‘You raise me up to more than I can be’

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‘You raise me up to more than I can be’


Taking a test, or going through an audition, is always nerve-racking. So, it was fortunate that the students’ mothers were on their sides. They each dressed for the audition in a black suit and white dress shirt. As one boy prepared to play the flute, a judge made a signal and whispered, “He’s holding it the other way.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but his mother helped the boy to hold the instrument properly. He blew on the flute but the sound did not come out right. He seemed discouraged. The judges motivated him, “Do you want to try another piece of music?” “How about Airplane? Bicycle? Or Butterflies?”

The special open audition was held at the Gyeonggi Arts Center to select the members of Hello! SEM, Korea’s first orchestra of children and teenagers with disabilities, which is set to launch on Oct. 15. SEM refers to “Special Excellent Musicians.”

Students with developmental disorders, autism, physical disabilities and visual impairment from third to eleventh grade were eligible to apply. One hundred twenty-eight students applied, and 80 were chosen. They were brought in for the audition and an interview.

Each applicant had about five minutes to play two pieces they prepared and answer some questions. For those who were not articulate enough to answer, their parents participated in the interview.

They played piano, flute, clarinet and other instruments, and most chose children’s music such as “Jingle Bells,” “What Are the Same?,” “Airplane” and “Poplar Tree.” But some skillfully played “The Entertainer,” Mozart’s Minuet and Georges Bizet’s Minuet from L’Arlesienne Suite.

The mother of an 11th-grader, who played Westlife’s “You Raise Me Up” on his flute, said, “I was concerned of his future career, and all he can do is music. That’s why he applied to the orchestra.”

The mother of a student who played “The Entertainer” with his clarinet said she was reluctant to have her child get music lessons at first because they might add stress. But the child truly enjoyed the instrument and continued to study music.

Pastor Jang Byung-yong, the head of Able Art, hosted the event. He got involved in the arts and cultural support for the disabled when his friend, a painter with a disability, killed himself in 1987, leaving a note, “It’s so hard to live in this world. I am dejected no matter how I try.”

As I watched the audition from the front row, I could feel the struggles of the parents of children with disabilities. A mother said, “The social prejudice was the hardest thing to bear.”

More people without disabilities should have seen the audition. It would have been a chance to realize who is really disabled. The endeavor of the children reminded me of the lyrics from “You Raise Me Up”: “You raise me up to more than I can be.”

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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