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More than just performing live
ALONG with other musicians around the world, the T'ang Quartet is doing their bit to keep the joy of music alive. In addition to performing live, much of their time is devoted to doing outreach work in schools and exploring interesting ways to present music.
Recently, that involved donning animal heads and walking around Sanitorium Lake and the town of Woodend, a 19th century resort town about an hour north of Melbourne, for a music video shoot.
"With kids on iPads and iPods these days, we're doing what every modern musician should do - which is to bring music to the people and connecting with them," says Ang Chek Meng, who plays the second violin in the Quartet.
The T'ang Quartet was formed in 1992 by founding members Ang, Ng Yu-Ying (first violin), Leslie Tan (cello) and Lionel Tan (viola) and became the first professional string quartet in Singapore in 1999.
While tickets to Singapore's premier chamber ensemble T'ang Quartet's concerts are often snapped up, what is a little less known is perhaps their dedication in getting young children to appreciate music more and understand it better.
Wearing many hats
The group has had an arts and education outreach programme for about 15 years.
"We wear many hats, especially as we work with young musicians. And that puts us in good state as we're quite versatile," notes Ang.
"And we're willing to get out of our comfort zone," adds Leslie Tan.
Performing for children is one of the things that the musicians have done since they were students themselves, and it is both challenging and rewarding. "With children, they make it very clear whether you can engage them or not. They're very honest and imaginative because their concentration span isn't very long. So you'll know quickly that you're not doing something right," explains Tan.
The most recent outreach that T'ang Quartet took part in was at Woodend's chamber music, literary and visual arts festival where they performed three different programmes. The four presented their Hooked on Classics programme at three schools, which is very similar to what they do in Singapore schools. The audience ranged from 20 people at a very exclusive school to 400 at a public school. Then a recital concert at St Ambrose Church saw a more formal, straightforward performance.
On a Saturday night, they also decided to "push" the audience a bit more - with a late night silent movie screening to which they played original compositions by young Singapore musicians. One of the compositions was by Kelly Tang. The piece was put together more than seven years ago for a festival in Holland.
"What left the deepest impression was the education at Candlebark. The students' spontaneous reactions was obviously a result of the teaching that goes on there," recalls Lionel Tan.
Candlebark is a school founded by children's book author John Marsden, and has more of an arts slant to the education. It was also the first school the group went to when they arrived in Australia.
The T'ang Quartet's visit to Woodend Winter Festival was funded in part by the Singapore International Foundation, and came about when the art director of the music festival saw the Quartet in concert last year.
Their entry to Australia also went smoothly this year, although there have been times before when they were stopped because of their wooden instruments.
Australia is a familiar destination, as the Quartet held their first overseas concert there, notes Leslie Tan.
The highlight for the ensemble, though, was the video and photo shoot for their third album. "That was the highlight for us - the shoot at Sanitorium Lake with the fog around the lake and swirling around the trees," says Ng.
Trampled Soulscomprises three pieces - one which is a Finnish song, one by a Czech composer and the third piece by a Canadian composer. The music videos were shot in France, Bali and now Australia.
All their albums have been very ad hoc, and planned into existing itineraries, notes Leslie Tan.
"Producing an album is a very big undertaking because we really have to think about which pieces we want to play and why, to justify the financial outlay," he adds.
After this Australian tour, the Quartet is slated for another performance in Brisbane later this year. They are now in London for the City of London Festival, taking to the stage with pianist Melvyn Tan at Merchant Taylors' Hall.
Singaporeans, though, will be able to catch them at two concerts in August (Aug 7, at the Botanic Gardens Jubilee Weekend) and Sept 19, at the Singapore International Festival of the Arts. And then there is the new album to look forward to, from this musical ensemble that is still going strong after 16 years together.