Passionate about the guzheng

Meet some Singaporeans who are keen on the cultures of other ethnic groups

The first time Taran heard the guzheng, he was watching his uncle play the sitar for the Singapore Indian Orchestra in a joint concert with a Chinese and Malay orchestra.

Now 12, the boy, who goes by one name, says: "I was about six then. The sound felt perfect to me."

His uncle took him to more of such concerts, but Taran did not learn the name of the 21-stringed Chinese musical instrument until he was in Primary 3. He had signed up for the guzheng co-curricular activity at St Hilda's Primary, thinking it was a sport like wushu.


It was a happy mistake. He enjoyed playing it so much, his uncle enrolled him in private classes. In 2014, he won a spot in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) School of Young Talents' Gifted Young Chinese Instrumentalists course.

The course, open to those aged six to 18, has 70 students. They attend weekly practical and theory lessons, and perform and take part in competitions. Taran is the only non-Chinese guzheng player there.

His teacher Li Ting Ting, 29, who converses with him in English, says: "When he first joined, his technique was not so good, but he was very hardworking and has brushed up on his technique. What makes him stand out is his yin yue gan (Mandarin for musicality). He is very expressive and not afraid to perform on stage."

Taran passed his Grade 5 examinations with distinction in 2014 and sailed through his Grade 8 tests a year later. There are 10 grades in the course. His progress is exceptional as most students advance at most two grades a year, says Ms Li.

In 2014, he became the first Indian to make it to the finals in the junior category of the biennial National Chinese Music Competition, which is organised by the National Arts Council.

This year, he became the leader of his school's guzheng co-curricular activity. He is the only non-Chinese among its 30 members.

His mother Vicki Kathirgamu, an early childhood consultant in her 40s, is heartened by his passion. She says: "You don't have to push him to practise. He practises every day for at least one to 11/2 hours."

Taran, who has an older sister, aged 14, plans to sign up for a private Chinese class after his Primary School Leaving Examination.

His goal is to study guzheng at the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music. "After that, I want to come back to play for the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. I've been to its concerts and I love its music."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline 'Passionate about the guzheng'. Print Edition | Subscribe