HK music school keeps on trucking through coronavirus shutdown

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HONG KONG (April 6): When 7-year-old Sophia Cheung hears a truck park outside her home in Hong Kong, she grabs her sheet music and runs out the door.

In the truck, instructor Evan Kam, holding a sanitizer bottle and wearing a face mask, greets her by a piano.

With schools shut since late January because of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed four of Hong Kong's 890 cases, students have been asked to take classes online.

But that won't work very well for piano lessons.

Ming’s Piano, a music school with 12 teachers and about 200 students, has hired three trucks to deliver lessons at students' doorsteps and save its business.

For students like Sophia, the lessons are also a rare and welcome opportunity to get out of her home.

"I feel very depressed myself, not to mention my children," said her mother, Wendy Yeung. "They are always asking: 'When can we go out to play? Where can I go? What else can I do?'."

"Now we have an option."

The school lost more than two-thirds of its business after the outbreak. Many students wanted to continue the lessons but did not want to use up masks or take public transport, said Jessica Lam, its business development manager.

Drawing inspiration from mobile blood donation centres, Ming’s Piano took its business on the road in late February and it is now operating at 70% of its pre-outbreak levels.

The piano keys get disinfected between lessons and the truck's trailer is equipped with an air purifier and lighting, which means the engine has to be running.

As the idling truck rumbled softly beneath her feet, Cheung, wearing a caterpillar-themed face mask, practiced her favourite song “Let it Go”, from Disney’s “Frozen” soundtrack.

She played with both hands, an improvement from last week, as Kam nodded in approval. Outside, cars zoomed by and the occasional curious pedestrian craned their necks to have a look.

Kam said helping students with fingering and dynamic changes through digital screens would have been difficult. Teaching in a truck feels the same as teaching in the studio, Kam said, apart from the new challenge of finding washrooms.

“I need to drink water or else my throat hurts,” said Kam, who visits six or seven students a day, including some new recruits in far-flung villages.