Old Blue Lee Tsang immersed himself in the countless opportunities made available to students wishing to showcase their artistic talents whilst at The Blue Coat School. He credits the School for “laying the foundation for my musical experiences in later life”.
When Lee isn’t busy managing or conducting his own orchestra Sinfonia UK Collective, you can find him lecturing at the University of Liverpool in classical music performance.
How would you describe your time at the Blue Coat?
Growing up is not an easy thing. Sometimes it can be quite an intense experience and at other times joyful and light. I think the Blue Coat offered a particular environment in which this journey enabled me to prosper and be creative. There was definitely a competitive spirit but also a collegiality.
How did your experience at the School prepare you for your career?
A supportive music teacher and instrumental teacher played a major role in developing my confidence.
I had lots of opportunities: I participated in the choirs, led the school orchestra, was a member of the Saturday local schools orchestra and also joined the Merseyside Youth Orchestra on the recommendation of my teacher. I took part in productions too. Cinderella was the first one I did; I was in the chorus for that – did some dancing (I still remember the moves). Later, and to the surprise of some peers who I think thought I’d be too shy, I also auditioned for the principal role of Aladdin and got it, and this really brought me out of my shell. These were all really great opportunities, which I think laid the foundation for my musical experiences in later years.
Apart from music, I developed my skills and imagination through exposure to lots of great texts in English and I did lots of languages which really helped me to understand grammar and how to write. Latin was a real help for that, as were French and Spanish. All three languages helped me with my singing in later years. Learning them gave me confidence with pronunciation and helped me to understand the value of word-by word translations as well as the functions of words in context.
My experience at The Blue Coat School has enabled me to make a genuine and valuable contribution wherever I have worked.
What has been your path since leaving School?
I went to the University of Newcastle for my first degree, studying Music. I started off wanting to be a violinist and composer and ended up specialising in conducting and music analysis. I managed to get a first class degree, and at that time achieved the highest mark that had been given for a dissertation in Music.
Continuing my education I spent a year at the University of East Anglia studying for a Masters in Conducting Studies and was awarded the degree with distinction. Next, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy awarded me a scholarship enabling me to embark on a PhD specialising in music from the early 20th Century from the University of Southampton. I secured my first full time proper job as Lecturer and Research Fellow at Birmingham Conservatoire.
What do you do now?
I am a Lecturer in Classical Musical Performance at the University of Liverpool. Prior to this I was a Lecturer in Music at the University of Hull and in this role I did a lot of things, including being a Concerts Director, Director of Performance, Director of Engagement and, as I do now, leading some of the music programmes and liaising with schools. I’ve lectured on Film Music, Music of the 20th and 21st Centuries, Arts Enterprise, Orchestration and Arranging, and Performance. I’ve written articles, produced music anthologies, performance translations, and made some recordings and arty music films.
I also run my own orchestra, the Sinfonia UK Collective, which I started back in 2004. In recent years I’ve done more solo singing too and had lots of composers write music for me. I’m currently preparing for an international tour which involves me conducting and doing a bit of singing with a two-time Juno award winning jazz pianist. It’s very exciting.
What would be your advice to students at the Blue Coat today?
Seize your opportunities, and go with your heart. You have to love what you do to put the work in, but you also have to recognise that in the end it’s not just enough to love it: you’ve really got to work at it. To quote my old Blue Coat music teacher Mr Houlder, “it’s 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” You are in charge of your own destiny and others are a great resource to help you reach that destiny.
I’ve never regretted the decision to do music. It enabled me to discover myself, my beliefs and the things I know that are worth fighting for.