After bidding a rushed farewell to his family, Xavier Cheung came to London by himself a year ago, bringing with him a music dream.
With no financial back-up nor outstanding academic qualification, Xavier, now 28, worked in a restaurant and real estate agency to earn money for rental. After sending tons of his CVs out, a music school extended an offer to him. Within a few months, teaching piano became Xavier’s full-time rather than part-time job. He even started his own company. Now he is working hard to earn tuition for a master’s degree in music.
Whereas the mansion of music always looked beyond reach to Xavier in Hong Kong, the artistic feel of Britain gave him confidence. “Here you would find a homeless person playing to express emotions with a broken piano abandoned on the street—this is what music is about. With money or not, you can play music as long as you love it, this is the spirit of music.”
He is now a life member of the Chopin Society UK and a member of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, which are mansions of music with a different classical music feel to him. Here in Britain he finally realised a piano dream of many years.
Xavier first touched piano at the age of four. At that time he did not have any interest and it was for passing piano exams. That changed in 2011, before he was admitted to university. He fell in love with music.
In 2014 pursuing further studies, he took a music-related programme and obtained a professional diploma in music marketing and management from the Hong Kong Open University (now renamed Hong Kong Metropolitan University). Apart from general music technique, he also acquired knowledge in marketing and management, which created a foundation on which to later built his company.
He once went to Taiwan to pursue a bachelor degree in information and communication. After school he part-timed as a music teacher and continued practising in the hope of keeping his fire-feeling in music.
Career Aspiration Ignited in Britain
Upon graduation Xavier returned to Hong Kong and went through the turbulent 2019. He referred to Chopin’s music to describe his state of mind: “At that time I admired Chopin’s Polonaises very much. From 2014 to 2019 a lot happened in Hong Kong, which resembled the environment in which Chopin composed the Polonaises. I found expressions in his music about how to fight communism and defend against invasion of a different culture. I felt the affinity of music and society, especially in 2019.”
The emigration tide propelled Xavier to make a decision for career development once again. At the end he moved to Britain alone without support from family nor hefty capital. All he had was a pair of hands to carve out new territory for himself. “Here in Britain, I started from zero hence there is nothing to lose and no returns for work is fine with me. This is my dream! This is my challenge!”
Xavier knew very well that it was not easy to do music in Hong Kong. The music scene there was exclusive, open to young people from either a family of musicians with a wide network, or a wealthy family that can afford costly instruments for practising. A young person with only a dream and aspirations had a hard time breaking into the music industry.
Western classical music originated from Europe. Xavier found Britain to offer much more room for development in music. “In Europe if you love music and seek opportunities, you will get them, regardless of your background.” Ever since landing in Britain, Xavier had been non-stop in seeking opportunities and exploring different directions for development. He began the process with sending resumes to music organisations.
He said, “With a bit of audacity and initiative to reach out, you will get people to notice you. Designer clothes or family wealth won’t gain you access to the music scene here. Westerners don’t care about these.” It was good news to him that the Incorporated Society of Musicians strongly supported musicians. Even a “nobody” can apply for and get funds from the Society.
After landing in Britain, the turning point for Xavier was getting a part-time piano teacher job in a music school opened by a Polish musician. Starting from giving trial classes to two students, he got more and more students. The side job became his main job. In order to work as a self-employed tax-payer, he founded his own company “Chun Yin Studio Ltd.” It only took him two hours to get approval and open a company account to register his school in London. It was win-win to sign a teaching contract in a company’s capacity with the Polish musician’s school. There are other advantages as well—he can now do musical instruments retail and other commercial joint-ventures such as promoting NFT cryptocurrency for music. These are the projects that can be further developed.
Asian Music is Hong Kong Musicians’ Advantage
Xavier had confidence in developing a music career in Britain. “We have great prospects. As a Hongkonger we are not at a disadvantage in Europe. First of all, we speak one additional language. Secondly, Asians, when learning music, have a wider exposure than westerners to other music genres such as Chinese and Japanese ones. This is the advantage of us Hongkonger being diversified and international.”
He believed Asian music has its own uniqueness which sounds fresh to Europeans. Now that he is here Xavier believes he should fully utilise his advantages to bring more westerners to appreciate Asian music.
Xavier also came to understand the difference between teaching music in Hong Kong and Britain. “In Hong Kong parents look at teachers’ pedigrees. Graduates from top music schools, or teachers with high academic qualifications are soon grabbed. It is different in Britain. Here they first look at how you get along with students, and how you get kids to like music. If you don’t know how to teach, you will not be hired, regardless how well you play professionally. Actually the basic requirement for teaching piano is not high here—a Grade 6 or Grade 8 in the Piano Test achieved will suffice, plus adequate English for communication.”
More and more Hong Kong families have now moved to Britain. Parents, especially the ones who emigrated a long time ago, want to get Cantonese music teachers for their children. “Many Hong Kong families prefer a piano teacher to speak Cantonese to kids, so they favour bilingual teaching.” In view of this need, Xavier was positive about the room for development in London. He thought there was going to be a large potential market.
In his company’s capacity, Xavier ran an International Music Festival this April in London’s Camden School For Girls music school, together with Hong Kong Cultural Square and the Polish musician’s school. He and the Polish musician served as jurors. The goal of the festival was bridging different countries’ culture with music, and making music part of daily life. The event attracted Hong Kong immigrants as well as locals. Young people learned from each other through music.
Xavier participated in most of the event’s planning, finding the location and publicity work. As a new kid to the block, he tried his hand and got a strong boost from the festival’s success. He harboureds hopes for facilitating more similar events and bringing together more groups.
Xavier is planning to enrol in next year’s music MA program to further his professional studies. Studying music was just his pastime and dream in the past but now it is within his reach. “For me, taking up studies is to enable him to better share music and enable us to enjoy music together, which is an opportunity to be treasured. There is so much to learn. In the future, I hope to further develop my music school. This is my aspiration.”