If you ask Thompson Lee, he would tell you that the more music you listen to, the better your music exam scores tend to be. The 16-year-old musicphile from West Island School (WIS) received the Outstanding Cambridge Award for being Hong Kong’s top scorer in the IGCSE Music examination this year – and he puts it down to his ability to enjoy anything from renaissance choral music to contemporary R’n’B.
Thompson doesn’t just like to listen to music – he’s also a drummer, a guitarist, a pianist, and a vocalist. The WIS student said his ability to play so many instruments stems from his wanting to reproduce the music he listened to.
“The satisfaction you get from recreating a piece of music is unique,” the Year 12 student told Young Post.
Thompson began listening to a wide range of music when he was a toddler. Some of his earliest memories include listening to music by singer-songwriters Michael Jackson and Elton John, and Italian operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
“When I was younger, my parents would play music in the car,” he said. “You learn so much from listening to music, such as music composition and genres, and [you feel] the emotions that the composer or musician was trying to convey.”
Some of Thompson’s favourite composers and singers are Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Aretha Franklin, and Muse. “These people have made significant contributions to music. The composers, in particular, have written a lot of great piano music that I love playing.”
For all his love of piano, though, Thompson chose to be assessed on his drumming for the IGCSE exam. It consisted of two parts, coursework and a listening exam – worth 60 and 40 per cent of the final grade respectively. Thompson submitted a solo and ensemble performance along with two original and contrasting compositions for his coursework.
Thompson chose Rockschool Drums Grade Six exam piece Mohair Mountain for his solo performance, and played Europe’s The Final Countdown on the drum kit, with a jazz band accompaniment, for his ensemble performance. “I really liked the arrangement of this famous hit,” he said.
Thompson said that the listening exam was easier than the coursework.
He said he had to familiarise himself with the features of each type of music, so that he could identify each piece played in the exam with confidence.
Thompson said that YP readers who will take the same exam in future would do well to “avoid choosing lengthy pieces” to play for their coursework. The longer a piece, the more likely you are to make mistakes. However, he added, you should “choose a piece you enjoy. This allows you to perform to the best of your ability”.
Setting a goal for practice sessions is also important, he added, as it allows you to keep track of the areas you need to work on. “[Composing] is best done over many sessions, not in a single one,” he said. “This helps you to avoid a creative block.”
One of the most effective ways to thrive in the subject, Thompson said, is simply to “listen to music”.
“You will improve your speed and accuracy in identifying music by doing this.”