Star knows the score
Colleen Lee Ka-ling is internationally acclaimed as one of the leading pianists of her generation. But at her former school, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (APA), the 29-year-old is seen as everyone's big sister.
Confused youngsters, from piano majors to Chinese percussion students, consult the pianist for career advice, tips on how to play certain pieces of music, and even about their personal struggles.
'The path to becoming a professional performing musician is tough,' says Lee. 'I not only understand their struggles, but I went through most of them myself.'
Lee started playing the piano at four, and soon joined the part-time junior programme at the APA, turning full-time after Form Five. But far from enjoying a trouble-free path to success, Lee, too, experienced the usual confusions every artist faces. Fortunately, some senior APA students came to her rescue. Now she sees herself as passing on the torch.
'Most of the time, the students just need to be reassured that music is, indeed, very subjective,' she says. 'There is no definite right or wrong - it's down to the listeners' individual taste.'
Lee came to these conclusions after performing countless recitals around the world, and winning - and losing - numerous international piano contests since she was 12.
She was considered very young to be competing at a global level, but the pianist believes exposure to her overseas peers was beneficial. It had a huge impact on her, and drove her to keep pushing herself to improve.
'When you are thrown into a competitive environment, the pressure and adrenaline push you to the extreme,' she says.
'You see what you are lacking from others' performances, and when it's your turn, you will give 110 per cent to keep on par with, or even outshine, them.'
This attitude brought out Lee's best in 2005, when she came sixth in the prestigious International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition, the contest famous pianist Li Yundi won in 2000.
Unfortunately, Lee says, although she is more mature and experienced, playing music doesn't get any easier.
In fact, it requires more patience and diligence to progress as a pianist: to let go of existing interpretations and thoughts on a piece, and find a fresh signature style.
The musician says she looks for stimulation and inspiration in art forms other than classical music.
'I think artists tend to be sensitive to all art forms. We know how to appreciate arts in general, and feel the emotions and ideas the artwork expresses.'
Lee adds that she would love to combine her favourite art forms, if she ever has time.
'I have always liked drawing but my packed performing and practising schedule leave me no time for it,' she says, adding that she would love to study design.
'It would be great to put on a multimedia concert with moving music and stunning background visuals.'
Organised by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and co-organised by the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, the Arts Ambassadors-in-school Scheme aims to nurture artistic talent in young people and promote art in the community. All arts ambassadors must be nominated by school principals before December 4. Go to www.aais.hk to find out more.