A FORMER army colonel, who gave up the military life after 35 years to be close to music, was so impressed with the Hong Kong students studying at his music college in Britain that he used a careers exhibition here to search for new talent. George Cauchi, secretary of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, took part in the recent Education and Careers Expo in Wan Chai even though he knew that only a few of the student visitors to the Convention Centre would consider music as a career. His mission was to find talented piano students from the territory. ''All the Hong Kong students that came through to our college are keyboard students. There must be some good teachers, a strong keyboard culture in Hong Kong,'' he said. Two Hong Kong piano students are being sponsored at the college by Britain's Associated Board of Royal Colleges of Music. One of the three others from Hong Kong is sponsored by the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club. To Mr Cauchi, 55, who studied the violin as a child but didn't manage the standard his own college's students now aspire to, discovering a talent is a great joy. He beams as he talks about pianist Tam Ka-kit, a Royal Northern College of Music graduate and now teacher. Mr Tam was a co-founder of the Canzone Trio which has staged successful performances in Hong Kong, Taiwan, New York and other major cities since 1987. The trio performed earlier this month at City Hall, just before Mr Tam returned to England to resume his teaching post. ''The trio still exists, I may come back occasionally,'' said Mr Tam, who was with Mr Cauchi at the careers exhibition. An aspiring performer while still a teenager, he never expected to be a piano tutor. But the joy of teaching kept him in tutoring jobs at local institutes including the Academy for Performing Arts over the past decade. ''I felt great being able to help with my students' personal problems,'' said Mr Tam, who moved to Manchester with his pianist wife last summer. ''I don't only produce performers. Not all music students end up being professional players. Through personal contacts with them, I found out more about our society. It was inspiring. ''I wanted to go back to the college because I liked the internationalism there. The teaching staff are from various countries; so are the students. It's a valuable lesson studying overseas. One has to learn to be independent.'' Mr Cauchi would be delighted to have more students from China. But that has not been possible so far because of financial constraints, both on the mainland students and the college itself: ''It costs us GBP10,000 (about HK$115,000) to keep one foreign student a year, covering both tuition and accommodation.'' Mr Cauchi, on his first visit to Hong Kong, wanted not only to recruit more students but to learn about the territory. ''It is nice for me to see at first hand the place some of my students come from,'' he said. ''It makes it better for me to understand them as individuals. Work is part of Hong Kong culture. I've never seen so many people talking on a mobile phone on the streets.'' During his week here, he had time to form a view on the development on the local art scene. He felt the emphasis had been on expanding and improving facilities, but there had not been enough encouragement given to studying abroad.