NDP 2017 to feature musicians with different special needs for the first time

Some of the musicians in Purple Symphony cannot see, some cannot hear, and some suffer from autism. See how they overcome their challenges in order to put up a show at this year's National Day Parade.
Members of the Purple Symphony, Singapore’s largest disability-inclusive orchestra, practising for this year's NDP performance.
Members of the Purple Symphony, Singapore’s largest disability-inclusive orchestra, practising for this year's NDP performance.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - For the first time ever, this year's National Day Parade will feature musicians of different types of disabilities performing together, to promote a caring spirit and to highlight the message of inclusivity.

The Purple Symphony - Singapore's largest disability-inclusive orchestra, which includes a choir - will have 24 of its 90 members perform We Will Get There, the NDP 2002 theme song. The orchestra will be led by its assistant conductor, Ms Liong Kit Yeng.

Among the 24 musicians, 20 have special needs, including intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, autism and visual impairment. One of them, Ms Lily Goh, is deaf.

The 37-year-old percussionist will play the marimba. She also helped to choreograph the hand signs for the song. During the group's NDP performance, about 400 pupils from Henry Park Primary will hand-sign to the song.

The Purple Symphony - so named as purple symbolises solidarity for people with special needs - was set up in 2015 by the Central Singapore Community Development Council.

The group has performed at national and regional events, such as the closing ceremony of the 2015 Asean Para Games. It makes its NDP debut this year, and the 25,000 people seated at the Marina Bay Floating Platform would be the largest audience it has performed to.


Other NDPs in recent years have highlighted a message of inclusivity too. For instance, performers from the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore played the drums and marched in NDP 2014.

Ms Goh, who lost most of her hearing from the age of two, keeps to the beat by following visual cues from the conductor and her sign language interpreter.

She has performed with a band since she was 10, but noted that doing so on the Marina Bay Floating Platform poses unique challenges.

"There are many things going on," she said. The group will perform on a small stage that moves forward during the song. There are also more vibrations and she can hear some loud music from the speakers.

She said: "I'll need to be very focused on the conductor's visual cues and remember what the tempo and mood of the song should be."

Other members of the Purple Symphony orchestra are also excited about their upcoming NDP performance.

Luke Kang, 13, who has autism and plays the zhongruan, a Chinese string instrument, said: "I feel very honoured as a Singaporean to perform at the NDP. I feel confident, and scared too, as the whole of Singapore would be watching us."

Music undergraduate Emilea Teo, 20, plays the same instrument. Ms Teo, who does not have a disability, said she enjoyed performing with musicians with special needs. About one-third of the 90-member orchestra does not have disabilities.

"I'm always amazed at how much effort they put in and how they manage to deliver," she said. "I'm nervous about performing in the NDP, but I'm more excited as I love what this orchestra stands for - that musicians with special needs are not that different from the rest of us - and I can't wait to share that everyone."