The erhu and its role as a vehicle for syncretic music performance in Singapore : a thesis presented in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Music at Wellington Conservatorium of Music, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
This thesis examines the erhu, a bowed lute from China and its development as a vehicle for syncretic music-making in Singapore. Chapter One considers the erhu's status in Chinese culture and focuses on the differences between how the erhu was perceived by the "proletariat" of the early twentieth century contrasted with the imperialists of that time. A central assumption in this study is that erhu music-making in Singapore is inextricably bound with the traditions of both Western and Chinese culture. This concept is introduced in Chapter Two, with a discussion on musical syncretism. The erhu is a member of the huqin string family and is one instrument in the new ensemble idiom of the Singapore Huqin Quartet. This ensemble is the first to have huqin set up together in the manner of a Western string quartet. This ensemble has been influential on and contributes to a broad range of musical happenings in Singapore. It also represents one development of erhu as "world music". Phoon Yew Tien, who writes for the Singapore Huqin Quartet, is introduced. Chapter Three encompasses the different instruments that make up the huqin family, as played by the Singapore Huqin Quartet (which will be referred to as the SHQ in abbreviation). It also looks at the development of the modern Chinese orchestra. Chapter Four provides the descriptions and characteristics of the erhu and its performance techniques. In Chapter Five, eminent musical figures such as Liu Tian Hua and Hua Yan Jun (also known as Abing) will be discussed. Their music composed for the erhu has become an important part of the repertoire of the SHQ. The concluding chapter outlines differences between Western and Chinese music and looks at the merging of the two. A product of this merger is the compositions of distinguished Singapore composer, Phoon Yew Tien. His works are a fine example of the erhu's musical qualities and demonstrate the compositional potential of the SHQ's syncretic idiom with the merging of the Chinese and Western art-music forces. A musical composition by Phoon viewed in a compositional perspective summarizes the possibilities of further development of this style.