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CAUSES WEEK

Volunteer guitarists bring music to others' lives

Published on Dec 14, 2012 6:00 AM
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Volunteer Guitar Connection members practising on the guitar during their weekly practice session at Nee Soon East Community Club last Friday. The group has been making music together for eight years. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

FROM old Cantonese melodies to Justin Bieber hits, the group has been making beautiful music together for eight years.

Their music has even moved audiences to tears.

Volunteer Guitar Connection (VGC) was set up to bring music into the lives of those who need it most.

Co-founder Lee Siew Weng, 39, decided to teach members of volunteer welfare organisations (VWOs) how to play the guitar so they could entertain their clients.

Real estate agent Honey Chan, 36, a member of VGC and volunteer at the Sree Narayana Mission Home for the Aged Sick, said: "We wanted to bring life and music back to the elderly."

The unorthodox band began under the auspices of the National Council of Social Service in 2004 as an interest group before becoming independent in 2006.

In addition to acoustic guitar, percussion instruments have also become part of the musical mix.

From 10 members, its ranks have swelled to 75 - although there are usually only five to 10 performing at concerts. Ages range from 16 to over 60 and volunteers from around 30 VWOs are represented. They have performed more than 150 times.

Mr Lee, a mathematics tutor by day, volunteers with the Singapore Leprosy Relief Association.

He recalled one time they were playing a sentimental Cantonese song at Bright Hill Evergreen Home and tears began to roll down the cheeks of an elderly woman in the audience.

Worried they had upset her, they later learnt that her experience was cathartic. "She had been bottling up her emotions for a long time, we learnt, and after she cried, she felt relief," he said.

In addition to volunteers, they now accept trained musicians. Just as the volunteers were exposed to music, musicians have been exposed to volunteering.

The group conducts beginning, intermediate, performing and fundamentals classes once a week, and is gearing up for several Christmas performances.

The road has not been without challenges. Without a permanent base, members practise at places like community clubs and guitar storage is sometimes an issue.

Ms Chan described a performance at the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore's annual camp. They experienced a blackout as they started playing. "It's something I'll never forget. Everyone playing in the dark by torchlight, but happy."

llim@sph.com.sg

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