A collaboration between three like-minded organisations sparked a meaningful performance to celebrate the message of inclusivity.

Ever since 23-year-old American Kodi Lee won “America’s Got Talent” in 2019, the world got to see first-hand the phenomenal musical talent of someone who has both visual impairment and autism.

Closer to home, a group of parents are using the power of song and dance to bond with their children with autism and other disabilities. Called the Singapore Special Voices (SSV), the group of volunteers organises activities and musical performances that celebrate inclusivity, staged in various venues across Singapore.

A Meaningful Partnership

In 2018, SSV, Project Artitude, and Yong Siew Toh (YST) Conservatory of Music came together for a song and dance performance that not only showcase the musical talents of persons with disabilities but also wowed the audiences and moved the hearts of many.

The group worked with musicians from Project Artitude, performed an original music composition - co-written with the Yong Siew Toh (YST) Conservatory of Music’s music facilitators over a series of curated inclusive workshops.

Project Artitude consists of musicians who are alumni, faculty and students of the YST Conservatory of Music. It is founded by Leslie Tan, an internationally acclaimed cellist and founding member of the T’ang Quartet. The performance by the 24 youths with disabilities and their family members from SSV was held in July 2019 for the 5th Enabling Employers Awards organised by SG Enable, which recognises employers who hire and integrate persons with disabilities into the workforce.

The group performing at the 5th Enabling Employers Awards in 2019.

“Our kids loved the musicians who showed great empathy, and generously shared their music with us. It’s the friendships we built that were the most important throughout the whole project… It was a lot of work and a lot of lyrics to memorise, but the kids really enjoyed it,” said SSV founder Magdalene Ong, 48, whose son Chalmers was one of the special talents with autism on stage.

This collaboration was made possible by SG Enable, an agency dedicated to enabling persons with disabilities.

Finding Their Voice

To create the performance piece, six music facilitators from Project Artitude held four inclusive music workshops in small groups, so they could understand each participant’s strengths and hear their creative ideas.

The music facilitators also taught them musical skills and rehearsed with them in these small groups, so they would feel comfortable with what to do before coming together to perform as a whole.

Project Artitude founder Leslie Tan (with cello) and YST Conservatory of Music alumnus Bethany Nette (extreme left) imparting musical skills to SSV during one of the workshops.

The workshops provided an opportunity for youths with disabilities to pick up skillsets outside their school curriculum. By intentionally including caregivers in the music creation process, the participants were further empowered to co-create an original music piece together with professionals, thus giving the youths a greater sense of achievement.

Each session included skills-building and creating music together through various modes, such as singing, movement, body percussion and percussion instruments like drums, shakers, and hand chimes.  

“As a group, we had to continually check in with one another to make sure that each voice was heard while staying focused on our performance goal,” shared Bethany Nette, the project facilitator for the performance.

“The collaborative composition process was not about ‘getting it right’, but about learning to speak up, trying your best, getting out of your comfort zone, and working together towards a common goal,” added the YST Conservatory of Music alumnus.

These workshops were funded by the Mediacorp Enable Fund (MEF), which aims to help build a society where people with disabilities are recognised for their abilities, and lead full and socially-integrated lives.