Performing arts in Hong Kong

Hong Kong child prodigy Hannah Tam becomes youngest student admitted to Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 2018, after Jockey Club scholarship

Young violinist, 13, will study at renowned Curtis Institute of Music in US while percussionist James Koo, 18, heads to Boston Conservatory

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 8:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 3:19pm

Hannah Tam Wan-ching’s eyes lit up as a three-year-old watching her older brother taking lessons in the violin, according to her mother.

Fast forward 10 years and Hannah has become the youngest student worldwide admitted this year to the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, which has groomed a number of top musicians including cellist Lynn Harrell, pianist Lang Lang and violinist Ray Chen.

“I have always liked playing the violin. Since I was nine or 10 years old, I started wanting to become a musician. Its sound is sparkling, and it is just simply elegant. The melody is like someone is singing,” Hannah said.

But Hannah, who practises for at least two to three hours every day, admitted there had been times when she wanted to quit.

“Every violinist has [moments when they want to give up], and so have I. When I was around seven or nine, I did think of quitting. But when I saw how other violinists persevered, it gave me the courage to hang on and continue to work hard,” she said.

Like every student admitted to Curtis, Hannah has been awarded a scholarship by the institute to cover tuition fees for a five-year diploma course, in which she will receive the same training as her older peers.

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Her other expenses during her studies in the US will be subsidised by another scholarship from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Music and Dance Fund – she is the youngest awardee in its 38-year history.

The fund will also support 12 other outstanding young musicians and dancers to further develop their talent at home or overseas, including 18-year-old percussionist James Koo Yun-hao, who had not been able to pursue his dream of studying at Boston Conservatory in 2016 because his family could not afford the annual fee of US$69,000 (HK$538,200).

With the scholarship, he will now study for a bachelor’s degree – music in percussion performance – at the conservatory.

“This second chance is just surreal for me. Within one year, it opens a lot of opportunities for me. I am simply very grateful,” he said of winning the scholarship.

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The teenager recalled how he stopped his daily practice for two weeks after losing his first chance, and how a homeless drum player he met during a backpacking trip to the US made him realise how fortunate he was.

“He told me: life is a contract, and so is music. I guess it means all that matters is the effort and how many hours you put into doing what you like,” he said.