2021 Honorary Doctorate
Mr Choo Heng-cheong was born into a Cantonese opera family in 1927 in the Malaysian city of Ipoh. His father, Choo Ga-lok, and two elder brothers, Ngai-kong and Siu-cheung, were highly-regarded Cantonese opera musicians. The three brothers, known as the “Big Three of the Choo Family”, regularly participated in opera-troupe performances and oversaw instrumental accompaniment and recording. Their sister Choo Sau-ying was a Cantonese opera actress who played huadan (young maiden) and chousheng (male clown) roles. Mr Choo started learning musical instruments and accompaniment as a child. He is adept at playing violin, guzheng, erxian, erhu and percussion instruments.
Mr Choo made his stage debut when he was 9, and became a music leader at the age of 13. Since 1950, he has collaborated with numerous Cantonese opera performers. In 1951, he was appointed private music leader of Sit Kok-sin on a performance tour of Singapore and Malaysia. He has worked with many famous Cantonese opera stars including Fong Yim-fun, Hung Sin-nui, Lam Kar-sing, Lee Bo-ying, Chung Lai-yung, Lai Man-soh, Ho Fei-fan, Nam Hung, Mak Bing-wing, Yu Lai-zhen, Leung Sing-bo, Lan Chi-pat, Poon Yat-on, Fung Wong-nui, Wong Chin-sui and Law Kim-long.
Mr Choo moved to Hong Kong in 1959. He participated in music accompaniment of a new opera entitled The Reincarnation of the Red Plum, presented by the Sin Fung Ming Opera Troupe. He was also music leader and oversaw the recording for Yam Kim-fai and Pak Suet-sin’s timeless albums The Flower Princess, Legend of the Purple Hairpin and The Reincarnation of the Red Plum. Mr Choo was involved in the production of more than a hundred albums of Cantonese opera while working as a music leader for many record companies including Crown and Tien Shing. Starting in 1966, Mr Choo was music leader, vocal designer and vocal coach of the Chor Fung Ming Opera Troupe, which was mentored by Yam Kim-fai and Pak Suet-sin. He was also appointed music leader of other opera troupes including Tai Lung Fung, Hing Sun Sing, Chung Sun Sing and Sun Ma. In 1993, Mr Choo was again invited to take up the role of music leader by the newly-founded Hing Fung Ming Opera Troupe.
In 2005 and 2006, the Chor Fung Ming Opera Troupe presented 32 performances of the False Dream of the West Chamber, with Mr Choo serving as the music leader and musical designer. Over the years, Mr Choo has established a blueprint for the performance of various classic pieces while in charge of the musical and vocal arrangements of these famous opera troupes. For instance, he rearranged the musical accompaniment to a reinterpretation in 1983 of the Dream of the Red Chamber by playwright Yip Shiu-tuck.
Mr Choo is a pundit on traditional Cantonese opera paichang (sequences). He has a unique style of accompaniment and is able to fuse Chinese melodies with Western tones. As an icon of Cantonese-opera accompaniment and a prominent music leader in Hong Kong, he has mentored both musicians and opera stars. Mr Choo has been a fierce advocate of Cantonese opera over the years, invited by many universities and institutions to deliver lectures and share his experiences. In 2020, Hong Kong Metropolitan University (formerly The Open University of Hong Kong) conferred him with an honorary fellowship, reflecting his contribution to Cantonese opera and education.
Mr Choo is a staunch supporter of and generous contributor to the Academy’s School of Chinese Opera. He is passionate about nurturing younger generations. The School hosted a lecture by Mr Choo in April this year where he shared his insights on the subtleties of Cantonese opera and its musical performance. He also regularly offers invaluable advice to students of the School of Chinese Opera.