These people managed to learn (and some master) an instrument despite their disabilities. Hope these true stories will be an inspiration to you.
Hee Ah Lee, the 4-finger pianist
The videos are real and Hee Ah Lee is Authentic. It is the story of a mother and a daughter who have overcome odds from the very beginning.
Lee’s mother became unexpectedly pregnant while married to a disabled man. Doctors told her that because of a medication she had been taking her child would not be normal. She elected to continue with the pregnancy and in 1985 in Seoul, South Korea, little Hee Ah Lee was born with only two fingers on each hand, disfigurement of her legs, and slight brain injury. The hospital told Sun that she could not care for the child at home and relatives wanted her to place the child for adoption in a foreign country. Sun thought her baby was beautiful, however, and was determined that she would live a successful life.
When Lee was a pre-schooler her mother decided that she wanted her daughter to take piano lessons and for two reasons. One was that she felt it would help her strengthen her hands so she could hold a pencil. The other was that she felt that if she could master the piano, she could master anything. For six months piano schools turned them down then the one teacher who did accept the task got discouraged and wanted to quit. It became a three-month contest of wills between mother and daughter that led to a confrontation in which Sun actually threw her daughter on the floor in frustration. She said Lee got back up on the piano bench and for the first time played the children’s song she had been trying to learn. That was the turning point and one year later Lee won the grand prize in a piano concert for Kindergartners. It was at age 7 that Lee won Korea’s 19th National Handicap Conquest Contest and was presented with her award by the President of Korea.
Today Lee is 22, has won numerous awards, and is a widely traveled concert pianist with more than 200 appearances. Her first album titled “Hee-ah, a Pianist with Four Fingers” was to be released in June, 2008.
Lee gives tribute to her mother for challenging her to master the piano and said that although her training was difficult, “as time went by, the piano became my source of inspiration and my best friend.”
Dr. Wong Hoi Yan, Connie – The Pianist
Mother: “there are a lot of pressures and trials… why is she like this?”
‘And his disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”’
Connie: “My mother had German measles when she was pregnant with me. That is why I am disabled. There is a period of time when I believe that, it must be my parents who had done something wrong. So the curse was placed on me.”
Mother: “Maybe it was something I had done wrong in my past life.. why is it so? Why did God let this happen to my daughter? I feel wrong for bringing her into this world.”
Connie: “When I was young there was something that I always envy, that is the school holidays that my classmates have, but I don’t, because I have to go through all kinds of operations. There are times when I was unhappy and discouraged, for example, I couldn’t play the game ‘scissors, paper, stone’
Mother: “because of my daughter’s condition, I have changed. I accepted Christ in my life.”
Connie: “If my fingers are normal, I would be no different from other girls. Maybe I would not have liked music. Maybe I wouldn’t be playing the piano. Sometimes I don’t know why I chose this path. Now then I know.”
‘Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.’
Mother: “I believe that it was God’s gift and I’m proud of my daughter”
Connie: “because I believe that I have no disability in my fingers, I am able to see what other people can also see. Those that I cannot see, I use my heart and passion to play it out, to represent my life. Many times things that you cannot see are more exciting than those that you can.”
Connie achieved her BA music degree in the Chinese University, and her MA and PhD in UCLA. She is currently teaching ethnomusicology in the Chinese University and is committed to do a lot of volunteer work. She has visited many hospitals, schools and churches to share the inspiring story of her life.
More videos on Connie Wong
Pianist with no finger on one hand
Liu Wei, the pianist with no arms
“I think there are only two roads to choose for my life, one: to die quickly, another: to live gloriously. Nobody says that you have to play the piano with your hands” – Liu Wei
Ye Eun, the 5 year old blind pianist
Ye Eun’s Mum: “She couldn’t see since she was born, and she has never learnt how to play the piano. But she can play the songs after listening to it once. No one taught her. She wanted to play the piano for a lot of people.”
