If you ask Leif Tse what he is most proud of, he will probably tell you it’s his music scholarship. Leif is one of the first Hongkongers to earn a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
“I started playing piano when I was five; that was my first contact with music. But my passion didn’t really develop until I was 12 when I first heard The Phantom of the Opera,” says the 18-year-old from King George V School.
“I started taking vocal lessons after that, and now my main instrument is my voice.”
Leif has been KGV’s star musical performer for some time now, and has played a bunch of roles – from the Cowardly Lion in the school’s production of The Wizard of Oz five years ago, to starring as Nathan in Guys and Dolls last year.
Although he enjoys musical theatre, Leif had to give it up to do classical, operatic singing.
“The techniques [between dramatic and operatic singing] are completely different,” says Leif, who has a deep, booming voice. “Musical theatre is obviously more mainstream, more aggressive, and less controlled. But, in opera, it is all about breath support, control, and placement.”
He says most classical singers know French, German, and Italian; so after learning French in his IB diploma, he is now self-learning the other two languages.
“It’s part of a musician’s life,” he adds. “The foreign literature is really interesting to me, because a lot of songs are based on poetry.”
Leif says the life of a singer is “similar to that of an athlete”.
“You have to be in peak health condition at all times,” he explains. “I have to exercise to train my breath and diaphragm, drink a lot of water, sleep early, and I can’t do anything that could be damaging to my voice.” A strong diaphragm, which is a sheet of muscle under the lungs, will push and pull more air into your lungs.
But as talented a singer as Leif is, it’s not even where his true passion lies – his real dream is to, one day, become a conductor. “I enjoy singing, but I feel like that’s just an extension of my love for music,” he says. “Conducting encompasses all forms of music, and I see music as one whole thing, not a sum of parts.
"I believe all the instruments are linked, which is why I love orchestra so much – you can see how all the instruments match each other and create interesting textures.”
Whether he decides to become a singer, conductor, or maybe dabble in a bit of both, Leif is excited about going to Europe where the music scene and culture is much more developed than in Hong Kong.
“I think in Hong Kong there is too much focus on education, and not enough emphasis on the arts,” he says. “Just look at IB – arts subjects aren’t even compulsory. Even in the UK, the number of students taking creative subjects is going down.”
It wasn’t scary for Leif to pursue a musical career, though.
“I’m just obsessed with music. I think about it all day, every day, and there was never any doubt that this is what I want to do.”
He loves to perform but he is still a little nervous when he goes on stage.
“It can be nerve-racking,” Leif says. “If you don’t get scared getting on stage, you aren’t human. But I’ve learned to use that fear and channel that adrenaline to help my singing.”
His advice to young musicians is to “become immersed” in music.
“If you want to truly succeed in music, like with any other career, you have to love being obsessed about it.”