Magical, Musical Maestro

By Judee Fong

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Growing up in Hong Kong, Maestro Simon Leung was enthralled by his first symphony concert.

“I liked the classical music I heard and wanted to be a musician. But, coming from a traditional Chinese family, my father had plans for his three sons to be a lawyer, a doctor and an engineer. One of my brothers is a lawyer and the other is a computer scientist. I entered medical school.”

Taking a year away from his studies, Simon came to Victoria and enrolled in the Victoria Conservatory of Music, where he studied voice under Selena James and classical guitar under Ian McConkey.

“I saw another young tenor, Richard Margison, beginning his singing career,” Simon recalls. “He won the coveted Rose Bowl for voice that year. The quality of teaching at the Conservatory and later at the University of Victoria inspired me.”

When Simon’s year was over, he continued with his music studies, and Hong Kong lost a potential doctor.

Absorbing the vast knowledge of conductors Glen Fast, Paul Freeman and Bruce More, Simon’s enthusiasm and passion for music earned him an excellent reputation. One of the highlights of his choral conducting occurred in 1994 when Simon was instrumental in uniting the Newcombe Singers and the Sooke Community Choir for three remarkable performances in Hong Kong. Retiring from his many commitments in 2005, Simon began freelancing as orchestral conductor, choir conductor, singing, teaching and inspiring his numerous students.

Conducting a choir, orchestra or symphony has its own uniqueness, but in the end, it is the music that matters.

“One interesting thing I learned from my teachers is to look beyond the ‘blacks and whites.’ Conducting is all about communication,” says Simon. “It’s how you have the musicians interpret the music for the audience. But if you ask yourself the question, ‘why?’ it’s because you’re feeling the music, not just playing the notes.”

Recently, Simon returned to Saigon for a series of concerts, and taught workshops to students, between the ages of 9-17 years.

“Many music teachers send their best students to me for the few weeks I am in Saigon. One of my favourite stories is about this one girl who played for me for one of my first concerts there. She rushed up to my producer and said, ‘I know Simon is giving a concert. I played with him last time. Can I play with him again because I had so much fun last time!’”

Working and travelling through parts of Europe and Asia, Simon is adamant about music not being a universal language. As a guest speaker, he is often called upon to answer this question. Simon replies, “We have to deal with how the human ear listens to music and how the mind accepts it. If some music has a minute change from major to minor, it is closer to our nature, so we understand and accept this music. But if there are changes in the half-tone scale or a really obscure scale as seen in some ‘exploratory’ music, Asiatic operas or other unfamiliar cultural music, it strikes a discordant note in our minds making it difficult to accept. The common element is your ears - to hear the differences and to enjoy.” Simon pauses and then adds, “I ask my students, ‘What do you think singing is?’ They often think singing crescendo is to be louder but it’s not - it is getting more intense, which is not the same as loud. Loud means nothing but to be ‘intense’ means something. At my last concert, there were 1,250 people singing without any microphones and not because the acoustics were excellent. The singers draw the audience to them and this makes a big difference. It’s not shouting or loud because the impression of crescendos done with intensity is the techniques of good singing.”

For relaxation, Simon delights in watching comedy movies or a live show once or twice a year. His current passion is ballroom dancing, which he discovered five years ago, finding it a fun workout in a good social environment.

“When I was in Europe, I met a musician in Austria. One of the things she said to me was that nobody knows how to play a Viennese Waltz properly. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it’s a simple 1-2-3, 1-2-3.’ But she gave me this very detailed talk about what the waltz is and how it should be played. It wasn’t until I had a chance to conduct the orchestra for a dance group in Vancouver that I realized you had to know what dance music was all about. My Austrian friend was right. That’s one reason I want to learn dancing and from there I can play the Viennese Waltz the way it should be played.”

Though he just returned from his most-recent Saigon music workshops and concert tour, Simon is relaxed and looking forward to his next project, the fifth season for the Victoria Summer Choir performing in August. After that, he will return to Saigon to make arrangements for his 2011 engagements.

“All my teachers told me when they retired, they were busier,” says Simon with a smile. “It is a good ‘busy’ because you want to [do it] and you’ve put your heart into it. But the rewards of seeing young musicians grow before your eyes, that is a good feeling.”