Nobuyuki Tsujii, the blind pianist who won the Van Cliburn Internation Piano competition
Nobuyuki Tsujii was born blind but was gifted with a talent for music. At the age of two, he began to play “Do Re Mi” on a toy piano after his mother had been humming the tune. He began his formal study of piano at the age of four. In 1995, at the age of seven, Tsujii won the first prize at the All Japan Music of Blind Students by the Tokyo Helen Keller Association. In 1998, at age ten, he debuted with the Century Orchestra, Osaka. He gave his first piano recital in the small hall of Tokyo’s Suntory Hall at age 12. Subsequently, he made his overseas debut with performances in the United States, France, and Russia. In October 2005, he reached the semifinal and received the Critics’ Award at the 15th International Frederik Chopin Piano Competition held in Warsaw, Poland. Tsujii competed in the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and tied for the gold medal with Haochen Zhang. He was also awarded the Beverley Taylor Smith Award for the best performance of a new work. He played all twelve of Frédéric Chopin’s Op. 10 Études as part of his performance in the preliminaries.
Evelyn Glennie – the deaf percussionist
Excerpt from video:
“As I grew older I then auditioned for the Royal Academy of Music in London, and they said, “Well, no we won’t accept you because we haven’t a clue of the future of a so called ‘deaf’ musician.” And, I just couldn’t quite accept that so therefore I said to them, “Look, if you refuse me through those reasons, as opposed to the ability, to perform and to understand and to love the art of creating sound, then, we have to think very very hard about the people you do actually accept.” And as a result, they accepted me and not only that, what happened is that it changed the whole role of the music institution throughout the United Kingdom. Under no circumstances were they to refuse any application any entry and every single entry had to be listened to, experienced, and then based on the musical ability and then that person could either enter or not.”
Evelyn Glennie is considered one of the world‘s foremost percussionists and is the first and only full-time solo classical percussionist. The master of more than 1, 000 traditional and unconventional percussion instruments from around the world has performed with a range of musical talents, from the Kodo Japanese drummers to Icelandic pop singer Björk, and with every major orchestra in America and Europe. Profoundly deaf (meaning severely impaired but not completely deaf) since the age of 12, the percussionist identifies notes by vibrations she feels through her feet and body; she insists her deafness is irrelevant to her ground-breaking, critically acclaimed work.
Evelyn Elizabeth Ann Glennie was born July 19, 1965, the only daughter of Isobel, a school teacher, and Herbert Arthur Glennie, a beef farmer. Raised outside Aberdeen, Scotland, Glennie and her two brothers helped on the family farm and, though her mother was an organist, didn‘t grow up in a particularly musical environment. She was a promising student of piano and clarinet as a child, and she was blessed with perfect pitch, the ability to identify or sing a note by ear. At age eight, Glennie started complaining of sore ears and hearing loss. Her condition steadily deteriorated, and by age 11 she needed a hearing aid, which she found distracting and later discarded. She continued to play music and found she could perceive the quality of a note by the level of the reverberations she could feel in her hands, wrists, lower body, and feet. Glennie counts as her major influences cellist Jacqueline du Pré and pianist Glenn Gould.
Percussion “Felt Right”
When she was 12, Glennie saw a schoolmate playing percussion. She started taking lessons, and, she told People, “… it felt right.” She graduated with honors from London‘s prestigious Royal Academy of Music in 1985. She claims her deafness kept her from being caught up by social distractions and made her a better student, but she also realized it affected her ability to play in an orchestra, so she set her sights on becoming a soloist. In 1985 she made her professional debut; the following year she left for Japan to study the five-octave marimba for a year. Glennie‘s first decade as a professional solo performer was filled with milestones: first performance of a new percussion concerto, first time an orchestra had performed with a solo percussionist, first solo percussion performance at a festival or venue. In 1990 she met Greg Malcagni, a recording engineer, and the two wed four years later.
