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The Lifelong Duet With Music

School of Music's alumnus Thomas Hung Ka-yeung and student Natalie Lo Yin-wah

1 Nov 2022

The musician's path is at its essence a solitary one. But for cellist and Academy alumnus Thomas Hung Ka-yeung as well as Year 3 harpist Natalie Lo Yin-wah, the journey has been accompanied by the inspiration and support of family, teachers and peers. This has fortified their confidence to overcome their own doubts, and to choose music as their permanent companion.


Thomas Hung, currently a master's degree student at the Yale School of Music, was born to a family of musicians. His mother Lulu Tung Hiu-lo is the principal gehu for the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra; his father Hung Lap is a cello teacher.


"My parents never told me which instrument to learn, cello or otherwise," he recalls. "My learning began from habit. I was acquainted with the cello at 5. It was simply a toy that I would have fun with every day. When I got to 7 or 8, I began to enjoy the cello and felt I couldn't do without it."


In Secondary 2, Thomas enrolled in the Academy's Junior Music Programme, and came under the tutelage of Professor Ray Wang, a renowned cellist as well as Head of Strings and Head of the Junior Music Department. Just when it seemed this young man was destined for a music career, other interests intruded. He loved swimming and cycling, and economics fascinated him.


"When confronted with the array of subjects of the Diploma of Secondary Education Exam (DSE), I asked myself how much I loved music, and if I could turn an interest into a profession," he notes. While Thomas was mulling over his choices, his parents said something that led to an epiphany on his part. "Look at history," they advised. "See how music has always left its mark."


Thomas admits he lacks patience, but his passion for music drives him to seek breakthroughs. "In my continuous quest for challenge, one accomplishment serves as a springboard for the next," he says. "That's how I sustain satisfaction with what I do."


Compared to the decision making over the DSE, Thomas was decisive when it was time to choose a major and a university. He only applied to one programme, to pursue a bachelor's degree in music at the Academy. "I was around 16 or 17," he says. "I thought to myself, if not now, when?"


Betting on Himself


At the Academy, Thomas continued his tutelage under Professor Wang. Thomas observes that his teacher is not only well-versed in technique and musical knowledge, but is also an inspiring instructor. "He would use different examples to guide you, instead of telling you what to do," Thomas notes. "He wants to nurture our capacity for self-learning, which calls to mind the saying, If you give a hungry man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. The immediate results are the same, but the processes are worlds apart."


Musicians may not all be sentimental, but it is safe to say they are all sensitive. Thomas describes his decision to choose music as a "gamble". Since the gambler can win or lose, there's plenty of anxiety and self-doubt involved. He is grateful to Professor Wang for always giving positive advice.


"Lows are inevitable," he concedes. "The crucial thing is knowing you love what you're doing."


Thomas's favourite class at the Academy was concert practice every Thursday at 2 pm. "It's an excellent learning platform that lets students share their observations after performing," he explains. "The performers aren't the only ones learning; the audience also come away with valuable insights and lessons."


Thomas was considered a rising star even while still a student. He was invited to give a solo cello recital at Hong Kong City Hall. Another noteworthy concert, Cello Duo Concept, was presented together with his mother Lulu Tung. After graduation, he decided to pursue master's studies at Yale University on a full scholarship. He intends to develop his career as a soloist in the United States and Europe, exploring different opportunities for his music. 


The future may be uncertain, but cello will surely accompany him every step of the way. "It's a lonely journey sometimes," he admits. "Your loved ones cannot be there for you all the time. But the cello can."


Precious Partner in Growth


Harp major Natalie Lo was also raised in a musical family – her mother is a pianist and Academy alumna. Natalie was exposed to the piano as an infant, and began learning the instrument at the age of 4. That was followed by flute lessons at 6, and the harp at 7. Her experience as a candidate in the Concours Français de la Harpe, or French Harp Competition, showed her how much she enjoys performance and competition. Immediately after the contest, she chose the harp.


"Harpists get blisters and calluses, which pianists and flautists don't," she says. "When my poor fingers gave me second thoughts, I questioned if I loved the harp. The answer was always affirmative."


Natalie participated in the Academy Junior Music Programme when she was 9. Her instructor was the famous harpist Ann Huang. "Ms. Huang is a musician who likes to experiment with ways of interpretation," Natalie notes. "Likewise, she encourages her students to explore and find our own style."


What kind of harp music, then, does Natalie like? Surprisingly, she says the "rough" kind. But how does an instrument associated with the "music of angels" produce something vigorous, let alone rough?


"The harp is an extraordinary instrument, capable of being both tender and ardent," she points out. "Some pieces require knocking on the body of the instrument; others call for tapping the strings; or sliding a coin on strings to imitate the sound of wind."


In 2020, Natalie won a gold medal at the 5th Hong Kong International Harp Competition. Her outstanding performance landed her a guest-performance invitation from the USA International Harp Competition.


"I felt extremely honoured because the participants are top musicians," she says. "I hope to be one of them someday. The experience was truly memorable. The locals were so friendly that I was able to keep my stage fright to a minimum and complete my performance with a light and happy heart."


Natalie admits she used to be very susceptible to stage fright. But the concert-practice opportunities offered by the Academy helped her to overcome her nerves.


"I gained a lot from the programme," she says. "For example, learning both American and French techniques has truly broadened my perspective, and enriched my knowledge."


Harp majors are few and far between at the Academy. There were only four in the last academic year, including Natalie, and six this year. "I was worried the atmosphere would be very competitive," she says. "Instead, the Academy's contagious teamwork atmosphere has encouraged us to use our different playing styles to inspire each other." Last year, the harp majors held a joint concert. This year, Natalie even invited Ann Huang, the principal harp with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, to play with them.


Natalie describes the harp as a partner who has grown up with her, and who continues to grow with her. "I was only 7 when I began learning the harp," she notes. "The relationship has deepened all these years. I play to celebrate, I play to vent, I play whatever mood I'm in."


In all intimate relationships, though, partners need personal space. Natalie practises six or seven hours a day, and devotes the rest of her time to other hobbies such as graphic design, interior design and cooking. "If I focus 100% on the harp, I would not have the mood and freedom to create music," she says. "I would be lost. I value work-life balance. You need to know when to sit back in order to improve."


The article was published in the Nov 2022 issue of Academy News. Click here to read the original story.)



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