Hard to breathe but she plays piano

Zhang Pei Shan, 15, practising the piano under the guidance of Beautiful Mind Charity volunteer Mary Yoon. She performed in front of some 560 people at a charity concert last Saturday.
PHOTO: Hard to breathe but she plays piano

SINGAPORE - While she dreamt of playing on a grand piano one day, Zhang Pei Shan, 15, did not know how to do so until two months ago.

Today, the shrunken teenager - she has an unknown illness that stunts her growth and makes her reliant on machines to breathe - will perform on the piano in front of some 560 people at a charity concert at the School of the Arts in Dhoby Ghaut.

She is among two of the five beneficiaries of a new programme that offers free music lessons to youth with disabilities who will be taking to the stage.

Her father, taxi driver Teo Qi Kuang, 55, said: "We are very proud of her. We never expected that she would be able to perform after only two months of lessons."

She is being trained by the Beautiful Mind Music Academy, which was started last month by the three-year-old Singapore chapter of the Beautiful Mind Charity (BMC). The international group, with offices in the United States, South Korea and Hong Kong, reaches out to the underprivileged through music.

For instance, the BMC musicians here play at hospitals, and children's and nursing homes monthly.

Under the new programme, professional musicians give children aged between eight and 19 at least 24 free, one-on-one lessons a year. Each child is provided with an instrument, such as a keyboard, flute or violin.

This is the first time that the BMC's annual Beautiful Concert will feature beneficiaries here.

Previously, musician volunteers and their disabled students from BMC South Korea flew in to perform with BMC Singapore's 12 musician volunteers.

The other local performer is Samuel Lim, 15, who has a permanently damaged tongue, throat and vocal chords from an acid attack. The remaining three beneficiaries feel unprepared, said BMC Singapore coordinator Kimmy Hae Kyung, 51.

Each of the two previous concerts raised between $20,000 and $25,000, and BMC said it is looking to raise a similar amount this year.

Funds raised from today's concert will be fully channelled to four charities, including the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD) and the Muscular Dystrophy Association (Singapore).

SPD executive director Abhimanyau Pal said: "Through music, some of our youth have found their identities and confidence. We would like to thank BMC for... working with our youth to provide free coaching to help them develop musically."

BMC hopes to reach out to more young people if it "can get more passionate teachers on board", said Ms Hae Kyung. "Teachers who attended the previous concerts were touched by the South Korean youth who were part of the Academy programme back in South Korea, and they approached us to roll out the programme. They take time out of their schedules to volunteer their talent, and are very passionate and patient."

Those interested to volunteer with BMC Singapore as music teachers should preferably have a degree or diploma in music. To find out more, e-mail sgbeautifulmind@gmail.com.

audreyt@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 19 in The Straits Times.

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