Quek Jun Rui, Oboe

(Singapore)

19-year-old Quek Jun Rui is currently stuyding full time for the Bachelor of Music (Honours) programme at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YST Conservatory), National University Singapore. He is studying under the tutelage of Rachel Walker and Carolyn Hollier, who are musicians of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. He has also taken lessons from Elaine Yeo and Simon Lee.

Jun Rui started his musical journey as an oboist at Maha Bodhi School in 2011. He then joined the Singapore National Youth Sinfonia in 2013 and later entered the Singapore National Youth Orchestra in 2015. He was appointed Principal Oboist of the orchestra in 2017. At age thirteen, he performed in a masterclass with Rachel Walker at Singapore’s Double Reed Day. He was later featured as a passionate young musician in the 2016 documentary “On The Red Dot”.

Interview

Name: Quek Jun Rui
Age: 17 years old
School: NUS Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music


Why did you want to learn how to play the oboe?
My dad introduced me to the oboe because he felt that the oboe was a unique wind instrument.

When did you start playing the oboe?
I started playing the oboe when I was 10 years old.

How was it like playing the oboe for the first time?
The experience of learning the oboe was filled with a lot of frustration due the physical constraints that I had at that time. When I started learning the oboe, I had small fingers, so I couldn’t reach some of the keys. I also had a small built back then, so I didn’t have the strength to hold my oboe properly and the stamina to sustain long tones. It felt like the oboe was controlling me instead of me controlling the oboe. Back then, I didn’t really understand why I was learning such a complex instrument which required a high level of understanding,
sensitivity and maturity to play well on it.

What was the first tune(s) you learned?
When I started the oboe, I did a lot of fundamentals with Mr Simon Lee, and he would pick simple tunes from studies and lyrical passages from pieces I was playing in Maha Bodhi School Symphonic Band (MBSSB). After a year of intensive training, I began to work on full pieces. Gabriel’s Oboe was the first piece I learnt, where I did my 1st solo debut with the Maha Bodhi School Alumni Band (MBSAB) for one of their year-end concerts titled “Reminiscence II” in 2012.

What was the first musical instrument your parents introduced you to?I was first introduced to the flute when I was 8, then switched to the oboe at 10.

How have your family members supported you so far in your musical journey? Does it help that your parents are music lecturers?My father is currently the band director of both the MBSSB and the Bendemeer Primary School Concert Band (BPSCB), My mother was once a trumpeter and a piano teacher, and my brother is a saxophonist. My parents may not be music lecturers, but they are qualified and experienced enough to guide me in my musical journey. Whenever I have a concert, I would always invite my family to watch me perform, and they would give me constructive feedback about my performance after each concert. At home, they would occasionally pop into my practice session to give tips and comments to help improve my overall performance.

How do your teachers inspire you to greater success?
My teachers always give me a lot of advice to help improve my playing, and they would tell me stories about people who they have taught in the past and done well, so that I would be inspired and learn to be like them. However, I would like to talk about a teacher who has been with me from the beginning of my oboe journey, Mr Simon Lee.

A significant amount of inspiration came from my first teacher, Mr Simon Lee. Mr Lee recently graduated from YST in 2017, and is currently Principal Oboe in the Sichuan Symphony Orchestra. He started teaching me from the moment I picked up the oboe. When I was under his tutelage, he would be very stringent and demanding about my playing. Throughout the years when he was teaching me, he would always give valuable advice to improve my playing. I learnt many lessons through his teachings, but if I were to mention one thing that I felt is most important in my music journey is that I need to be meticulous in whatever I do. Always listen to myself and not to be complacent with my playing. And also not forgetting to enjoy the process of music making, and sing through the oboe.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers from the past and present?
There are many great oboists around the world, and Albrecht Mayer & Francoise Leleux are a couple of great examples. I love Albrecht Mayer’s tone quality and I love how Francoise Leleux expresses music in a delightful and care-free way, as if playing the oboe was easy. For composers, I love composers from the romantic period such as Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Chopin.

Have you been mentored by any famous musicians? If so, who are they?
I have participated in masterclasses by Josep Domènech from Amsterdam Conservatory, and Wei Weidong from Central Conservatory of Music in China.

Are there any musicians you would like to perform with?
If I have the chance in the near future, I would like to perform with my 4 mentors: Ms Rachel Walker (major teacher for oboe performance in YST since the Young Artist Programme in July 2017, 3rd teacher), Ms Carolyn Hollier (major teacher for oboe performance, reed-making and adjustment in YST, 4th teacher), Ms Elaine Yeo (oboe teacher when playing in the Singapore National Youth Orchestra, SNYO, 2nd teacher), Mr Simon Lee (1st teacher).

Is there a specific song or musical passage that never fails to move you emotionally?

There are a lot to choose from, so here are some of my favourites which I really enjoy:

 

  • Poulenc Oboe Sonata

  • Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, beginning oboe solo

  • Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus Overture, especially oboe solos

  • Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op. 14, especially 2nd movement oboe solo

  • Gustav Holst’s The Planets

Have you participated in any competitions so far? What prizes have you won?
I have participated in the SYF festival in 2012 with the MBSSB, 2015 and 2017 with the Manjusri Secondary School Concert Band (MJRCB). MBSSB attained the Gold with Honors Award, and MJRCB attained Certificate of Distinction for both years. However, I have never participated in any solo competitions before.

How often and for how long do you practice?
I practice regularly, 2-3 hours daily. I do more intensive training before studio classes and concerts performances.

What are the thoughts running through your mind when you are performing a piece?
I don’t really have a lot of thoughts running through my mind during a performance, except maybe “Stay cool.”, “Check intonation!” and “Ok that part is coming up, don’t mess it up again.”. I like to have a clear mind whenever I’m
performing so that I can focus on the music and play it well. If I have too many thoughts running through my mind, I will get nervous, then I start to panic and mess up.

How do you calm your nerves before a performance?
Normally, I would just try to stay still and be relaxed, instead of being tense. I feel that this is a psychological issue that can even affect professional musicians, so sometimes whatever we tell ourselves in our mind may happen in real life. To tackle this issue, I always tell myself to have fun and enjoy the performance instead of stressing up about it.

How do you manage your time between school commitments and performing?
Normally, I would schedule my practice sessions in the evening, so that I can do my school work at the other times that I’m free. For concerts, I must put YST performances as my top priority. If I’m invited to perform with other external bands or orchestras, I will check my schedule to see if I’m able to come for rehearsals and to perform. I will reject invitations only if my schedule is full, or when I feel that I don’t have enough time for practicing and completing school work.

How do you feel to have already accomplished so much at such a young age?
I feel privileged that I have strict but dedicated and caring teachers that guided me from the beginning, which allowed me to excel very quickly.

Would you like to teach music in the future? Or would performing be your main goal?
Performing is my main goal, because I like performing. It is the greatest feeling in the world to perform; nerve-wrecking but enjoyable at the same time.

What advice would you give to people who are interested to learn how to play the oboe?

The oboe is a really beautiful instrument to play on, but it comes with lots of hardwork. If you are interested to learn the oboe, you need to be ready to be committed into learning not only this complex instrument, but also reed-making. 

 

As a professional oboe player, reed-making plays a huge role in creating personalised reeds for yourself, which takes years of experience to master. So, for those interested to learn the oboe, reed-making is something that takes up a lot of time and patience. But with enough practice, it will feel very satisfying to play on your own reeds.

*Disclaimer: We are Jun Rui's supporter and presenter of some of his current and future performances.  We are neither his agent nor manager.  If you would like to engage Jun Rui in your events we are happy to make the connection.  Please email us through CONTACT form.  Thank you. - Licha Stelaus Productions.

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