Yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day and one very special event took place at the University Cultural Centre – The Purple Symphony, a ticketed concert by Singapore’s largest disability-inclusive orchestra (consisting of 90 musicians).
The Purple Symphony made its debut in July 2015 at the Singapore Conference Hall with a mix of musicians (about two-thirds) with and (the rest) without special needs. Besides its inaugural concert at the Drama Centre in July 2016 and the performances at The Purple Parade (in Nov 2015 & Oct 2016), The Purple Symphony also performed at the closing ceremony of the Para ASEAN Games in Dec 2015.
The theme for yesterday’s concert is Around The World In 80 Minutes. The opening number, Heartbeat of the Lion City was performed by the percussion ensemble. The six musicians (including a couple with Down Syndrome) marched on stage and performed without a conductor. It was a rousing start to what would be a very well put-together concert lasting almost two hours.
The Artistic Director and Conductor, Mr Quek Ling Kiong, came on stage and invited the audience to embark on a journey with him as Captain (complete with props), departing from Singapore to China (Walk In The City of Suzhou) to Taiwan (Matchstick Heaven) to Austria (Rondo Alla Turca by Mozart) to Australia (Waltzing Matilda) to America (Homeward Bound) before the intermission.
Special mention must be made of 21-year-old Stephanie Ow, the visually-impaired erhu soloist who has performed in many charitable concerts and is in her third year with The Purple Symphony. Her message to listen with closed eyes and an open heart is loud and clear. Shutting off one sense truly meant full concentration using the ears. Just like how she listened for the conductor’s and orchestra members’ cues (as they drew their breath), I only realised there was a beautiful part for the piano when I heard the ivory keys as my view of the pianist was partially obstructed by a pillar from where I was seated.
Another performer who moved me to tears was visually-impaired Grishm Chandru Mirpuri, 9. The moment he began to sing (solo in Waltzing Matilda with the Lighthouse School choir), I had goose pimples on my arms, and before the end of a verse, I had to dig into my bag for a tissue paper. He should be heard more often. Even Mr Quek declared he was ‘speechless’ at the very, very nice and mesmerizing rendition.
37-year-old hearing-impaired Lily Goh showed another challenge – to listen without hearing. Her proficiency at the Xylophone was impressive, though the orchestra accompanying her had to accomodate her very quick (sometimes too quick) tempo (for the Rondo). I can only imagine how challenging it was; but her determination is truly inspiring.
After the Intermission, the atmosphere went up a notch, with all the musicans and some of the instructors (Ms Khor Ai Ming, celebrated choral conductor & vocal coach; Mr Grzegorz Markiewicz, an international timpanist & percussionist; Mr Ramlan bin Rasli, an avid percussionist among others) performing together on stage. The pace also picked up as there wasn’t much time to go around the rest of the world.
The journey took the audience from Brazil (Farandole by Bizet) to Africa (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) to Latin America (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps) to Jamaica (Banana Boat Song) to Spain and Scotland (Bolero by Ravel /Amazing Grace, a traditional tune) to Japan (Matsuri by Kitaro) and back to Singapore ( Sing Your Way Home, a traditional song, River of Dreams by Clarence Tan & Home by Dick Lee).
After the standing ovation, The Purple Symphony performed I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing. The concert ended on a high note.
Music can indeed bring us anywhere and everywhere as long as we ride on the wings of musical notes. To witness the talents of people who are different is touching, encouraging and amazing. Indeed, nothing is impossible for those who try.