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Thailand’s first blind orchestra is giving hope to disabled Thais. The orchestra, comprised of mostly young teens, took to the stage in an open-air auditorium in a local national park. With the help of a braille score, the 30 young players memorized scales and played instruments they’ve held but never seen.
Thailand is home to more than 1.8 million disabled people. Of those, 180,000 are blind. For many, life as a disabled person in Thailand is tough. State provision is poor, and many faithful Buddhist followers hold the belief that physical impairments are linked to ‘bad karma,’ or misdeeds from a past life.
Players in the orchestra range between 8 and 15 years of age. The group uses donated instruments and is led by a classical musician who spends his days taking care of elephants at the Khao Yai national park. Alongkot Chukaew was teaching a conversation class and using audible aids, mainly his guitar, when he noticed that music caught the attention of blind students.
Chukaew introduced a braille system that would allow the students to read classical music. Working with each student individually, Chukaew taught students how to position their fingers when playing their instruments. Students memorized the correct finger placements and notes to produce the right sounds. Now, the group is ready to play for an audience.
Thailand’s blind orchestra is bringing hope to Thailand’s disabled, who are among the poorest of the poor in the country. According to the Redemptorist Foundation for People with Disabilities, the belief in karma limits many disabled persons’ lives. Most simply surrender and accept their fate.
But for a cellist named Joe, the notions of karma won’t hold him back. He believes that when one thing is lost, there will always be a substitute. “I cannot see, but I have good ears,” stated the young player. “That is my gift in music”.