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The erhu master

Sim Er Wen bridges both Western and Eastern music using traditional and modern instruments to create his own sound

18 Jun 2020 / 11:25 H.

CHINESE traditional music and art has always played a part in 24-year-old Sim Er Wen’s life, thanks to his father, a traditional Chinese music instructor.

Starting with the guzheng at age 10, and later the erhu (Chinese fiddle), Sim has mastered both Western and Eastern music instruments. Today, he plays pop music using the erhu, and loves to explore traditional music instruments of various ethnicities.

“I always do something more challenging, which is not in my comfort zone. When I am in my comfort zone, I feel that I am not growing. I feel I am left behind, just like a boat that is not moving forward in the water,” said Sim.

The gifted Sim also won the first prize in the 2018 Vision Petron National Student Art Competition for his composition Melodi Malaysia, by including traditional musical instruments from different races in Malaysia, such as the tabla (Indian), gamelan (Malay) and erhu (Chinese).

“The important part of the win is the recognition. It was a personal achievement for me,” said Sim, with a sense of pride. As a young music instructor, Sim has taught students from all walks of life, from children to the elderly. He hopes one day to become a renowned music composer.

He has mastered a total of seven musical instruments from Western and Asian cultures. – Sunpix by Amirul Syafiq
He has mastered a total of seven musical instruments from Western and Asian cultures. – Sunpix by Amirul Syafiq

When did you start playing the erhu?

“I started to play music when I was in Standard Four. When I was young, I started to play the guzheng first, and later, when I was in Form Three I found that the erhu was more suitable for me.

“I like the sound that comes out of the erhu, it sounds very ‘emotional’.

“For me, the sound of the erhu is different from any other musical instrument, as it has richer harmonic tones, similar to the human voice, compared to other (string) instruments such as the violin and cello, which have a more ‘woody’ tone.”

What other musical instruments do you play?

“I have learned both Chinese traditional and Western musical instruments. I can play seven instruments – erhu, guitar, violin, guzheng, piano, ukulele and percussion. I love to play musical instruments which belong to the string family, such as the erhu and violin.

“In order to have a better understanding of music improvisation, and to collaborate with other instrumentalists, I decided to further my studies in music theory, which provides insight [into the art], and I discovered that all things in music are connected and make up one ‘big picture’, and that opened up [my imagination], which [helped] me to be free musically.

“Then, I applied that music theory knowledge to learn other Western music instruments such as the violin, guitar, piano, ukulele and others. Through the exploration of different musical instruments, I found that woodwind instruments such as the flute were more challenging for me. I am more [suited for] string instruments.”

Sim’s composition ‘Melodi Malaysia’ won him first prize in the 2018 Vision Petron National Student Art Competition. – Sunpix by Amirul Syafiq
Sim’s composition ‘Melodi Malaysia’ won him first prize in the 2018 Vision Petron National Student Art Competition. – Sunpix by Amirul Syafiq

Who inspired you to learn music?

“My parents were a big influence on me. My father plays the erhu and cello, and he is a Chinese orchestra instructor who also teaches Chinese brush painting, while my mother teaches Chinese calligraphy. My whole family plays traditional music. We do everything together.

“The first time I performed on a stage was in a shopping mall, during a calligraphy art competition. While the judges were deciding on the winners, my parents asked for permission to play music. Then, we occupied the stage. We did our first performance as a family.

“Each one of my family members plays a musical instrument. We are an orchestra on our own.”

Do you feel the younger generation should learn traditional music?

“Nowadays, the younger generation is more into Western musical instruments such as the piano, guitar, violin and others.

“I am trying to influence the younger generation to get more interested in traditional music instruments. I have a series of YouTube videos under the channel name ErWenStudio, whereby I play a lot of pop music with the erhu.”

He hopes to inspire more youths to take up learning traditional instruments. – Sunpix by Amirul Syafiq
He hopes to inspire more youths to take up learning traditional instruments. – Sunpix by Amirul Syafiq

What are your future plans or projects?

“In the future, I want to be a music composer and a singer.

“I established my own independent production house in 2016, called Yi Dian Production House Sdn Bhd. I am planning to produce MMO, or minus one music, background music for films, advertisements and social media, as well as composing music for other artistes.

“I also produce and shoot videos, edit music videos, background music and sound effects. At my current job as a junior producer, I do work as an editor, sound designing and composing or scoring music.

“I am more into composing music for artistes. Knowledge of music has given me an opportunity to help other artistes, but I want to be the guy who is standing in front of people and performing. Composing music for others is the first step. I hope to step into my space someday.

“I want to be a singer, who can compose both Western and Chinese music.”

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