Most students her age listen to hip hop, K-pop, or plain old pop, but Michelle Cheung Tsz-yau’s music tastes run a little more eclectic than that. The 16-year-old St Stephen’s College student enjoys listening to modern music, but she also loves classical music, too.
Last month, Michelle won first place for singing in the diploma class of the 11th Hong Kong Students Open Music Competition. For this particular competition, she performed a French classical song called Fleur Jetée, meaning “flower thrown”.
“The song itself is quite romantic, but the training I had to go through for the competition was fairly tough,” said Michelle. “I began learning this song in August and then two months later, it was competition time.”
The process Michelle goes through each time she competes does not change much. Once she knows what song she’ll be performing, she starts off by learning all the notes. Then, she’ll listen to the song at home. She then will attempt to understand what the lyrics mean. If the song is not in a language that she understands, like Fleur Jetée, she will translate the lyrics and do more research to understand it fully. After that, it’s simply a matter of going through the song line by line – sometimes note by note – with her vocal teacher.
“You just won’t suddenly get better after practising for an hour. I can get quite impatient with myself,” Michelle admitted. “In some cases, when I’ve been practising for 20 minutes, and I still can’t see any results, I’ll actually consider giving up. But then I tell myself to put aside this unsettling feeling, and I’ll continue to push through.”
This perseverance is something Michelle has learned over years.
Michelle’s mum signed her up to the Hong Kong Children’s Choir when she was about four. At that time, singing was nothing more than a hobby – one she never really thought of further developing. In primary school, though, her music teacher started giving Michelle a lot of opportunities to sing solo. It wasn’t until Primary Six that Michelle officially started taking vocal lessons.
When asked about one of her most memorable competitions, Michelle thought for a moment before saying it was last year’s Golden Gate International Choral Festival, which took place in California in the US. She remembers being ill, and had not expected to finish anywhere near the top. In the end, she came first.
“On the morning of the solo competition, I had to go to the doctor because I felt really sick,” she recalled. “My throat was dry and painful, my nose was all congested, and I had a bit of a fever. But then, when I sang later that day, to my absolute surprise, my performance was flawless.”
The competition was memorable for other reasons, too. Michelle knew it could potentially be the last time she would take part in the St Stephen’s College girls’ choir, which was also attending the same festival for the group competitions.
Michelle remembered feeling very moved by the entire experience. “[The song] was about how our bonds make us stronger together. Even Mr Chung, our music teacher, told us afterwards that he almost burst into tears while he was conducting.”
Music hasn’t just taught Michelle the importance of perseverance and friendship, though. It has become the focus of her future as well, and she said she now wants to study vocal music at university. Although she does not have a concrete plan just yet, she is 100 per cent sure her career has to be related to music.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of singing,” she added. “Even if I sang for the rest of my life, I would never be able to learn every single song there is to know. There’s always just so much more for me to sing and enjoy.”