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Old Instrument Does Not Play Second Fiddle

by Sandra Leong

A 17th-century musical instrument can keep company with modern art forms like film.
That is the view of viola da gamba player Shaun Ng who is linking up with dance, poetry and film practitioners in a performance, Suites of a Stranger Taste, Book 1.
Ng, 22, will provide the music to accompany a poetry recital by Cyril Wong, a short film screening by Tania Sng and an Indian dance by Arul Ramiah.
Ng is also a founding member of Musica Obscura, a group of musicians who began exploring a repertoire of Early Music on period instruments in 2000.
Suites draws from his training in Early Music, paying homage to French Baroque composer and viola da gamba player Marin Marais.
The latter scored a series of works translated loosely as Suite of a Foreign Taste.
In it, Ng combines some of Marais' music with his own.
"Being a viola da gamba player, you are constantly exposed to the great music of Bach, Forqueray, Marais and Schenk," he says.
"Sometimes, you wish you could just step out of this mainstream genre and create your own music, just like how these composers did when they were alive."
He forged the unusual blend of performers from his personal admiration of others' works.
Of poet and good friend Wong, he says: "Cyril is a good writer who understands poetry well as a genre. His poetry also has a good sense of phrasing and rhythm. This is very important if you are trying to write music to it."
In return, Wong feels such collaborations will give his poems more exposure across different media.
One of his poems, One-Track Vision, was adapted for a short film by Sng last year. His other works have also been adapted for plays and soundtracks.
Similarly, Ng approached Ramiah and Sng because he shared their passion for Indian culture and film-making.
Though the viola da gamba is often associated with baroque music, Ng believes that it is suited perfectly for a contemporary context.
"One should not come to this performance expecting a baroque recital. Yes, the viola da gamba was a baroque instrument, but perhaps this recital will change that idea."