PETALING JAYA: When local musician Neil Chua Wey Chong is chosen to take part in the OneBeat programme organised by the US State Department, he will be representing more than just Malaysia.
He hopes to introduce the ancient Chinese musical instrument he plays – the Ruan – to a wider audience.
“I aim to integrate the different technics and methods from these talented musicians to recreate a new form of playing for the Ruan, which has almost become a lost art,” he said, adding that he aimed to re-ignite public interest in the instrument.
The Ruan – a Chinese plucked string instrument almost similar to the lute – dates back more than 2,000 years.
Chua, the only Malaysian to be selected for the programme which will see him collaborating with 25 talented musicians from 17 countries, started by learning to play the piano.
The 32-year-old said he switched to Ruan after falling in love with the sound of the instrument in secondary school.
“I was introduced to the Chinese orchestra and had the opportunity to try out the various instruments. When I picked up the Ruan and started to strum the strings, it created this mellow and smoothing sound – which is similar to a human humming – (and) it immediately caught my attention.
“Ever since then, I have had this strong connection with this instrument, which, ultimately, became my main discipline,” said Chua, who cites famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Chinese flute maestro Yu Xun Fa as his inspiration.
Being the first and youngest musician to receive a Master’s Degree in playing the Ruan, Chua will participate in a residency programme in the US followed by a tour.
OneBeat Fellows will use improvisation, collaborative composition and technology to understand one another and find musical ways to address issues facing their diverse communities.
Themed “Audible Invisible”, OneBeat, which runs from Oct 8 until Nov 5, is in its third year.
Chua said he had also been invited to join Echo, the sister programme to OneBeat, which is expected to be launched by mid-November this year.
He is currently preparing for a series of concerts featuring the Ruan.