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Getting into the most prestigious music school in London

Music is everything and gave him everything. He now wishes to one day be able to give back again through music.

At a tender age, William picked up the cello and dropped jaws with his natural talents. He went on to perform at numerous stages, accepted pupils of his own and even kickstarted a charity which raises funds for orphans and teaches them to play various musical instruments. William accomplished all this while completing his IGCSE studies and IB Diploma. His hard work paid off when he was accepted into the extremely selective Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. In this interview article, William shares what life was like as a Third culture kid studying for the IB Diploma in a home away from home. He also reflects on his musical journey and shares his hopes and dreams for the future. Notably, he talks up the meaning of music and how it has shaped and changed his life. By bettering his craft, he hopes one day to be able to share his talents with the world and shape the lives of others through his music.


Q1: I remember I first met you when you were doing your IGCSEs. You went on to complete your IB studies and are now in your second year of University (at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London no less!). Let me start with an ice-breaker of a question. I taught you English Literature for a number of years when you were doing your IGCSE and IB Diploma. I am curious to know what was the fondest piece of knowledge or advice you learnt from me? I often reminisce fondly on the stories and knowledge gained during my time in the IGCSE and IB. Life nowadays in music Conservatoire can be so chaotic and complicated with real deadlines and responsibilities. I find myself constantly jumping through hoops to score that performance opportunity or land a good connection in the profession, or simply just to prove to myself that I have the potential to become the artist I desire. I think the wisdom that I gained from your many teachings was the gift of communication, being able to organise my thoughts in a clear and coherent way so that others can understand my message the same way I had intended. English Literature demands the defending of one’s personal claims and ideas, which is the artistic foundation that the music profession is based on. I experienced this through our vigorous conversations about poetry and prose. These conversations were always driven by our shared love for culture and philosophy ingrained in the world of Literature. To me this was far more important than the A* or 7 on my report card, because I was beginning to embrace a creative artistic mindset through our work together, and every day I argue for my artistic integrity in the practice room and on stage through the very same process!

Q2: Ok let's get to know you better. You and your family are from Hong Kong. But you grew up in Shanghai and studied in an international school (Dulwich College Shanghai) for most of your academic life. You are what many regard as a Third culture kid. Tell me what has that been like? I acknowledge my identity as a Third culture kid, and I take great pride in being able to draw inspiration from an international array of cultures and traditions. I was born in 2001 on the Island of Hong Kong and moved to Shanghai with my family three years later. There, I studied at Dulwich College Shanghai, Pudong, for 16 years! You could probably guess my connection to the school is strong, having studied there for my whole childhood! Dulwich was a melting pot of different cultures. And almost every student there could be considered a Third culture kid. In my class, ten different nationalities were represented. We studied the same material and brought with us perspectives and ideas that were shaped by our unique backgrounds. Of course, there are downsides of being a Third culture kid. One struggle I had was that I could never say for sure where exactly I belong or what my cultural identity was. At first, it made me feel lost and disempowered. But over time, I have grown to embrace this identity and draw inspiration from all the cultures I encounter throughout my life. I recall fondly the “international days” that take place in school once a year. This is when families of children studying at the school come together in a great festival to set up small stalls showcasing their nation’s food and culture. I remember clearly sampling delectable homemade Dim Sum at the Hong Kong/China stall (of which my mother captained) while getting Mehndi painted on my hands from my friends at the Indian stand - all while watching my Kiwi teachers perform the electrifying Haka on stage! Growing up in such a culturally rich environment led me to strongly believe that people make the world a beautiful place. Q3: I am interested to find out more about your IB journey and your time so far in Guildhall. Let's first focus-fire on your IB experience. In one word, how would you describe your IB experience and why? I would describe my IB experience as a necessary milestone. The reason is because IB taught me much more than Maths or Literature. It taught me discipline, organisation, patience, perseverance, and collaboration. Spending 90% of my free time practising the cello and not working on that essay due for the week often left teachers frustrated with my lack of punctuality. However, spending that much time on the cello was not negotiable to me. As a result, I was constantly juggling between these two halves of my life. The IB accelerated my maturity in handling my schedule, as I learnt to balance the academic demands of the IB alongside the practise demands of the cello. As you can imagine, I did not have any time left to enjoy and party! Q4: How has the IB shaped you as a person and prepared you for University? The IB gave me the right tools for independent thinking and made me capable of taking care of myself in the rigorous Music conservatoire environment of my university. If I could name the most useful characteristic that I took from the IB, it would be a responsible work ethic. The determination to improve and grow stronger academically set me up quite well for the demands of conservatoire as you have to be fully willing and capable of putting in the hours in the practice room. To me, the IB was the time for training, and now at the conservatory, it is time to make it or break it.

