Two multi-talented persons with disabilities have a common desire to let their abilities do the talking.
One day, when Joshua Allen Rui Xiong German was about three years old, he went to the piano in his house and started banging on the keys.
At first, it was like a big toy to him, but then he started to play tunes that he had heard before.
That was when his grandmother, Mrs Carol Ong, realised he might have an inclination towards music.
She started searching for a music teacher but they were either too expensive or not equipped to handle Joshua. When he turned seven, she found a teacher who taught a music playgroup for children with autism at a local community centre.
At the age of 10, Joshua, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, joined Metta School, a special education school that caters to students with mild autism. There, he picked up percussion instruments and guitar, and sheng (笙; a mouth-blown instrument).
He took up classical piano lessons when he was about 15.
About four years ago, Mrs Ong discovered that he had a talent for playing the jazz piano. Through a special arrangement with Very Special Arts (VSA, an organisation that provides opportunities for persons with disabilities to be involved in the arts), Joshua was able to learn the instrument.
According to VSA, the now 23-year-old showed “remarkable improvement” in playing the jazz piano after one year of training. Joshua can now memorise scores, improvise and is adept at many genres.
“He told me he likes jazz piano because he can improvise and play the sounds he likes. He has improved a lot, and is now more confident. The focus now is to train him to become a jazz musician,” said Mrs Ong.
This opened his world to public performing, and Joshua has been able to showcase his musical talents at public events like Metta’s Charity Banquet, as well as support national disability awareness campaigns like National Council for Social Services’ “See the True Me”.
In fact, Joshua became so good at the jazz piano that he managed to impress Singapore’s King of Swing Jeremy Monteiro.
“Despite the challenges he faces, Joshua has proven to be a most promising youth with much potential for excellence in jazz piano,” he said.
Like Joshua, Timothy Lee has been blessed with many talents.
From acting to dancing and playing musical instruments, you could say he can do it all.
The 15-year-old was first introduced to drama classes when he was about nine, but dropped out eventually as he showed no interest then.
Today, most people know him as the character “Handsome” in English drama series Kin on Mediacorp’s Channel 5.
Timothy makes history as the first person with disabilities (Down Syndrome) to play a lead character in local television. And he got the part after just one audition!
“Acting lets him express himself…and has improved his speech and interaction skills. He likes playing ‘Handsome’; it reflects his personality,” said his mother Joyce Tan.
Kin’s supervising executive producer Tan Wei-Lyn is all praise for Timothy.
“I would rank him up there among the top actors in terms of his commitment and dedication to performance. A consummate professional, always giving his best no matter how tired, no matter how demanding the script is, no matter how long the hours on set,” she said.
Timothy also picked up the cajon (percussion instrument played by hand), and currently performs with a church choir.
In the last two years, he has also shown an interest in modelling. Today, he works with social initiative Singapore Fashion Runway on fashion shoots and runway shows.
Timothy has also long had a love for dancing, and can perform many styles ranging from contemporary to K-Pop. He joined a dance group over a decade ago, and has taken part in many performances since then.
Joshua and Timothy are recipients of the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards (GCTEA) 2019, which aims to recognise the achievements and potential of persons with disabilities. It was officially launched by Mediacorp and SG Enable in 2019.
To find out more, visit www.mediacorp.sg/GCTEnableAwards.