Chinese orchestra event hitting the high notes

Mention the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) and melodies inspired by fishermen admiring the setting sun may start ringing in one's ears.

But at an ongoing exhibition to mark two decades of the SCO, the delight is for the eyes as much as the ears, with three Chinese music instruments exhibited in larger-than-life dimensions.

An erhu, ruan and guzheng - as much as five times the usual size - are now on display at the foyer of the Singapore Conference Hall, home of the SCO. They are part of the multi-media exhibition titled SCO Igniting 20 Years of Rhythmic Passion, which was opened by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and and his wife last Friday.

The giant erhu, a two-string instrument played with a bow, stands more than 4m tall. Equally tall is the giant ruan, a plucked string instrument with a circular body. Last in the gigantic trio is a butterfly-shaped guzheng - a Chinese zither - as wide as 4m.

The show also traces the SCO's development from a community to a national orchestra since its founding in 1996 - through story boards, pictures and taped interviews of SCO's past and present leaders. These include chairman Patrick Lee, music director Yeh Tsung and board member Choo Thiam Siew.

At the exhibition, which ends on Dec 11, other antique and rare instruments are also on display. These include replicas of a gourd harp and a lotus-shaped ruan, both from the Dunhuang frescoes period in ancient China dating more than 1,000 years ago.

Ms Chek with a 4.6m-tall ruan weighing 702kg at the foyer of the Singapore Conference Hall, where a giant erhu and guzheng are also on display - part of an exhibition marking two decades of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.
Ms Chek with a 4.6m-tall ruan weighing 702kg at the foyer of the Singapore Conference Hall, where a giant erhu and guzheng are also on display - part of an exhibition marking two decades of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Ms Yang Yuqing, marketing manager of the 60-year-old Shanghai No. 1 National Musical Instruments Factory, which brought the instruments here, said the giant instruments were made for exhibitions, especially overseas ones.

"We have made giant versions of every instrument in the Chinese orchestra with the same materials we use for the actual ones we produce and sell," she said.

The giant guzheng was made about 10 years ago to mark the 50th anniversary of the Shanghai music instrument maker, the largest in the world. These days, it makes nearly 100,000 guzheng pieces and at least 50,000 erhu pieces annually.

Human resource executive Florence Chek, 67, said: "It is an eye-opener for me. I have not seen the erhu and the ruan in such giant size (before)."

Over 200 people attended two workshops by master Zhang Jianping from Shanghai on the making, selection and maintenance of the erhuover the weekend.

•SCO Igniting 20 Years of Rhythmic Passion Exhibition is on at the Singapore Conference Hall - Sundays to Thursdays from 10am to 6pm; Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 8pm. It ends on Dec 11. Admission is free.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese orchestra event hitting the high notes'. Print Edition | Subscribe