Q5: Let's now get into your passion for Music. I have always wondered how your musical journey started? And what music means to you? The very first time I set eyes upon a cello was when I was nine years old in the year 3 string programme at Dulwich. I saw this curious-looking instrument that seemed to fit so well leaning against my body. I remember impressing Mr Patrick Sabberton, my teacher at the time, by discovering the Glissando technique entirely by myself on my first day. It was from that day on that my young self quickly became obsessed with the sounds I could produce with a cello. Finding a good Cello teacher was difficult as I didn’t have any idea if the person teaching me was any good, until I came under the mentorship of Mr Huang, principal Cellist of the Shanghai Symphony, who had me realise what I must demand from myself If I were to become a professional. To me, music is a way of life, and the cello is merely a vessel to transmit my own creative ideas to the world. Q6: Humility is one of your greatest virtues but I must put you on the spot! You were somewhat of a superstar in Dulwich! Every student and parent I met knew of you as the cello maestro - the young musician who headlined many concerts. I want to say that I have not yet but am dying to see you in action one day! Your talents aside, what impresses me so much about you is your heart for others. You have used your talents and love for music to impact change for the less fortunate. Can you briefly talk a little about what you did (and perhaps still doing)? I would love to perform for you one day! I am quite flattered by that statement, and I hope I have set a good example for any budding musicians in the school community. To me, music is the universal language of hope and love. I believe that music can change one’s life for the better and can be used as a call to action to address the suffering of the human condition. At the beginning of year 10, I started a charity project at Dulwich titled “Music for Life” which aimed to raise money for surgery and adoption expenses for disabled orphans living in Shanghai. We had two sold-out concerts and multiple fundraising events in the three years of the project. We raised enough money to cover the surgery costs of all the orphans at the Shanghai Baby Home. Even after the project ended, I would make regular trips to the Baby Home to teach and perform. Undergoing this kind of service filled my heart with a love for what I do as I could begin to give back to society and help those in need. Today, although I have taken a break from charity work to focus on the conservatoire I am in, charity is still in the back of my mind and I would take any opportunity I can to help people through Music. I am certain that I will return to doing this kind of work in the future. Q7: You are now where you were always meant to be - honing your skills and talents with your contemporaries in one of the most prestigious performing arts institutions in the world. I hope COVID has not been too much of a hindrance - how has the experience been? How are the classes, teachers and your peers? Life in Music school has everything I had expected and then some. Coming from such a broad- based environment in the IB, I was suddenly focusing all my energy on excelling in one subject. In my university, I am surrounded by like-minded individuals who push themselves and each other to achieving the highest possible standard in musical artistry. The professors whom I study under are some of the most inspirational figures I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. My principal study Cello teacher, Mr. Tim Lowe, constantly challenges me further to push my creative and technical boundaries. Studying Music performance in a conservatoire is vastly different than that of traditional university. The most glaring difference is the hours spent toiling away at our instrument day-in and day-out. On average, I practise 5 hours a day, and perform in rehearsals for 8 hours a day. Whatever time I have left is spent in the library absorbing any knowledge I can find to grow my musicianship. On regular days I am up and awake at 5.30am. I start my day with a morning run before making my way to campus for my practice session at 7am. I reach home no earlier than 10pm. It’s definitely draining but I find motivation in this: music students often take great pride in what we do because our music is a clear reflection of our soul, and who we are is transmitted into the sounds we produce. Cultivating this skill demands thousands of hours in the practice room and on stage. In many ways the Covid pandemic for me was a blessing in disguise. Moving to London by myself in 2020 was a true test of my resilience. I dealt with the stress and anxiety of getting Covid, while also focusing on becoming a professional musician. Due to the lockdown, almost all activities in school were postponed and I was left with lots of free time to practise as much as I possibly could. In the first year, I focused on reforming my technique and breaking bad habits fostered over the years. The pandemic allowed me to practise more than I have ever done in my life. Q8: If you could only choose one, what is the one thing you hope or want to achieve in Guildhall? If I could only choose one goal to achieve, it would be to perform the Dvorák Cello Concerto with the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra in the Barbican Hall. Regardless, I am chose Guildhall because I wanted to develop myself and become the musician I have always dreamt of becoming. I think there are lots I still must learn before becoming a professional, but I am learning more and more every day that I am here. Q9: So what is in store for William? What are your plans after you leave Guildhall? And where do you see yourself in 10 years? I often ask myself this exact question, and as it is right now, I might stay in Guildhall for my postgraduate studies to buy myself more time to practise and perform as a student. Whatever happens afterwards will be the result of all the hard work I would have put in over the years. Perhaps one day I could be touring the world performing in the world’s best music venues with the top players in the profession, but why dream so much now when I can instead keep my head down and keep working? Q10: One final question before I let you go. What advice would you give your slightly younger self - a 15/16 year old William who is about to start on his two-year IB journey?

Ask more questions and clarify your doubts! Also, trust in and enjoy the process! I was too eager and stressed over life after the IB. If I could, I would want to tell my younger self that it is ok to be where I am, and that I am allowed to make mistakes and be silly. I want to tell myself that achieving personal greatness is a process that takes years of hard work. There is no need to rush past the growing up and maturing phase. I want to reassure myself that there is a very clear purpose to the work I am doing, and no matter how lost I may feel, I can be confident that I am building character through the process.


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