Sharing one love that binds all - music

Freelance composer Phang Kok Jun, 29, playing the erhu. He started composing music while serving NS.
Freelance composer Phang Kok Jun, 29, playing the erhu. He started composing music while serving NS. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

They came from different countries and spoke different languages, but they all shared one love - music.

Some 30 young musicians worked together at the Asean Youth Ensemble (AYE) in Thailand in September last year, and among them was freelance composer Phang Kok Jun, 29.

Mr Phang, who has a residency with Chinese chamber music ensemble Ding Yi Music Company, recalled how at the AYE workshop, composers were asked to improvise and compose a piece incorporating different instruments like Burmese drums and the Malaysian sape, a string instrument like a traditional lute.

"Music is a universal language, and this rings (true) even more so over there, where we had language barriers. But yet, the sound of instruments playing can still help to blend everyone together," he said.

Music works especially well in conveying mood, he explained. "It's interesting that every country and culture has its own interpretation of emotions in terms of sound."

For the event, he also composed a piece combining Western and Chinese strings - the erhu, viola and cello. He said: "Being in a room where there are instruments from all around the region that is so near to us, yet we don't know much about - it was quite interesting listening to them."

Back in Singapore, he continues to foster love for traditional instruments with a younger generation.

Mr Phang started composing music while serving national service in the Singapore Armed Forces Music and Drama Company some 10 years ago. He got his first gig as part of Esplanade's Feed Your Imagination series - a show that combines music, storytelling and animation - when he was 19 years old.

The show, in its 10th year, introduces traditional Chinese instruments to primary school children in an engaging way.

"I do these shows for children because I want to give them a chance to enter the theatres at a young age - be it for a concert, theatre show, or any other sort of performance. I want their first impression of the theatre to be a good one, so that hopefully they will also bring their parents in, or even grow up to be lovers of music and art."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 08, 2018, with the headline Sharing one love that binds all - music. Subscribe