我清楚記得第一次參加英國廣播公司 BBC 的逍遙音樂節 —— 世界上最著名的古典音樂節之一，是在 2010，由我的鋼琴老師莉勤教授（Heather Slade-Lipkin）陪同。我們在那裡觀看了一場由史蒂芬賀夫（Stephen Hough）舉辦的演奏會（後來亦在後台與他見面），他是全球首屈一指的鋼琴家，但只有少數人知道，他在童年時亦曾受過莉勤教授的啟發和悉心教導。
早前，我再次到現場觀看一場 BBC 逍遙音樂會。聽著 BBC 威爾斯國家管弦樂團和合唱團對古斯塔夫．霍爾斯特「死亡頌（Ode to Death）」情感豐富而深刻的演繹時，我不禁回想起莉勤教授於 2017 年的喪禮，以及她對我人生的影響……
第一次遇見莉勤教授時，我覺得她簡直是怪獸。那年我才 13 歲，但已在鋼琴考試中取得無數優異的成績、在香港的學校音樂節和鋼琴比賽中獲得許多獎項，並經常在學校裡表演。坦白說，我以為自己是一個不會失敗的天才。有一次，莉勤教授來觀看其中一個我滿以為完美的演出之後，把我拉到一旁，嚴辭指出我的技巧、演繹和表達方式，一切都是錯的 —— 在此之前，我不曾收過如此嚴厲的批評。
作為一個自負的少年，我非常自我保護，把她的話全當作耳邊風。當時我草率地想，「這個女人是誰？」和「她憑甚麼如此嚴厲地批評我？」一個月過後，好奇心終於迫使我上網查找這個女人究竟是誰。我才發現，這位女士其實是世界上其中一位最傑出的鋼琴家和音樂教育家。她是多個國內及國際鋼琴、羽管鍵琴和古鋼琴比賽的得獎者，曾與眾多世界知名的管弦樂團演出協奏曲，並先後在皇家北方音樂學院，以及蘇格蘭皇家音樂學院擁有教授職銜。而且她曾教過一些現時世上有名的鋼琴家，包括前文提及的史蒂芬賀夫、里昂麥考利（Leon McCawley）和史蒂芬庫姆斯（Stephen Coombs）。當我發現這些信息時，實在驚訝不已、無言以對。最後，我鼓起勇氣問她（當時她以香港為根據地）會否願意接受我為她的學生；令人驚訝的是，她竟然同意了。
我還是一個 13、14 歲的蠢材時，無法理解莉勤教授那些難懂的英式英語，以致我對她所說的話經常左耳入、右耳出。但莉勤教授是一個完美主義者，她總是告訴我要練習 —— 懶惰如我，沒耐性總是聽她的。然而，隨著我在莉勤教授的指導和啟發下，不斷建立對音樂、音樂理論和音樂歷史的理解。此外，莉勤教授花了無數時間來改進我的技巧，而從未對我平庸的基礎技術表現出任何不耐煩。在遇見她前，我從不知道我可以用鋼琴做顫音、以不同方式放開琴鍵能發出不同的聲音、手指的擺位亦能明顯改善演出，還有無數方法來加強手指和手腕的柔韌度……
回到現在，在 BBC 逍遙音樂會上，表演已經結束，觀眾給予熱烈的掌聲。在 2010 年，我記得自己問過莉勤教授，要怎樣才能到皇家阿爾伯特音樂廳，即逍遙音樂會舉行的地方，因為我從未去過。她幽默地回答：「練習、練習和練習。」現在 2018 年，我仍是逍遙音樂會的觀眾，還未能在舞台上表演，我感到莉勤教授在天上微笑著告訴我：「你練習得還不夠！」
The Piano Pedagogy Grandmaster
I remembered vividly that the first time I attended a concert at the BBC Proms, one of the most famous classical music festivals in the world, was in 2010, accompanied by Heather Slade-Lipkin, my piano professor. We were there to watch a concert given by Stephen Hough (and to meet him backstage afterwards), who is widely recognised as a leading pianist around the globe, but little did people know that he was a pianist who was inspired, taught and enlightened by Professor Lipkin when he was a child.
