Er Hu Says its a Dying Art?

Published on 25 November 2014

The National Chinese Music Competition uncovers fresh talents who keep in tempo with traditional Chinese music.

NEVER TOO YOUNG The NCMC talent-spots fresh new faces for the traditional arts.(Photos: National Arts Council)

When we think about plucked stringed instruments, we often think of the classical guitar. While its first incarnation surfaced during the European Renaissance of the 1500s, another similar fretted lute had been entertaining music lovers halfway around the world for centuries. Called the pipa (琵琶), this traditional stringed instrument was mentioned in Chinese texts dating back to the second century. Yet, even among ethnic Chinese, few know its look or sound, let alone how to play it.

But the world of traditional Chinese music — though niche — is by no means quiet or uneventful in cosmopolitan Singapore. “We see students from primary to tertiary levels actively participating in Chinese orchestras and ensembles,” says Elaine Ng, Director of Sector Development (Dance and Traditional Arts) at the National Arts Council (NAC). 

In 1981, this traditional form of artistic expression was given a shot in the arm with the inception of the People’s Association Youth Chinese Orchestra. In 2009, the Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra was formed (a collaboration between the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and the Ministry of Education) to attract young talents aged 11 to 26.

One of the key pillars supporting traditional Chinese music here is the National Chinese Music Competition (NCMC) founded in 1998 by NAC. It has been jointly organised with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) since 2012. In addition to celebrating excellence, the biennial competition also identifies fresh faces in this area of symphonic arts.

“It offers musicians aged 30 and below the opportunity to perform before an international jury, as well as alongside other musicians. This invariably helps build their confidence and raise their performance level,” says Ng, adding that the competition — which consists of an ensemble section and a solo section — attracted an impressive 263 entries this year.

LET’S PLAY TOGETHER Contestants compete in the ensemble section during preliminary rounds.
TAKE A BOW Competition winners in concert with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. (Photo  National Arts Council)

Beyond talent-spotting, the NCMC also gives audiences in Singapore an opportunity to appreciate this traditional art form. The preliminary and final rounds — held at SOTA Concert Hall, from 1 to 12 Dec — are open free to the public.

The competition culminates in a ticketed concert that showcases prize winners performing with the SCO on 14 Dec. If you’re open to a novel experience that will likely give you a serious case of goose bumps, don’t miss this chance to listen to our nation’s finest young talents keeping alive an ancient Chinese art form!

Mandarin Music Makers 101

How well do you know your traditional Chinese instruments? Here’s a quick introduction to the eight instruments you will see in the competition’s solo section.

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