Peter Bok on teaching Cantonese opera, erhu and other music during lockdown

Headshot of Peter Bok, musician and music teacher, smiling.
Peter Bok. Photo courtesy of Peter Bok.
LJI Journalist - CJRU - TorontoON | 24-03-2021

By Karen Young

The start of 2020 included many postponed concerts and cancelled festivals, leaving many musicians relying on government funding and grants. Musicians often had to adapt their work to make a living, including Peter Bok, a self-employed musician and music teacher. Before the lockdown, he was teaching music, Cantonese opera and erhu, and participating in Cantonese Opera groups.

photo of Peter Bok holding is erhu instrument and smiling

Peter Bok with his erhu. Photo courtesy of Peter Bok.

Since most of his work relied on in-person activity, he’s made a digital shift during lockdown.

Bok’s Cantonese opera lessons initially took place at a community centre with many of his students being retired adults. With the pandemic pausing his in-person lessons, he has been trying to move online. But he is facing some barriers and hesitations.

“Not many of my students would like to take online just because they think that face to face is much better for them to learn. Technically, some of the students may not have the device or computer or they don’t have enough data to connect to the online lessons," he says.

Bok hopes to bridge the gap for his students.

“We don’t have the online training, but hopefully in the near future we would like to resolve the problem by teaching some of the students to learn how to use it so that they can continue to sing or their hobby,” he says.

The age range of his erhu students is much wider, with the youngest being 8 years old and the oldest being 80 years old. He currently teaches erhu through FaceTime or WhatsApp, one of his students starting to learn during lockdown.

“I have one student, she just started learning from me online. We haven’t met before. I think her progress is quite good and very amazing. The online lesson is very helpful for her because she doesn’t need to go out,” Bok explained.

In the future, Bok believes he will add online lessons to his teaching methodology for the convenience of himself and his students.

photo of Peter Bok with a room of his students singing

Peter Bok and fellow musicians. Photo courtesy of Peter Bok.

“I had one student living far away. I had to spend two hours driving over to his home to teach. You can imagine, one hour lesson, I have to spend nearly four hours on the way. It is not very fruitful for me as an instructor,” he recalls.

He leaves some advice for musicians and music teachers.

“I think it is very important that she or he has to prepare to upgrade themselves to use the computer, the online system, so that when they come across any potential students, they can operate the online teaching at home.  The other thing is they have to upgrade themselves to learn other things to well equip themselves," Bok says.

To learn more about Peter Bok’s music lessons, email him at peterboklc@gmail.com and listen to the interview below.

This is the third story is a four-part series on the effects of global pandemic on the Asian community in Canada.