Disabled orchestra members put heart, soul into performance

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Disabled orchestra members put heart, soul into performance


Members of the Heart Heart Orchestra perform to celebrate the opening of the 2013 Pyeongchang Special Olympics World Winter Games, which will run through Feb. 5 at the Alpensia Concert Hall in Pyeongchang, Gangwon, Tuesday. Founded in 2006, the orchestra team is comprised of over 50 members with developmental disabilities. By Kim Hyung-soo

As part of the opening ceremony for the 2013 Pyeongchang Special Olympics World Winter Games, around 50 orchestra members dressed in black were getting ready to play at a concert hall in Pyeongchang Tuesday.

But this wasn’t an ordinary performance with ordinary musicians.

The Heart Heart Orchestra, founded in 2006, is comprised of over 50 members with developmental disabilities.

It took the stage on Tuesday in honor of the Pyeongchang Special Olympics, in which around 3,300 athletes from 110 countries with intellectual disabilities compete in winter sports from Jan. 29 to Feb. 5.

With a cue from a conductor, the orchestra began to play the William Tell Overture, surprising and impressing many in the audience, including Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics, son of the late Eunice Kennedy Shiver who established the event in 1968.

The performance was especially noteworthy, as many members in the orchestra team are autistic. Autism is a developmental disability that impairs social interaction and deprives one of the ability to concentrate.

When the special orchestra team was founded by the Heart Heart Welfare Foundation in 2006, it took more time to calm them down and have them sit still than to have them practice.

Many people said the day the members would perform on stage would never come.

The Heart Heart Orchestra, however, led by conductor Park Sung-ho, who plays trumpet for Gangnam Symphony Orchestra, decided to have the team perform in November 2006 the same year, against all odds. It didn’t go as planned.

As people with developmental disabilities are known for their lack of ability to adjust to a new environment, some orchestra members who were on stage for the first time lost their patience and began wandering around.

Seven years later, the same team did exactly the opposite, successfully playing the songs they had prepared for the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics, which aims to raise public awareness about people with intellectual disabilities as well as to encourage them to participate in society.

“It takes two years just for them to play in an ensemble as an orchestra member,” Lee Ji-young, director of the welfare foundation, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “After two years, an additional year is also required to stand on stage and play the piece. The performance for the Special Games ceremony was a result of four-times-a-week practice that the orchestra members have undergone [in the past seven years].”

By Ahn Hai-ri, Lee Seong-ho [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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