Special group goes small for wider reach

Violinist Huang Li Zhen, 29, who has lupus, and blind vocalist Wan Wai Yee, 44, are part of the 30-member Purple Symphony Ensemble. Singapore's largest disability- inclusive orchestra receives many performance requests, but it was challenging to arra
Violinist Huang Li Zhen, 29, who has lupus, and blind vocalist Wan Wai Yee, 44, are part of the 30-member Purple Symphony Ensemble. Singapore's largest disability- inclusive orchestra receives many performance requests, but it was challenging to arrange for the 90-member group to practise and perform together.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

There will soon be more opportunities to enjoy music performed by a very special group.

The Purple Symphony - Singapore's largest disability-inclusive orchestra - has set up a smaller ensemble group so that it can accept more invitations to perform.

It has received at least 13 requests in the last four months, after earning rave reviews for a concert last July in front of about 450 people.

But previously, it could not accept the invitations as it is a "mammoth task" to arrange for the 90-member group to practise and perform together, said Mayor Denise Phua of the Central Singapore District.

The smaller 30-member Purple Symphony Ensemble will start rehearsals next month .

"The ensemble will bring the music of The Purple Symphony to more public and invitational platforms. It will share the message of inclusion and celebrate our musicians' abilities with even more Singaporeans," said Ms Phua.

The Purple Symphony was set up in 2015 by the Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC). About two-thirds of the orchestra, which includes a choir, have special needs.

The group has performed at national and regional events, such as the closing ceremony of the Asean Para Games in 2015. It played to a full house of 1,200 at its first ticketed concert earlier this month.

Since January, it has received two to three invitations a month from companies and government agencies, said a spokesman for the Central Singapore CDC.

The line-up of upcoming performances has yet to be confirmed.

The Purple Symphony Ensemble's composition would vary, depending on the performance. All members of the orchestra would have a chance to be part of it.

She said: "The ensemble is not a profit-making initiative, but it hopes to help create livelihood opportunities for talented musicians from The Purple Symphony. Those who are pursuing music as a career are paid for their performances, and the amount depends on the time committed to each performance."

Ensemble members said they looked forward to having more opportunities to perform.

Part-time photo editor Huang Li Zhen, 29, who has lupus, a disease that attacks her spinal cord, and is unable to walk, plays the violin with the orchestra. "Having more performances would allow me to gain more experience of playing with a group," she said.

Busker Wan Wai Yee, 44, a vocalist with the orchestra, is blind and cannot see the conductor's signals, so she listens to the music for cues and reads lyrics in Braille. "It's good that the orchestra is getting noticed. All the more that we have to do well, so people would think it's worth listening to us," she said.

Undergraduate and percussionist Tang Zhi Wen, 25, who does not have a disability, said performing with people with special needs has been an enlightening experience. "It shows how music can be all-encompassing, with everyone being part of something wonderful," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2017, with the headline 'Special group goes small for wider reach'. Print Edition | Subscribe