The first time Taran heard the guzheng, he was waiting to watch his uncle play the sitar for the Singapore Indian Orchestra and Choir. Its sound intrigued him.
Three years later, the 10-year-old became the first Indian to make it to the finals of the National Chinese Music Competition (NCMC).
Taran started playing the guzheng in June last year after he discovered that his school, St Hilda's Primary, offered it as a co-curricular activity (CCA).
The guzheng is an ancient Chinese string instrument which utilises 18 or more strings. A player uses four picks on his right hand to generate melody, while the left hand is used for tremolo, harmony or bass notes. While similar to the sitar in its use as a solo or group melodic instrument, their sounds and playing styles are fundamentally different. The guzheng is often used to evoke images of scenery, while the sitar is known for its buzzing sound.
Taran's uncle, Mr Nadarajan Kathirgamu, said Taran's passion for the instrument encouraged him to get Taran to pursue the guzheng as more than just a CCA. Taran and his sister live with him, as Taran's father works as a banker in the US and his mother keeps a busy schedule as a department head in the Nanyang Institute of Management.
Mr Rajan helped Taran apply for the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts' School of Young Talents programme. It was there that Taran learned about the NCMC.
The biennial competition organised by the National Arts Council and Singapore Chinese Orchestra lets young musicians perform a variety of Chinese instruments before a panel of international judges. Taran was surprised to learn he was the only Indian at last year's competition.
Said Taran: "I knew that some Indians performed Chinese opera so I assumed that there would be others who played Chinese instruments."
Although Taran, who can also play the piano and tabla, did not win, he said he was thankful for the experience.
Said Taran: "I was excited as it was my first time in a competition, but I was also a bit nervous. I tried my best and was grateful when I made it into the finals, even though I knew I surely couldn't win because there were other players who were so much better than me!"
When asked about Taran's future beyond music competitions like the NCMC, Mr Rajan said: "I try to maintain a balanced schedule for him. His grades are average and that's okay. His parents are both very supportive, and his grades can be average as long as he enjoys pursuing music. The priority is that he is happy."
He is hopeful that Taran will pursue his interest in the guzheng by going to China when he is much older. "I hope that in the future, after he is done with school, Taran will be able to go to China to further his studies in the guzheng. In fact, he is receiving lessons in Mandarin to prepare him for future teachers who may not speak English."
Now going on to Primary 5, Taran hopes to win in next year's NCMC. In fact, he is already preparing for the competition, as he practises every day for 11/2 hours before school and from 3 to 4.30pm.
Said Taran: "I always think about becoming a musician. I hope to be a great musician or conductor as my career for life. I just enjoy playing music as it makes me very happy."
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