Several days ago, I once again attended a concert at the BBC Proms, and while I was listening to the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales’ emotional and poignant interpretation of Gustav Holst’s Ode to Death, I couldn’t help but to think back to Professor Lipkin’s funeral in 2017, and the impact that she had on my life…
I thought Professor Lipkin was a monster the first time I met her. I was 13 then, having been scoring numerous Distinctions in my piano examinations, winning many prizes at Hong Kong’s Schools Music Festival and piano competitions and performing frequently in my high school. If truth be told, I thought I was an infallible genius. When Professor Lipkin attended one of my seemingly perfect performances, she pulled me aside afterwards and simply torn into my playing, gave me the harshest criticism I’ve ever received, and made me realise that everything I did was wrong, including my techniques, my interpretation and my musical expression.
As an arrogant teenager, I was very defensive and could not take in a word she said. My rude first thoughts were “Who was this woman?” and “What gave her the right to criticise me so harshly?” However, after a month has gone by, my curiosity got better of me, and I went onto the internet to find out who this woman was. As I found out, this lady was actually one of the most prominent pianists and music educators in the world. She was a prizewinner at numerous national and international piano, harpsichord and fortepiano competitions, had appeared as a soloist with a wide array of world-renowned orchestras, held professorships at the Royal Northern College of Music, the Chetham’s School of Music, and later at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and has taught some of the most eminent pianists, including the aforementioned Hough, Leon McCawley and Stephen Coombs. As I discovered all these information, I was stunned, speechless and astonished. Eventually, I summoned up my courage and asked her (who was based in Hong Kong at the time) if she was willing to accept me as her student. And surprisingly, she agreed.
When I was still a 13, 14-year old imbecile, I could not understand Professor Lipkin’s difficult British English and what she said in my left ear often escaped through my right ear instantly. And Professor Lipkin was a bossy perfectionist who kept telling me to practise – as a lazy boy, I lost patience listening to her all the time! However, as I matured, under the guidance and inspiration of Professor Lipkin, my understanding of music, music theory and music history developed continuously. Not only did I learn how to perform the music perfectly, I also gained an insight on how to interpret a piece musically and convincingly. Furthermore, Professor Lipkin spent hours and hours improving my techniques and she never once showed any impatience over my mediocre technical foundation. Before I met her, I never knew that I could do vibrato on a piano, that pulling my fingers upwards in different ways could generate different sounds, that finger positioning could help my performance significantly, and that there are numerous ways to strengthen the power and tenacity of my fingers and wrists…
From Professor Lipkin, I learned that Hong Kong is just a tiny dot on the world map. Staying in Hong Kong would never have allowed me to appreciate all the musical talents around the world. Professor Lipkin’s incessant encouragement for me to study abroad, and to study in the countries with rich musical heritage, was one of the fundamental factors that led to my reading music at the University of Cambridge, and studying the history of music in the world capital of classical music, Berlin. At times, I really wanted my 13-year-old self to experience the musical education, the piano pedagogy and the remarkably dazzling and sensational musical performances in the West. I had a feeling that I would not have been so arrogant had I realised how ordinary and inexperienced I was, and truly appreciated the Chinese proverb of “There are always heavens beyond heavens, and mountains beyond mountains（天外有天，一山還有一山高）” .
The year before Professor Lipkin passed away from metastatic pancreatic cancer, despite her ailing health and weakening body, she was still teaching everyday, inspiring her students, encouraging them and imparting her words of wisdom. Professor Lipkin’s perfectionism and dedication to teaching, her passion for music pedagogy and determination to help her students realise their true potential were all truly remarkable.
There is always the saying that the size of the crowd that attends a funeral indicates the importance and popularity of the deceased. Well, at Professor Lipkin’s funeral, which was packed with hundreds of her former students, colleagues and friends, I realised how influential and fundamental this piano pedagogy grandmaster was in many people’s lives and how widely respected she was. There is also the saying that the times you weep during a funeral is representative of how you view the deceased. Judging from the number of times I wept and the continuous flow of tears that appeared from my eyes at Professor Lipkin’s funeral, it was clear how much I admired and respected Professor Lipkin, how grateful I am to all she taught me and how profoundly I will miss her.
Back at present, at the BBC Proms, the performance has finished and the audiences were giving a passionate round of applause to the performers. In 2010, I remembered that I asked Professor Lipkin how I could get to the Royal Albert Hall, where the BBC Proms concerts were held, since I have never been there before. She answered humorously, “Practice, practice and practice”. As of 2018, since I was still an audience member at the BBC Proms and not performing on stage, I could feel Professor Lipkin smiling down telling me “Well, you still haven’t practised enough!”