SOTY 2017: award winning pianist Colleen Lee explains why there are no short cuts to success in the music industry

Past Chopin Piano Competition winner says hard work and dedication are key to those who want to pursue a career in music

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Colleen Lee speaks to students about her music career at Renaissance College.

With so many challenges facing aspiring musicians, it’s no surprise that relatively few people end up pursuing a career in the industry. Music students at Renaissance College got a heads-up about what it takes to be a professional musician from award-winning pianist Colleen Lee Ka-ling when she visited the school last month.

The talk was arranged as part of this year’s Student of the Year (SOTY) Awards School Tours.

Lee, one of the three judges for this year’s Performing Artist category, won the Student Musician of the Year award back in 1995, when she was a student at Heep Yunn School.

Lee began playing the piano at the age of four, and went on to study music at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. She has won several international music awards, and also recorded recitals and chamber music programmes for RTHK.

“My music career has taken me around the world, travelling a lot and performing a lot for audiences around the world,” Lee told Young Post.

“I am very excited to be a SOTY judge this year. I think being a judge, I have to look for many different qualities of the candidates, and I’m sure all of them will be wonderful.”

During the school visit, Lee talked about the challenges she faced pursuing a music career while studying both at a local school and overseas. She offered some valuable advice to the students who had yet to make a decision on their future careers, or what they would like to study at university.

Richard Cheung, 15, plays the violin and is interested in becoming a professional musician.

“I think the key takeaway from the talk for me is how broad music is, and how there isn’t a concrete way of interpreting it,” he said. “It also made me aware of the difficulties I may have to face should I pursue a music career.”

Richard, a Year 11 student, said he would definitely continue to study music in the future. “[The talk] also helped me realise that the music world is quite intense, and that I would have to work hard,” he added.

Chloe Chan, a Year 12 student, said Lee’s advice was useful for everyday life, irrespective of whether you want to become a musician. “We need to learn from our mistakes and prepare for the next challenge,” said the 16-year-old.

Although Chloe has mixed feelings about studying music in the future, she still hopes to play the flute for fun.

She said Lee has inspired her to continue to be involved in music, because it’s a skill that can be useful no matter what career she follows.

The school talk reminded Lee of her own musical journey. “Speaking to students who are interested in music makes me think back to how I started my career in music and how I decided I wanted to be a musician,” she said.

“My music career started after meeting all the wonderful teachers; they [helped boost] my interest in music and made me realise that my passion for music is an inseparable [part] of my life.”

She had some tips for this year’s SOTY candidates, too. “I want to see a high level of performance on their instruments, and very strong communication [with] the judges,” she said. “Besides a wonderful performance, they should also think about their future, and also why they think performing arts is important for them.”

Lee also had a message for students who want to pursue a music career. “There are no short cuts, especially in music. It is important that you have patience, diligence, perseverance and, of course, passion. These are all important elements that make up a wonderful musician.”

The Student of the Year Awards competition is organised by South China Morning Post and Young Post and sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne