An orchestra is the convergence of musical talents playing a diverse and colourful range of instruments, from string to wind and percussion, to produce one coherent piece of music.

The Purple Symphony is perhaps one of the best expressions of what an orchestra is.  Founded in 2015 with 83 members aged 4 to 58, it is Singapore’s first musical ensemble celebrating inclusion and diversity by bringing together musicians with and without special needs.  They are joined by members of SMU Chinese Orchestra (SMUCO).

We speak to Ng Rui Jun and Wong Jun Ying from SMUCO to find out more about what joining the Purple Symphony means to them.

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Rui Jun, at Level 7 of School of Social Sciences / School of Economics, where many music and dance clubs practise

Rui Jun (RJ): Inclusion is the core tenet of the Purple Symphony. It’s what MP Ms Denise Phua had in mind when she started this initiative. Music is something that should be shared by everyone, regardless of social status or special needs you may have.

We asked ourselves: How can musicians give back to society in our own way? To me, this is one of the best ways that we can help and contribute back to the community. To show that music is a very universal thing, and can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone.

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Mr Quek Ling Kiong conducts for SMUCO as well as the Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra

Jun Ying (JY): One of my most memorable moments is seeing the kids being so happy when they practise and start performing. In some sense, these kids with special needs are very innocent and pure. They don’t really have a motive behind what they want to do, especially the young ones. They’re very curious about new instruments that they may not have seen before. During or after practice, they’ll come around and learn more about the instruments. They just want to enjoy the experience, the music.

RJ: One person who’s especially inspiring to me is Stephanie Ow, a visually-impaired erhu player. In spite of her disability or family background, she’s able to use music to build an optimistic outlook to life. That’s very precious and makes you treasure what you have now.

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RJ: One memorable moment was the opening ceremony for the Purple Parade, a movement that supports the inclusion and celebrates the abilities of those with special needs in our community. Many people did not believe that an orchestra with members with special needs could actually succeed. It made a point, not just to ourselves but to the audience as well, that music is very inclusive. We can spread this joy to everyone.

It felt like the first step of something much bigger.

RJ:  The feeling we got after performing at Purple Parade was sublime. What we’re doing could potentially change the entire culture that we have within the arts community.

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Presenting.. the Purple Symphony! (Photos courtesy of SMUCO)

JY: We don’t think of them as different because they’re really quite similar to us. What they actually need is just true friendship. Some way to understand them better. Keep an open and happy attitude. That way, we’ll be able to better understand what they need, how they feel.

If you treat them differently, they can feel it in their hearts.

RJ: In the end, as we’ve seen through our student lives, grades are not always the most important thing. It’s the lessons you learn, the experiences you’re a part of, that affect how you look at society as a whole. And how you behave and grow as a person. I hope that more of us step up and participate in such initiatives.

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RJ: Start small. Even if you’re talking bout volunteering at your local community centre or an old folks’ home. As long as you are helping someone, even if it’s one or two people, you’re still making a change. That’s all that matters to me.

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As Singapore’s first all-inclusive orchestra, The Purple Symphony creates an opportunity for the inclusion of people who are different. It is a ready avenue for musicians to learn and share music with one another and their audiences, support inclusion, and celebrate and demonstrate their abilities and excellence they can achieve together.

SMU Chinese Orchestra (SMUCO) is made up of music enthusiasts whose mission is to promote the appreciation of Chinese Music to the community at-large. Established since August 2009, SMUCO is currently under the baton of Mr. Quek Ling Kiong, associate conductor of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and conductor of Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra.

Check out SMUCO on Facebook, and learn more about the Purple Symphony and Purple Parade!

© 2018 Snapshots by SMU