A year after Ms Zhang Ronghui arrived from China to play the ruan in the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), a handful of primary schoolgirls asked her to teach them to play the ancient string instrument.
That was 17 years ago. By 2005, she had 15 students and started the Singapore Ruan Ensemble to perform at concerts and other public events.
The group has now swelled to 50 members, who have performed here and abroad, and will mark its 10th anniversary with a gala concert next Sunday.
Ms Zhang, 42, the SCO's zhong- ruan principal, told The Sunday Times that the group has come a long way and she is glad her students have done well.
Besides winning numerous awards at national music competitions, four of them - Ms Lo Chai Xia, 28, Ms Koh Min Hui, 24, Ms Clara Tan, 24, and Mr Jonathan Ngeow, 25 - won top prizes at the inaugural China International Ruan Competition in Beijing in 2010.
Ms Zhang, the group's artistic director, won a best teacher's prize in the same competition.
Ms Lo and Ms Koh are now professional musicians with the SCO.
The ruan, which is less well-known than Chinese instruments like the erhu and pipa, is a round-shaped four-string instrument that comes in four different types and sizes.
One outstanding member of the ensemble is 17-year-old Megan Tan, who plays the medium-sized zhongruan and won the top prize in the junior, youth and open categories of the instrument at the National Music Competition in 2008, 2012 and 2014 respectively.
She will perform a solo item at next Sunday's concert.
Ms Lo, the orchestra's zhong-ruan associate principal, said: "I started learning to play the ruan from Ms Zhang when I was 16. She was a great teacher who encouraged me to pursue a music career. If not for her, I wouldn't be a professional ruan player today."
Ms Clara Tan and her twin Sophy, who started learning the ruan at 11, became professional musicians after completing their master's degrees at the Shanghai Music Conservatory last year.
They have formed their own music company and performing group, Musa. They will also be soloists at the anniversary concert.
Many other ensemble members play for the Chinese Youth Orchestra and other groups.
Ms Zhang, who became a Singaporean two years ago, said her greatest achievement has been seeing her students and group members pursue music here and overseas and choose it as a career.
"Many of our members who are as young as 12 or 13 are interested in a career in music and that is good to know," she added.
The anniversary concert, Confluence, will be held at the Esplanade Concert Hall on July 5 at 7.30pm. Tickets at $22, $32 and $56 can be booked through Sistic. Sistic's ticketing hotline number is 6348-5555.
This article was first published on June 28, 2015.
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