing in her homeland: ‘I and my husband (a cellist) held a student concert in Hong Kong; over 60 cello and double bass players on stage!’ 

And she smiles when recalling this story: ‘One time I met one of my old students at an audition for a professional orchestra. Only us two got through to the final round and she got the job.’ I said that there must have been mixed emotions. ‘Well I should be happy for her,’ she answered after a short pause. ‘After all, she was my student, right…?’ I nodded in agreement. Then Olive began digging a hole for herself to fall in to. ‘But I still have to admit that I am getting old, and she is a fresh-graduate…’ I raised one eyebrow and diplomatically said nothing. ‘It is hard to keep myself as strong as a fresh-grad when I am already a mother of two!’ After an awkward silence I laughed, Olive laughed, and we moved on. 

How has Covid-19 impacted on your profession? ‘We all understand that face-to-face lessons are most effective, but now I cannot see my students in person. Luckily, we can still have online lessons and I have discovered that there are quite a few advantages of online teaching. For example, I can show a close up of my fingers when I demonstrate – It is very important to emphasis keeping a nice hand form in the beginning stages of cello playing, as it affects the intonation, the speed of changing notes and positions.’ 

Unfortunately, some of Olive’s students are really too small for online teaching and they need to suspend their lessons until another time. Plus, there are no live concerts where Olive can perform, something she is very keen to do after lockdown restrictions are eased.

How has your life changed as we try to get back to normal? ‘I think online instrument lessons will become the major trend. One of the reasons is that people have already become used to it and may be too lazy to travel around once that is possible.’ 

Anything you’d like to add? ‘I can offer online double bass, cello, piano and Music Theory lessons to students from London, Hong Kong and international. I am very experienced and especially good at teaching young children. My students are from beginner level to advanced level.’

You can check out Olive’s work here:

https://www.facebook.com/Soundpost-Arts-and-Music-UK-Music-Education-Centre-109947990683380/

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