Off Stage

Chamber music to tug at heartstrings

Erhu player Chin Yen Choong (left) will be performing at the Ding Yi Chinese Chamber Music Festival.
Erhu player Chin Yen Choong (above) will be performing at the Ding Yi Chinese Chamber Music Festival.PHOTO: DING YI MUSIC COMPANY

Erhu player Chin Yen Choong, normally jovial and chatty, finds himself at a loss for words when asked to describe the beauty of Chinese chamber music.

After a pause, the 36-year-old says: "When we do it right, it feels like everything is in harmony.

"The sound is so whole and complete, you can't separate the instruments."

The delicate and intimate brand of Chinese classical music will feature in the second edition of the Ding Yi Chinese Chamber Music Festival, which runs from Thursday to Sunday.

The festival includes performances by Chinese erhu maestro Duan Ai-ai of the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra and contemporary classical music from Taiwanese ensemble Chai Found Music Workshop.

Do you remember your first performance as a musician?

I was a child, only 11 years old. I actually started out learning the pipa (Chinese lute). My first performance was in an orchestra where everyone else was an adult.


    WHERE: Various locations, such as library@ chinatown and Esplanade

    WHEN: Thursday to Sunday

    ADMISSION: $30 for ticketed events (call 6348- 5555 or go to

    INFO: Go to

What are your pre-show rituals?

I just sit in the backstage area, or off stage, and calm myself. It's very important.

I also mentally prepare by running through the piece once in my mind. I try to arrive 10 to 15 minutes beforehand to do that.

What do you do when you miss a note?

Improvise. It comes with experience. As I'm the concertmaster, I usually know the piece slightly better, so I can work around the piece better than other musicians.

What is the funniest or most memorable thing that has happened to you while you were on stage?

When I was young, it was cold backstage, so I put my hands under my thighs to warm them up. Then when I stood up, I realised they had become numb and this was right before the performance.

I usually play two or more instruments. Once, I brought out the wrong instrument and realised it moments before the performance started. I got up, went backstage and retrieved the right one. It could have been disastrous.

What is the harshest criticism or review you have received of your work?

Generally the critics here are not too harsh. But I do get reminders from friends and seniors about the intonation and pitch of my instrument.

For a string player, intonation is a lifetime problem.

What do you usually do after a show?

I like to go home to see my children (two sons, aged four and seven), although they are already sleeping as it is pretty late.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline 'Chamber music to tug at heartstrings'. Print Edition | Subscribe