Glennie introduced her rendition of fellow Scot James MacMillan‘s Veni, Veni, Emmanual—described by Billboard as “a devoutly celestial concerto”—at London‘s Royal Albert Hall in 1992. She released a recording of the work the following year. In 1996 Glennie released Drumming, which she described to Billboard as “quite a
personal album.” She wanted to make a “raw, … improvised” album using untuned percussion. Billboard critic Timothy White called her playing on the record “breath-takingly instinctive.”
Glennie‘s twelfth solo release, Shadow Behind the Iron Sun, was released in 2000 and recorded under unusual circumstances. She and veteran pop producer Michael Brauer spent four days in a studio packed with every instrument Glennie played, exploring as many moods as possible, from dark and aggressive to light and happy. The improvised songs, which were all recorded on the first take, were titled after chapters in Eaters of the Dead, a Michael Crichton novel that Brauer was reading at the time. “With this project, there were no boundaries, no rules, no limits,” Glennie was quoted as saying on her website, adding it was her favorite record so far. African Sunrise/Manhattan Rave, released in 2001 on Black Box Records, is a work by British composer David Heath that Glennie and the London Philharmonic Orchestra bring to life. On “Manhattan Rave,” Glennie literally plays on trash (an assortment of sticks, oilcans, and bottles and pans) and “does her best percussion freakout. It truly is an amazing work, capable of raising the dead while remaining somehow ‘accessible, ‘” according to All Music Guide‘s Thorn Jurek.
Master of Timpani, Xylophone, Car Muffler
While countless pieces of music have been composed for the piano, violin, flute, or cello, few works have been written for percussion. In an effort to change that, Glennie has commissioned more than 80 new pieces to date, with projects constantly in the works. She actively pursues new composers and commissions more new pieces, on average, than any other solo performer.
Glennie has collected more than 1,000 percussion instruments, and there seems to be no end to what she is able to make music with. She is a master of common percussion instruments from around the world—marimba, xylophone, timpani, chimes, congas, steel pan, djembes, bodhrans, daiko drums, and many more. But she is also wildly inventive. She creates instruments herself, like an adapted car muffler she strikes with triangle beaters. She also has made music on common items such as a hospital bed, camera, wheel hub, garbage can lid, flower pot, and starting gun. Composer Django Bates wrote a piece for Glennie, which she played only with kitchen utensils, called “My Dream Kitchen.” She designed a line of cymbals for cymbal company Sabian called “Glennie‘s Garbage” that are welded from sheet metal. Glennie, who played clarinet as a child, also began to add wind instruments to her repertoire, starting with Great Highland bagpipes.
Glennie tours extensively and exhaustively. She plays more than 100 concerts each year and has appeared across five continents. She plays on 20 to 50 instruments during each performance, “bounding,” as Michael Walsch wrote in Time, “from instrument to instrument with the grace of a natural athlete.” A Washington Post critic was almost as impressed by Glennie‘s physical show in concert—which he called the “Evelyn Glennie Workout”—as he was by “the subtle gradations of sound and color she brings to every phrase.” In addition to the details of her music and instruments, Glennie pays attention to the non-musical details of her shows, performing in colorful, theatrical costumes and with thematically designed sets and lights. Because she feels the music through her feet, she prefers to play barefoot. In addition to about two tons of equipment, Glennie travels with her Gameboy video game player.
Did Not Want to Hear about Hearing
In addition to performing, Glennie and her husband have composed award-winning music for British film and television. She also hosted two series of her own television programs for the BBC, including one called Soundbites, which featured interviews and performances by musical guests. She has written two books for the marimba and a music education book for schools. Her best-selling autobiography, Good Vibrations, was published in 1985.
Glennie believes that her hearing impairment has no bearing on her position as a world-renowned percussionist, and she is reluctant to discuss the subject with interviewers. Although she is active in some 40 organizations for the deaf, such as a program that provides music-based therapy for hearing-impaired children, Glennie downplays her involvement, preferring to concentrate on elevating the art of percussion. She has achieved her goal, according to Symphony magazine: “Glennie is the one individual most responsible for the sudden emergence of percussion from the rear of the orchestra to front-and-center stage, both in fact and in public attention.”
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