For further information and/or to reserve tickets to the Victoria Summer Choir in late August, contact Clara at or Frances at 250-360-0356.




The 2010 season ends with the following performances:
Friday, August 20: St. Elizabeth Church, Sidney
Saturday, August 21: Alix Goolden Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music, Victoria
Sunday, August 22: Duncan United Church, Duncan

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Showing 1 to 3 of 3 comments.

What the Victoria Summer choir think of the choir.

"It has been a most energizing experience. I am not the best alto but my enthusiasm takes me far. Simons directing is serious but there is always time for humor".

"The choir is the best bargain in town. Can you imagine that much singing for the price that is charged?"

"I really enjoyed the rehearsals and especially Simon's creative, inspiring directing and wonderful sense of humour".

"The summer choir is a great idea. I'm very glad I've met so many wonderful people. The genius of this chorus is that we all come from very different musical backgrounds: yet Simon moulds us into a coherent unity."

"It's a great learning opportunity. Interacting with other choir members is a good time to share information and experience. "

"The summer choir is a great way of connecting with other choristers and making new friends".

"The quality of the chosen music at first intimidated me, as I had not been singing for a long time.
However the help of others and the power of singing soon carried me along. It`s been my best summer experience of the year."

"I've learned a lot about singing other types of music, have learned a few Slovak phrases, learned some new dance steps and have made some new friends. Thank you, Simon, for making it possible!! "

"This is my first year as a member of the Victoria Summer Choir. I have enjoyed the rehearsals and music very much. Simon is an excellent conductor and communicator. He makes putting the music together as an ensemble fun".

"I am frenetically packing my goods in order to move to a new home the day before our three concerts. This choir means so much to me that I refuse to miss any of the practices and will be participating in all three concerts. There will be time to unpack later, but there will not be another time to perform in those three concerts. Now all I have to do is find my black bowtie."

"I really enjoyed the rehearsals and especially Simon's creative, inspiring directing and wonderful sense of humour".

"The summer choir is a great idea. I'm very glad I've met so many wonderful people. The genius of this chorus is that we all come from very different musical backgrounds: yet Simon moulds us into a coherent unity."

"I am enjoying the repertoire, am enjoying Simon's musicality in the practices."

"I think this choir is a wonderful opportunity for singers of all levels to keep in practice over the summer."

"I love the summer choir repertoire"

"I'm thoroughly enjoying the summer choir and I can hardly wait to join again next summer."

"Delightful summer with beautiful singing. I will miss everyone in the choir at the end of the summer.

"What a friendly group of people! Simon is wonderful to work with. He sure can get the best out of us by using humour".

I feel honored to be included in the Summer Choir. I think my choir voice has greatly improved through Simon's patient

Posted by Clara Chay | July 5, 2010 Report Violation

"Annual Global Echoes, International Concert 2008 in Saigon"

The program comprised four soloists, duet and choral works by Vivaldi, Mozart and Schubert and a variety of Korean and Western lyric works and sacred pieces in classical style. Soloists and the choir were drawn from professors and students of the Conservatory plus members of the international community. The orchestra is also drawn primarily from the Conservatory with international musicians. Maestro Simon Leung from Victoria, BC Canada conducted the concert.
As John said "It was triumph!!!" The concert was over whelming successful with standing ovation. The audience stood, clapping enthusiastically and didn't leave the hall for some time after the concert.

It was perhaps the most challenging concert for Simon in his career in music. He had to deal with choir members who didn't understand much English, never sung in foreign language other then Vietnamese or Korean. He thought them to sing in German, Latin, English in four weeks. The environment of the rehearsal room was in very poor condition. Many of the orchestra players didn't have adequate instruments, for example the oboe player had an oboe which was a combination two different parts from two broken oboes. Never the less the oboist still played beautifully. The trumpet player had a trumpet with springs didn't come up on time, learned to adjusted to control his timing to compensate for the late valves. Violins and other instruments needed service very badly. Simon managed to put them together very successfully.


Posted by Clara Chay | July 5, 2010 Report Violation

Thank you for the article. Well written and interesting. As Mr.Tien, one of the most respected Violists in Vietnam said "I have met and worked with many of great conductors around the world, but Simon is not only a great conductor but also the most enjoyable musician to work with"


Posted by Clara Chay | July 5, 2010 Report Violation

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