Harvard a capella group performs with students with autism for charity

SINGAPORE - One choir hails from an Ivy League university, has a history that goes back 70 years and is in Singapore as part of its two-month world tour. The other, just four years old, is made up of students with autism from a special education school.

But both share a love for music. Harvard University's all-male a capella group Din & Tonics has performed with the Pathlight Youth Choir from Pathlight School the past week, drawing the attention of the public in MRT trains, MRT stations and shopping malls.

A video of the performances has been shared on Facebook more than 7,700 times since last Wednesday (July 27), including once by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The performances culminated in a concert on Saturday (July 30) at A Very Special Walk, an event to raise funds for services for adults with autism. More than $600,000 was raised, surpassing the target of $500,000.

The two music groups' partnership began in 2012. Singaporean Huang Kaiyang, who has a brother who used to study at Pathlight, was then a member of the Harvard group. So while Din & Tonics usually tours the world every two years to raise funds for its operations, it decided to support the autism cause on the Singapore leg of its tour.

Even though Mr Huang graduated two years ago, the Harvard group decided to continue its collaboration with Pathlight this year.

Mr Matthew Barber, 21, who also performed with Pathlight in 2014, said: "The Dins have had fulfilling experiences performing with Pathlight in the past. Singing for charity is very meaningful, especially for a cause we have a connection with."

While there are no Singaporeans in the group now, one member, Mr James Baskerville, 20, has a sister with a developmental disability and a Singaporean mother. He agreed that the collaboration with Pathlight was a meaningful one.

Mr Will Jaroszewicz, 20, said: "You could see the Pathlight kids all loved being on stage. It serves as a great reminder to us, that performing for others is something special and we should appreciate the opportunities we have."

At Saturday's performance at Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru, 10 members of the Harvard group - dressed in black tailcoats and lime green socks - stood among about 20 Pathlight School students. They sang Stand By Me and Bare Necessities, the popular song from the Disney film The Jungle Book.

Ms Nur Azimah Rahmat, 17, from the Pathlight Youth Choir, said: "I felt a bit nervous performing with these overseas celebrities, but I tried to hide the nervousness as I wanted to make sure that we perform well. I felt joyous and the atmosphere was really great."

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, and Mr Lee's wife Ho Ching were among more than 2,000 people at the event organised by the Autism Resource Centre (ARC), which set up Pathlight, and the Autism Association Singapore (AAS). Ms Ho Ching is adviser to ARC and patron to AAS.

Central Singapore District mayor Denise Phua, who is also president of ARC and a board member of AAS, said: "Children with autism grow up to become adults with autism. The need to stand by them and ensure that they continue to develop and learn does not go away when formal schooling is over.

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg