Kajeng Wong, Music Prodigy, Says Hong Kong Is a Goldmine for Classical Artists
The 25-year-old first hit the limelight in the documentary “KJ: Music and Life” when he was just 11. He’s now the artistic director of performance organizer Music Lab. Photos by Kirk Kenny / studiozag.com
My dad is a doctor, but he also plays the piano and loves music. Before I started learning to play the piano, I was already interested in music because of him. I didn’t start learning [the piano] very early, only when I was 7 years old. But I caught on very quickly, maybe because I wanted to play it well for my dad. I went to Diocesan Boys’ School. It’s a school full of music and so I developed musically. It’s simple, there’s no magic.
I’m not a genius—I practise a lot. There are people way smarter than me. But I can’t control what others say about me. If you call me a genius, it’s OK. I focus on my own craft, so I don’t care about what others call me.
“KJ: Music and Life” happened by chance. No one knew it would become [a success]. Not even the director knew. I watched it once on mute, because I didn’t like to listen to my own voice. What do I think of it? Not much. It’s just something that happened and I don’t have much memory of it. I don’t go out and think “I’m the star of a documentary.”
I’m thankful it gave me certain exposure, but after shooting was done I just kept living, day by day. I rarely talk about my past. People see me in person, in concerts, in scores, in my studio. I’d say I’m much more real there, as a person, than how I seemed on screen. As for the fame, I just take it as it comes. People know me, but it doesn’t change who I am.
There are so many people studying music in Hong Kong, but not so many pursue a career in music. The problem is, so many people study music: But do they actually enjoy music? Many are just too short-sighted and goal-oriented—they all just want to get a certificate. It’s good to have goals, but if the goals become the purpose of everything, then it’s stupid. Of course, this is the problem with Hong Kong’s education system in almost every subject: being goal-oriented, but forgetting the essence of it. It’s quite sad.
It’s a three-part problem. The education system affects trends in society, trends affect the parents’ thoughts, and the parents’ thoughts control the teaching style. I can’t change the system, so what should I do? I think I should show people the essence and value of music, by playing concerts.
Hong Kong musicians can make a shitload of money, if they are willing to teach.
Hong Kong is the place where you can make the most money in the [classical] music world. The demand is high but there are still not enough quality teachers. So the price goes up. Hong Kong musicians can make a shitload of money, if they are willing to teach. It’s just the city’s economy that made the situation like this. If you’re not particularly talented, and all you want is to make good money by teaching at home for $400 per hour, the only question left is how many students you can get.
This only applies in Hong Kong. When you can make so much money teaching, why would you spend 400 hours practising for a recital to be judged by others? If you spend an extra hour practising, you spend an hour less teaching, and make a few hundred bucks less.
In the past 10 to 15 years, there have been a lot more musicians in Hong Kong, because the students of the last generation are back from their studies. But there needs to be a change—Hong Kong’s hardware is way behind. We need small to medium-sized venues. Don’t underestimate how many tourists actually want to see the artistic scene of a city. But if the concert halls are not presentable, then that’s a huge problem.
My friend wanted to start something for the music scene in Hong Kong. We organize an annual festival called “Local Ginger” in Chinese for locals and local musicians. This year was the first one. Live performance on Facebook is the trend, and everyone does it now. I gave it a try: I got amazing response, with around 9,000 viewers on the first night of my live performance. Music should be shared freely.I once did a live performance on Facebook at 1:30am—and I still got 400 viewers.
They call me a “lonely soul” because there are too many people can’t sleep at night and they just scroll through Facebook on their phones, alone. Sharing music soothes them. It’s not just in concert halls.I’m classically trained, and I don’t think classical music has to be changed—but we can do something about the presentation to make it less boring to people.
There’s this movie, “Birdman,” which was not about superheroes like “Iron Man,” but was rather a self-mocking movie. So I call myself “Fingerman.” My theme is called “Fast and Difficult.”