EVERYONE at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts seems to know petite Colleen Lee Ka-ling. Wherever she goes, people turn to smile and greet her. True, she is one of the APA's top musicians and is already a name to reckon with in music circles. She was first prize winner at two major international music competitions. But there is another reason. She is as popular as she is famous in the music school. Colleen's sweet nature endears her to everyone. 'Hi, Colleen! I was looking for you,' calls out a staff member as she makes her way to the practice room. 'Colleen, yet another picture session with the press?' jokes another. 'I suppose I'm a familiar figure around here,' Colleen says. 'Ever since I joined the APA in 1987, I've been coming here to practise four to five hours a day after school. 'They see me daily. And, perhaps because I'm small they treat me like a little sister!' Colleen, a Form Four student at Heep Yunn School, fell in love with the piano when she was 41/2 years old. She saw a piano being played for the first time at a choir rehearsal, and instantly knew what her life's interest would be. She took up the instrument with total love and dedication. With hard work, good teachers and inborn talent, Colleen has grown into a mature musician, sailing through music exams year after year. When she was in Form One, she had already reached Grade Eight standard. 'I spend more time practising the piano than studying. But I try to make up by doing school work during recess and the lunch hour.' Standing at 1.5 metres and weighing 381/2 kg, Colleen looks more like a first-former toting around her schoolbag than the gifted pianist she is, a musician who has brought credit to the territory on more than one occasion. In 1992 she came first in the Gina Bachauer International Piano (Salt Lake City, US), and in 1993 she won the Newport International Piano Competition in the UK. Colleen was less successful in her most recent competition overseas, the Second International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians, held in Sendai, Japan. The challenge was awesome, she said. 'In the first two competitions the atmosphere was friendly, and I could interact with the others. But the one in Japan was very different. So serious! There were 30 very uptight young Russian pianists who made the whole atmosphere incredibly tense. 'I had the feeling nothing else mattered to them than winning for their country.' Colleen managed to get over her pre-contest nerves, but did not make it into the finals. How does she feel about performing before rival pianists from around the world, and juries comprising distinguished musicians? 'Of course, I get a bit frightened. But I know I have to focus on the music, and play my best.' Is there an outstanding student in your school you would like us to write about? If there is, drop us a line with a summary of his or her accomplishments. Write to: Spotlight, Young Post, GPO Box 323, Tai Po, New Territories., or fax us on 2660-5378.