It often comes as a surprise to many people when they learn that an elementary school perched 900m up a mountain in Nantou County is the home of an award-winning string orchestra composed of young Aboriginal students.
The people who have it possible for the humble Chin Ai Elementary School to serve as a venue in which gifted musicians can develop are a 30-something married couple: Wang Tzu-chien (王子建) and Chen Pei-wen (陳珮文).
Wang and Chen are violin teachers at the school in Cinai Village (親愛), in Renai Township (仁愛), one of the many remote areas across the nation hindered by inadequate educational resources.
The couple are not that different from other teachers who have devoted themselves to educating disadvantaged children, except that they have gone one step further than most by using almost all of their salaries to help fulfil their students’ musical dreams.
In an effort to cultivate the musical talents of Chin Ai Elementary’s student body, the couple established the country’s first-ever string orchestra comprised solely of Aboriginal students.
They also bought a minivan so they could drive the students home after practice and purchased a house in the county’s Caotun Township (草屯) to accommodate those who are selected for the prestigious music courses offered at Caotun Junior High School.
Although not a moment goes by when Wang and Chen are not enjoying their jobs, their devotion to their students has left them more than NT$10 million (US$333,500) in debt.
“Pei-wen and I were a ‘classroom couple’ at National Feng Yuan Senior High School. Since we were trying to attend the same college, I decided to let Pei-wen file my college applications,” Wang said.
Wang’s wish came true when he and Chen, who was just his girlfriend at the time, were both admitted into the National Pingtung University of Education.
After graduating, they both secured jobs at Chin Ai Elementary in 2006.
Their first two years on the job passed without incident, until one day, a student saw Chen playing her violin and said: “Teacher, what is that? I also want to learn how to play it.”
Chen was so touched by the child’s desire to learn that she purchased four violins with her own money, unaware that the charitable act was the first step toward something extraordinary.
Since the cost of buying or repairing violins can run high, Wang decided to go online to learn how to make and repair the instruments.
He persuaded the school to designate a classroom exclusively for the production of violins and has been teaching fifth and sixth graders how to manufacture the string instruments once a week.
As the string orchestra grew, finding enough qualified violin teachers to train the students became a problem.
However, the problem was alleviated when the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, moved by the couple’s dedication, sent some of its members to the school to teach.
With this assistance, the couple could continue with their pet project. Every day, Wang prepares dinners for the students as they hone their violin playing skills under Chen’s tutelage. Once the children finish practice at 9pm, he drives them home.
Although the resources available for his classes are limited, Wang has made an effort to instill the principle of sharing among his students.
He seems to be teaching them well, as evidenced by his students choosing to donate some of the instruments they received from charitable organizations to Aboriginal students at the Syuhai Day Care Center in Pingtung County’s Mudan Township (牡丹).