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THIS ABILITY

It can be considered quite glamorous, Up on stage, dressed in fine apparel, looking good and enthralling the audience with a seemingly effortless performance.

I wish it’s that easy. But for someone bound to a wheelchair, the simplest act can be awkward. Take the matter of getting on stage. Most times I have to be pushed or carried up, oftentimes awkwardly, only to find that the microphone is not properly positioned, or it’s not at the right height and the music has started.

A song performance can be awfully worrisome for one who has no control over his urinary and bowel movements. What if nature calls in the middle of an item? What if the catheter drainage bag leaks? It has gotten loose before. The velcro straps came off when the urine rushed out. Then the half litre capacity plastic bag brims over to a smelly embarrassingly wet situation. So I have to take every precaution to empty my leg bag before each stage entrance – or else!

And like any other person. I have my share of stage jitters and butterflies in my ample stomach. I worry and fret over singing off-key, remembering lyrics and coming in on the wrong timing. All this can be compounded by an inept technician, designated as ‘soundman’, yet proves to be very ‘unsound’ when it comes to leveling the volume of music and microphone.

I receive invitations to all sorts of events, at a myriad of venues with a variety of audiences that now with hindsight reveals the adventurous journey it really is. At last count, I have sung in over sixty weddings with an additional two this year. Church services come a close second probably at above forty different places of worship. Educational institutions, ranging from primary, secondary, Junior Colleges to both local universities are the third most common places I get to sing in.

There were events held in hospitals, hospices, offices, community clubs, hotels and outdoor arenas for Christmas, fundraisers, company dinners, award presentations, promotions and farewell lunches. From the Esplanade Theatres On the Bay to WTC Auditorium, Kallang Theatre to DBS Auditorium and University Cultural Center, I think the only two major remaining stages I did not perform at are the Indoor and National Stadiums. Well, I was at the National Stadium doing my part of the show during my secondary school days in the brass band!

Some memorable moments were singing in the basement room for a students’ club. My voice was interrupted intermittently by the flushing echoes in the basement sewer pipes of someone who’s just finished their business! Better recollections were when a group of Methodist school girls giggling and requesting autographs and contact numbers. A recent high point was singing before President Nathan and Minister Khaw Boon Wan at Shangri-la Hotel for the Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s fundraiser. Both VIPS were kind enough to come on stage to shake hands and take photos together.

Still, some of the doors of opportunities opened for me are amazing. During the Racial Harmony Day 2002 in Bedok Stadium held by South-East Community Development Council, I had the privilege to duet with celebrity singer Ho Yeow Sun with my own composition, ‘We Can Live Together’. Singing before PM Goh Chok Tong along with Cabinet Ministers among the 3000-strong crowd is an unforgettable experience.

My artistic endeavors led to regular appearances in local newspapers and television features (AM Singapore, Tuesday Report, Remember Our Date, Voices of Hope, Channel U’s ‘Amazing Grace’) Performing in the Singapore Arts Festival and gigs in charity events and fundraisers like NCSS Sharity, NUS Charity Bang, NTU Glowing in the Dark, Singapore Cancer Society and Tan Tock Seng Hospital grants me the platform to do my part as a community volunteer.

Being invited abroad was also another avenue where I did not imagine possible. Yet I went on stage at the pre-event of the Disabled People International Seminar (Sapporo 02) in Hakodate Social Welfare Center, Japan. This year in September I took my songs to Equata’s ‘Above & Beyond’ disability arts conference in Cheltenham UK.

My songwriting paved the way for me to become a member of the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (COMPASS), which lists the musical elite of Singapore among its members. My resume now boasts 4 albums of own compositions, with 5 more albums in collaboration with the Singapore Wataboshi Movement. I was winner of the 6th Singapore Wataboshi Music Festival in 2001 and represented Singapore amongst 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific Wataboshi Music Festival in Kaoshiung, Taiwan. It was a thrill to sing my winning entry ‘Live Life’ before an audience which included Premier Chen Shui Bian in a nationwide live telecast.

My passion for music has given me these cherished experiences. When lives are reached and hearts touched through my songs, it is an added bonus. Music is an added facet of my contribution to society, to give a part of myself back for measures of kindness various people has shown me. Each tune and tone and lyric conveys a universal message to change the world to be a better one.

I am in the midst of planning for my next album with an eye on launching it at the Esplanade Theatres. The 250 seat hall lah, not the 2 big ones! Another itching is to try basking at an MRT station or wherever. A musical? Maybe. A Grammy/Oscar winning song? Well, it’s a dream worth having. Just a mindset change from disability to This Ability and the musical adventure continues.