Photo: Edward Wong
Rachel Cheung has come a long way since her father introduced her to the piano
By Barry C Chung
For most people, spending six hours a day on the piano may sound a bit too much. But for others it's a reality: the price of becoming a professional pianist.
Rachel Cheung Wai-ching accepts the harsh reality of sacrifice; it's part of her daily routine.
"Normally I practise five to six hours a day," says the 19-year-old. "It's been my dream since childhood. I've already decided on this [career] path."
For the last three years, the Hong Kong Arts Development Council has organised the Arts-Ambassadors-in-school Scheme to reward youngsters who excel in the arts.
Cheung, who was nominated as an ambassador by Professor Lo King-man, former director of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA), won the award for Young Artist (music) in July and received HK$22,000 to further her music education.
As the winner, Cheung is expected to promote arts development in Hong Kong. "In July I went to an awards ceremony for the Arts Ambassadors-in-school Scheme. It was part of my responsibility," she says. "I performed a piano duet with a visually impaired student, Timmy Liu Tsz-hong."
Even before she started winning competitions, Cheung already knew the piano was her calling. She's come a long way since her dad introduced her to the piano. She first enrolled at an arts centre, taking formal lessons there until the age of nine. She then joined the HKAPA to study under Professor Eleanor Wong Yee-lun, and they've remained teacher-pupil ever since.
Guided by Wong, Cheung has improved by leaps and bounds, and developed an intense passion for music.
"I find playing and practising music professionally makes me very happy. This is because my teacher [Wong] taught me how to appreciate music on a different level ... to create different tones and a voice within your music," Cheung says.
"She taught me how to express my emotions. It's like telling people stories by playing piano. So I think it's very interesting and fun."
Cheung, who is studying for a bachelor of arts in music at the HKAPA, admits the number of hours she spends on the piano could jump to more than 10 hours per day before competitions.
In recent months, she played a lot of Chopin pieces to prepare for the 16th Chopin International Piano Competition, one of the most prestigious contests for pianists. She reached the semi-finals at the event last month in Warsaw, Poland.
For a teenager, Cheung shows remarkable maturity and appreciates the hardships involved in pursuing a music career. And yet she is determined to achieve her goals.
"I think you really have to love what you're doing - love music, love the arts," she says.
"Indeed being a musician is very difficult. You'll face a lot of difficulties - a lot of failures. You'll encounter failure more than success.
"I think it's very important to be tough and have stamina to go through all the difficulties and obstacles," she says. "And you need a lot of courage."
Organised by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, the Arts Ambassadors-in-school Scheme rewards students for their artistic excellence and passion for promoting arts activities. All arts ambassadors must be nominated by school principals by Tuesday. For more details, visit www.aais.hk