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Thai Blind Orchestra

Photographer: Rungroj Yongrit

 

They cannot see but they can hear and play music to make themselves and the audience happy.

 

The Thai Blind Orchestra is Thailand’s first orchestra of its kind and is made up of young musicians aged between 9 and 18 years who are blind, visually impaired and/or multiple disabled. It was established in 2014 from an idea of Alongkot Chukaew, who is the Director of Thai Elephants Research and Conservation Fund near the Khao Yai national park in Thailand's northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima province.

 

Chukaew, who is also a classical musician, teaches disabled children in his Elephant Education Program for Blind and Disabled Children, by using audible aids and the natural environment. He noticed that music caught the attention of his young blind students. So with the help of Kritsanapan Punsuk, a Thai volunteer, he decided to introduce his students to classical music and find out if an orchestra could help encourage these children.

 

The young musicians of the Thai Blind Orchestra are all visually impaired, many are blind and some have low vision. They are taught by 23-year-old Kritsanapan Punsuk, who also conducts the band, and other young music graduate volunteers. Punsuk says, "None of the children had any musical skills before. It’s not easy to teach them because they cannot read music scores or see the musical instruments." The children were introduced to a braille system to read music and are taught individually to memorize the positions of their fingers when playing their instruments. Some of the children need up to two years to learn how to play an instrument and perform music.

 

The orchestra is funded by several charitable organizations and all the musical instruments are donated. Every year, the orchestra performs several shows to raise funds and even appears on a live television show.

 

In 2016, the Thai Blind Orchestra performed a show at a Rotary Club ceremony held to raise funds to benefit the blind and visually impaired. Sixteen visually impaired children had been gathering for rehearsals since early May at the 'School for the Blind and the Blind with Multi-Handicapped' in the city of Lopburi province. The young musicians performed four classical Thai songs, including a song written by Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as well as scores by Mozart during the event held at a Bangkok hotel. In every show they also perform a modern Thai song titled 'A Starfish Tale'. The last part of the song's lyrics goes: 'Don't be afraid to be unlike others. Although you are different, you are only yourself.'

 

In Thailand, Buddhist devotees believe in karma and attitudes towards disability suggest that disabled people are to surrender and accept their fate. In spite of this, Alongkot Chukaew and his volunteers have created the Thai Blind Orchestra with the aim of using music to encourage children and help change negative attitudes towards disability.