Inclusive orchestra with special needs members plays to a full house at concert

 The Purple Symphony played to a sold-out crowd of 1,200 at its first ticketed concert on April 2.
The Purple Symphony played to a sold-out crowd of 1,200 at its first ticketed concert on April 2. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Singapore's largest disability-inclusive orchestra, The Purple Symphony, played to a full house at its first ticketed concert on Sunday (April 2).

About two-thirds of the 90-member orchestra, which includes a choir, have special needs. For example, undergraduate Stephanie Ow, 21, who is blind and plays the erhu, takes her cues by listening for when the conductor and orchestra members draw their breath.

An audience of 1,200 people attended the concert at the National University of Singapore's University Cultural Centre. Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin was the guest of honour.

Through the music the orchestra played, audience members were taken "around the world in 80 minutes".

Senior university lecturer Liaw Hwee Choo, 54, performed in the orchestra with his 17-year-old son, who has autism. They played the zhongruan, a Chinese string instrument. Said Mr Liaw: "For a child with autism, learning a musical instrument...can help him assimilate into society and contribute to it with his talents. Having something to focus on is good for his development too."

Undergraduate and orchestra member Ng Rui Jun, 23, who plays the erhu and does not have a disability, said: "The performance is not without technical flaws, but it's about the heart, which is what music is really about."

Central Singapore District Mayor Denise Phua said of the orchestra: "It is a wonderful platform where musicians from all backgrounds have come together to serve and to understand one another better. The support we have received from the team, community, parents and partners has been very heartening."

Since The Purple Symphony was set up by the Central Singapore Community Development Council in 2015, it has performed at various national and regional events, including the closing ceremony of the Asean Para Games in 2015.