Deftly, the young artists swooped and swirled the sand beneath their fingers, animating it into imaginative pictures while, in front of them, musicians rang out a musical backdrop with handbells.
Coming from different schools and of different ages, around 350 young artists opened the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) with a concert on June 30 at the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay.
The concert was special for another reason: It featured a handbell performance by 13-to 18-year-old students with special needs from Grace Orchard School, collaborating with mainstream students from Guangyang Primary School and CHIJ St Joseph's Convent.
The sand artists were upper secondary students from Zhonghua Secondary.
This is the second time that such inter-school collaborations between mainstream and special education schools have taken place at the SYF Celebrations, which ended yesterday
The final performance yesterday featured 16 songwriters and performers from primary to junior college levels, competing in a songwriting contest.
VALUE OF THE ARTS
Today, there is a lot of focus on (studies). But learning about the arts is important as it gives children the freedom to express themselves without being judged.
MS NORAZIZAH MOHAMAD, a teacher at Grace Orchard School.
In its 52nd year, the event is organised by the Ministry of Education.
Mrs Valarie Wilson, director of its arts education branch, said the purpose of the event is to go beyond honing the artistic skills of students to build an inclusive platform for students from different backgrounds to interact and realise their potential.
Spanning two weekends, this year's celebrations involved more than 4,100 students from about 250 schools in various performances, including music, dance and drama.
In Grace Orchard School's hand chimes co-curricular activity (CCA), more than half of the students have autism spectrum disorder.
Said their teacher, Ms Norazizah Mohamad: "Today, there is a lot of focus on (studies). But learning about the arts is important as it gives children the freedom to express themselves without being judged."
She added that her students were thrilled to be given the opportunity to interact with teens from other schools.
Being given a chance to be part of the SYF allowed Grace Orchard students to practise the hard and soft skills they learnt in school, said Ms Michelle Wang, the school's head of department for CCA.
"The arts are definitely one platform that can gel students from both mainstream and special education schools," she said. "This performance showed the public what students with special needs can do."
She said they will excel as long as people are patient with them and give them the opportunities to hone their skills.
The performers from mainstream schools also appreciated the chance to work with their peers from Grace Orchard.
Said Julia Ng, a 15-year-old Secondary 3 student from Zhonghua: "Everyone has different struggles in different areas, regardless of special needs.
"I feel that they are the same as us, just that they need extra attention and help."
Another performer, Secondary 3 student Margaret Feliciano, 16, hopes there can be stronger collaboration between mainstream students and students with special needs.
Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.