Passion over pressure

Passion over pressure

An outstanding result in her IB exams didn’t tempt Peggy Wu into studying for the usual highly paid careers. To her, music was more important

A young woman scores full marks in the International Baccalaureate (IB) exams, and instead of bowing to society's expectations for her next course of study, she pursues her own passion - a Bachelor of Music degree.

Fantasy? The kind of life Hong Kong students dream about but can't fulfil because of parents' or other pressures? Nope. For Peggy Wu Hiu-nam, it's fact, and she couldn't be happier.

A graduate of Sha Tin College, Wu, 18, received 45 out of 45 in her IB exams this summer. She dismissed the typical high-income professions and enrolled at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA).

"People say they want to do law or medicine, but is it really what they want?" she says. "I think the expectation for young people to get certain jobs stops them from considering other options."

It is easy to see that music is what Wu - a piano performance major - really wants to do. Hardly minutes into the interview, she leapt to the piano bench to show new scales she had learnt, and then played a passionate rendition of Ballade No3 by Frederic Chopin.

Wu explains that while textbooks contain factual history, "music captures emotional history. You feel what the composer felt centuries ago. That is what's magical about music".

It has helped Wu that her parents had also earned music-related degrees, and they both own a music school.

So, immersed in music, she began playing the piano at age three, completed grade eight by age 11 and went on to achieve a piano diploma. In competitions, she won gold medals at the Hong Kong Schools Music Festival, and even won the category for 18-and-under solos at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales, Britain.

What's more, she passed grade eight in violin and grade five in vocal arts. And she has the support of her parents - with only one concern.

"My dad fully supports it. So does my mum, but she was slightly concerned; she thinks it's hard to make it in the music world," Wu says.

"The journey is tough. I think the people at HKAPA are here because of their parents' support; it's hard to do it alone."

Life at HKAPA keeps students busy. "I can feel how serious everyone here is about their field," she says. "There are people who arrive on campus at 6am and leave at 11pm."

Still, Wu says, it's better than what she would have been going through if she had chosen the "other path". Upon receiving her IB results, the star student confesses that she began to consider law.

"I was told it was a waste not to do law with my score," recalls Wu, who adds that the seed was planted into her head by society's expectations. But she made her own decision, and advises other young people to do the same.

"I'm only 18," she says. "Why not take a risk and chase my dreams?"

One factor in her decision was that her piano skills were highly developed, and cutting practice time would cause her to lose them. Piano would be difficult to pick up again in the future, she reasoned, but she could later study law, which she says she would also enjoy.

One of her short-term goals is to perform a concerto with a live orchestra - something she has never done before. She is also excited about the thought of performing abroad, at classical music hotspots in Europe and America.

That's why, she says, it's important for her to improve as a pianist. "Seeing improvement is when I feel satisfaction," she says. "What I find challenging is seeking new ways to be original, especially when the level of music we must achieve is so high."

Although the road ahead may be tough, Wu feels at peace with her decision to chase her dream: "If you never try, you'll always have a 'what if' in the back of your head. I don't want that. Even if I fail, at least I know I've tried."


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- Sean Lee Shing-hin is a shy 13-year-old, who covers his face with his hands when he doesn't know what to say. Yet, when he picks up his viola his face radiates confidence

- Carmen Ching has been dreaming of a career as a pianist since she was five and she's one step closer as she's set to study at Britain's Royal Academy of Music

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