Hearing-impaired choir gives first performance

SINGAPORE - They are deaf. Which makes talking a challenge in itself.

But earlier this month, these eight students from the Singapore School for the Deaf (SSD) gave a vocal performance at a charity gala dinner at Marina Bay Sands.

The students, aged eight to 14, each sang "ooh" at a certain pitch. With the help of a conductor, they presented various tunes and chords.

Their two-minute performance is believed to be the first of its kind here. One of the students, Khoo Si Tian, 12, says through an interpreter: "I'm so happy I can sing. I never knew music would be part of my life."

Mahadeer Sali, 15, adds: "Learning to sing has made me more confident."

Both were born with severe hearing loss. They can't hear conversations or even alarms bells. They communicate mainly through sign language and can only speak certain words and phrases. Neither thought they would ever be part of a choir.

They are guided by two conductors from Sentire Singapore, a charity initiative that brings music and arts to people with disabilities.

One of the conductors, Mr Amos Chia, 23, came up with the idea for a vocal performance by the deaf in January.

He says: "I wanted to help them overcome their fear of using their voices. Their voices are perfectly fine. They are afraid they can't control how they sound."

Mahadeer admits: "When I tried to sing, I was scared I would sound funny."

It was only through practice and guidance that he learnt how to control his pitch and volume.

First, conductor Liew Kong Meng, 23, taught the students how to breathe properly while singing.

Then he taught them how to form the "ooh" sounds by controlling the shape of their mouths.

He says: "For people who can hear, learning to sing is easier as we can imitate others.

"But for the hearing-impaired, they don't know if their voices are blending well with the other singers."

Mr Liew measured their pitch using an iPad app.

For the last two months, the students have been practising twice a week.

Says Mahadeer: "I can remember how much my throat and chest vibrate when I sing, so I just remember that feeling and the sound will come out ok."

Apart from singing, the students also presented an item involving soundpainting, a form of sign language that can be used to improvise music.

Taking cues from Mr Chia, the students improvised on various percussion instruments.

Says Mr Chia: "Music is not only about how well you can sing or play an instrument. It's also about expressing yourself and overcoming your fears.

"Their singing might sound off-tune to the general audience. But to them, being able to sing in itself is already a huge battle won."

Adds Ms Barbara D'Cotta, SSD's vice-principal: "It's inspiring to see their confidence grow. At first, they were very hesitant to even sing the notes.

"Now, they are quite comfortable performing in front of so many people."

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