Watching Adrian Anantawan perform the theme from Spielberg’s Schindler’s List blew me away. I was in tears not because here was someone playing the violin with just one hand, but because he played the instrument so beautifully and passionately that you begin to think about what it means to be enabled, not disabled.

Born of Thai-Chinese ethnicity, Adrian’s arm had got entangled in his umbilical cord and didn’t develop normally. Nevertheless, his parents wanted him to learn to play a music instrument. With an adaptive device built by the biomedical engineers, he was able to hold a bow to begin violin lessons at age nine. There were frustrating times in the first months but he kept right on trying. In time, he made the transition from making sounds akin to the cries of a tortured animal to a voice for expression. Now 34, the Canadian violinist has established himself as a star in the classical music arena on pure merit.

“Classical music, when I was introduced to it, saved my life. Before then I wasn’t doing well at school, I had troubles communicating with others… Without it I would feel dead emotionally. It gave me a goal and direction. There’s a big gap that exists between understanding one another and music is the vehicle,” Adrian shares.

Music Man With A Mission
Adrian’s journey doesn’t end at becoming a successful performing artiste. He is also an eloquent spokesperson and proponent for the disabled arts. He gave himself a mandate to help disabled children by giving them opportunities to be exposed to music and to become enabled to create music with the help of technology. Adrian believes that, when it comes to disability, we shouldn’t just think of limits but rather to ask how we might enable the environment so that everyone can play.

“We hear the word ‘adaptation’ and we assume that it is the individual reacting to the environment. But perhaps adaptation is the opposite as well: the environment and materials changing according to your needs and capabilities.”

Adrian’s commitment has evolved into several initiatives with the Bloorview Kids Rehab Centre in Toronto, where he has joined a team of music therapists, educators and researchers to allow children with disabilities to participate in classical music making using adaptive musical instruments and repertoire.

“I hope to be involved with founding a chamber music society that would serve as a performance platform for such initiatives, and providing a legitimate medium by which talented children with disabilities can express their art.”

No Pity Party
Adrian will be in Singapore for the True Colours Festival this 23-25 March as a performer at the concert and a speaker at the Arts & Disability International Conference. Presented by Unesco and The Nippon Foundation, True Colours is a celebration of artistes with disabilities, where 30 of the most talented artistes/troupes from Japan, China, Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Philippines as well as from New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom will perform. (Click here for a sneak preview.)

Before you even think it, event director Audrey Perera will tell you it’s not a “pity party” but an eye opener to the incredible talent among disabled persons. “We want to shift the needle, to change perceptions about disability,” she emphasises.

Ichiro Kabasawa, executive director of the Nippon Foundation, underscores the need for us to be keenly aware of the huge potential that persons with disabilities possess. True Colours, he explains, is part of a long-term vision that aims to change mind sets so that everyone is respected and enabled to contribute fully to society. “We want to give hope, to be an agent of change, to boost confidence and bring joy, as well as to push governments to listen to the voices of persons with disability so as to move towards an inclusive society,” he says.

As I walk away from the press con for True Colours, I remember a song by Lamb called ‘What Makes Us Human’, and the lines about “a chance of fighting the rule of circumstance” and the human race being “divided without, conjoined within” resonate with more clarity than ever. See you at the festival.


True Colours is on 23-25 March, with a concert and festival village at Singapore Indoor Stadium and OCBC Square (tickets via and a conference at Sands Expo & Convention Centre. See detailed schedule of activities at True Colours.

written by.
Juliana Chan
Sub Editor

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