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This year, a sea of purple returns to Suntec City.
To celebrate the abilities of persons with disabilities, the Purple Parade returns with a bang. For its 10th year anniversary, and after two years of virtual celebrations, the parade is back in full force — with a celebration that will paint Suntec City and its surrounding roads purple tomorrow afternoon (Oct 29)!
Founded in 2013, the Purple Parade is Singapore’s largest movement that supports creating a more inclusive environment for persons with disabilities (PWDs).
This year, the event will include a parade (of course!), a carnival, sharing sessions from PWDs and a concert.
Let’s meet some of these performers!
She can’t see, but plays the piano to share her emotions
Some pianists get so in tune with the music that they don’t need to look at a score or the keyboard while playing.
Siti Sakinah never had that choice.
The 26-year-old is visually impaired, but it didn’t stop her from pursuing her dream of playing the piano.
Sakinah tells the Pride that she was a “preemie”. Not only that, she was born extremely premature at only 26 weeks. While in her incubator, complications due to too much oxygen caused Sakinah’s retinas to detached, causing a condition called retinopathy of prematurity.
When she was six, her parents bought her a toy piano keyboard. Before long, she was playing children’s songs like Happy Birthday or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Seeing how she loved playing the toy piano, her parents got her a second-hand digital piano when she was eight.
From then on, Sakinah taught herself the piano, playing by ear – listening to a song, then repeating it from memeory – since she can’t read scores.
By the time she was 17, she felt confident enough to consider picking up formal lessons.
But she had a problem.
“Piano lessons aren’t cheap, so I was really glad when the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) introduced me to the Training Award Programme by The Purple Symphony,” said Sakinah.
The Purple Symphony is an inclusive orchestra set up by Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC) in 2015. Its aim is to create opportunities for musicians with disabilities.
GIC’s Training Award Programme provides grants to aspiring musicians with special needs and disabilities to help them access equal opportunities to music.
This meant that Sakinah was able to advance her piano skills without worrying about money.
When asked about challenges she faces as a visually impaired pianist (aside from the obvious, of course!) Sakinah laughs: “I have to rely on agaration — Singlish for estimation — quite a bit sometimes!”
That’s because some pieces that she plays requires leaps, where the hand leaves the keyboard to reach keys that are further apart. Unlike most pianists, Sakinah can’t look to where her fingers should land. Hence, the agaration, she says merrily.
However, Sakinah does not let such obstacles hold her back.
“Playing the piano allows me to pour out my feelings without any words. When I perform a song on a piano, I do not need lyrics to portray an emotion. That’s why I love it,” she explains.
Due to Covid restrictions, the Purple Concert was virtual the past two years. This meant that adjustments had to be made for the orchestra’s performance.
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During the first year of the pandemic, The Purple Symphony did a recorded performance for the parade. This allowed re-recording in case of mistakes but ironically, that made it more stressful because Sakinah would aim to get her performance as perfect as possible.
“I prefer performing in front of a live audience because it teaches me that nothing can be perfect, and we have to live with flaws sometimes,” she says, simply.
This will be Sakinah’s sixth year performing with The Purple Symphony at the Purple Parade’s concert.
“I haven’t heard applause and cheering from a crowd in a long time so I look forward to seeing the support at this year’s parade,” she says.
Two car accidents and he’s still going strong
At 14, a car crash left him with a traumatic brain injury.
Today, 44-year-old Benjamin Chong still suffers from its after effects. His reflexes and cognitive abilities are affected and he has trouble processing and recalling information.
But not when it comes to music.
“I can’t remember things well but when it comes to the keyboard or music, I have no problems for some reason,” Benjamin laughs as he talks to The Pride.
Like Sakinah, Benjamin started playing the piano at a young age – starting lessons when he was nine.
Even after the crash, he never left the keyboard.
Benjamin’s parents initially wanted to send him to a special education school as they were afraid he could not keep up with his studies. However, the principal at St Andrew’s Secondary School reassured them that the teachers will help him with his studies. This includes almost daily one-to-one remedial lessons after school.
After graduating from school, Benjamin continued to perform in various bands as a freelance pianist.
Until a horrific car accident in 2018 resulted in a partial amputation of Benjamin’s right leg. Thankfully, the surgeon was able to reattached it but he had to use a wheelchair for over a year while going through physiotherapy. Though he can walk on his own now, too much weight on his right leg would still cause a lot of pain.
In 2020, a friend introduced him to the Zelotones, made up of differently-abled musicians. The three other members of the band, Alex (drums), Zach (lead guitar/bass) and Zyana (vocals/guitar), are visually impaired.
Even though he joined the band later (Zelotones was founded in 2018), Benjamin says he has never felt more comfortable in a band because of how inclusive it is.
Benjamin exclaims: “It is a privilege to be in this band, it feels like family!”
In previous years, the Zelotones performed as part of SAVH’s contingent at the Purple Parade. But this year, they signed up independently so Benjamin can perform with them.
It’s his first year performing at the Purple Parade, so he’s feeling the jitters. However, he’s still looking forward to performing for the crowd.
“It really is a great platform to not just support people with disabilities, but also people like us to demonstrate our talent and abilities,” Benjamin says proudly
Dancing with Down Syndrome
This bubbly 33-year-old does not let her disability stop her from expressing herself.
Chen Wan Yi is performing for the fourth time at the Purple Parade, as part of the Down Syndrome Association (DSA) Fusion Dance Ensemble.
The dance troupe will be performing three songs: Frank Sinatra’s When You’re Smiling and Singin’ in the Rain, as well as BTS’s IDOL.
“I am happy to be able to dance to IDOL because BTS is my favourite band” Wan Yi blushes in excitement as she talks to The Pride.
Performing to her favourite K-pop group is not the only reason why Wan Yi is exhilarated for the upcoming parade. After two years of not being able to perform in front of a live crowd, she can’t wait for the concert this year.
“I love dancing to an audience because I enjoy entertaining them with my dance moves,” Wan Yi says happily.
Wan Yi was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth, a chromosomal disorder that affects intellectual abilities and causes developmental delays.
“Even though I live with Down syndrome, I am still happy the way I am and I have my own dreams,” Wan Yi says.
She wants to become a fashion designer.
In 2017, Wan Yi took a step towards making her dream come true. She worked with local fashion retailer Pazzion to sell tote bags printed with her art – a painted portrait of a dog.
“It was a dream come true. I was very happy to be able to have my own design of my dog being sold,” Wan Yi exclaims.
Apart from DSA’s dance ensemble, Wan Yi is also a part of the Diverse Abilities Dance Collective (DADC), an inclusive dance academy started by Maya Dance Theatre in June 2018. Last year, Wan Yi performed with DADC with seven other performers with Down syndrome at the Purple Parade.
“I am excited for the physical parade because I miss seeing the smiles on people’s faces when I am on stage,” Wan Yi tells The Pride.
For the past nine years, Wan Yi has been working at Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa as a housekeeper, as part of the DSA’s Adult Enhancement Program. Wan Yi mentions how lovely it is to be a part of the company because her employers and co-workers treats her well.
However, this is not always the case. Wan Yi explains that it may be hard to befriend others who do not understand Down syndrome.
“We (people with Down syndrome) have a harder time building relationships with others because sometimes we don’t feel included,” Wan Yi says sadly.
People like Sakinah, Benjamin, and Wan Yi find a way to live life to the fullest despite their disability. Their spirit and joie de vivre is something to inspire us.
We can help honour and support them by attending the Purple Parade.
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This year’s parade will take place on Oct 29 at Suntec City, from 3pm to 7pm. Admission is free. You can catch Sakinah, Benjamin, and Wan Yi in action at the concert area and there is also an “Eat, Play, Shop” carnival where you can purchase food and Purple Parade merchandise.
Visit https://www.purpleparade.sg/ for more details.
See you there and don’t forget to wear purple!