Off Stage

Trying not to sneeze on stage

Zhongruan player Tan Su-Min spoke of how she had to "sneeze silently" during a performance to the amusement of twin Su-Hui

Tan Su-Hui (above) plays the guzheng while Su-Min plays the zhongruan.
Tan Su-Hui (above) plays the guzheng while Su-Min plays the zhongruan.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA
Tan Su-Hui plays the guzheng while Su-Min (above) plays the zhongruan.
Tan Su-Hui plays the guzheng while Su-Min (above) plays the zhongruan.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA

Twins Sophy Tan Su-Hui and Clara Tan Su-Min have followed identical music career trajectories since they were eight years old.

The sisters, 25, who are better known by their Chinese names, joined their primary school's Chinese orchestra and went on to read music at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. They recently completed their master's in music with a major in performance at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Life speaks to the pair, who are single, ahead of the Heroines Of Plucked Strings concert on Saturday, where they will duet on their instruments - Su-Min, the elder, on the zhongruan, a type of Chinese stringed instrument, and Su-Hui on the Chinese zither, the guzheng.

They have two elder brothers, their mother is a housewife and father a businessman.


  • WHERE: Singapore Chinese Orchestra Concert Hall, 7 Shenton Way

    WHEN: Saturday, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $30 to $70 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

    INFO: Go to

What is the most memorable or funniest thing that happened to you while you were performing?

Su-Min: There was once when we were performing and I had the urge to sneeze. It was a torture trying to control the sneeze without making any facial expression or fidgeting. Su-Hui read my body language and she was amused at how hard I was trying not to sneeze. I was lucky to be able to let out a silent sneeze at a section that required a lot of strumming and the focus was on my body movements.

What are your pre-show rituals?

Su-Hui: We prefer to have our own quiet moments to relax and clear our minds. When we were younger, our parents would take us to the temple for blessings for upcoming performances. I remember that I would put my lucky mini Goddess of Mercy figurine into the side of my guzheng tuning box and that gave me a huge confidence boost. As we got older, we started to understand that real confidence comes from within.

After a performance, what do you do to unwind?

Su-Hui: We are usually exhausted after a performance as sometimes rehearsals start early in the day and we have to be in form throughout the day till the performance at night. Usually we have a quick meal and head home to rest as we eat very little before a performance.

Both of you and fellow musician Dayn Ng have formed Musa, a music trio to explore various music genres and expose traditional instruments to more people. Tell us about what the group is doing.

Su-Hui: After our return from Shanghai, we were talking about how to reach a wider audience, besides concertgoers. We wanted to contribute by sharing our music online on websites such as YouTube, so we started exploring and experimenting with different genres and rearrangements.

We don't see it as losing our roots. There shouldn't be any boundaries to the music that a Chinese instrumentalist can play. But we've been busy with our personal work, so Musa's activities are on hold.

What did you miss about Singapore when you were away? What do you like about Shanghai?

Su-Min: When we were away for three years, we missed Singapore's food and weather as both of us dislike the cold. We enjoyed the learning and performing environment in Shanghai. The performing scene there for Chinese instrumental music is more vibrant, with masterclasses, recitals and concerts held frequently. We learnt a lot about Chinese culture through the architecture, art, food, people and dialects, and that helped us better understand Chinese music.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2016, with the headline 'Trying not to sneeze on stage'. Subscribe