3 visually impaired Sabahan students win first prize at Atlanta-based International Youth Music Competitions

(From left): The Trio, John, Putra and Kimberly, are young musicians with special needs. Photos: Stefanus Lucas

Three visually impaired students from Kota Kinabalu defied the odds and clinched the first prize at the International Youth Music Competitions (IYMC) in July under the Folk, Traditional and World Music category.

Held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the event – based in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States – attracted 49 groups of participants from across the world.

The Sabahan students performed the folk song Lenggang Kangkung using three traditional percussion instruments – gong, bamboo drum and kulintang, an eight-piece brass gong.

The students, who call themselves The Trio, are from SK Pendidikan Khas Tuaran in Putatan, a 10-minute drive from Kota Kinabalu.

Putra suffers from visual impairment but that hasn't stopped him from playing the kulintang.Putra suffers from visual impairment but that hasn't stopped him from playing the kulintang.

Kimberly Lo Jing Wei, 12, plays the gong while her teammates John Paulus, 12, and Putra Ahmad Naim Mohd Masri, 13, play the bamboo drum and kulintang respectively.

Putra is overwhelmed with excitement and cannot believe his group emerged as one of the winners of an international competition.

“Kimberly, John and I are so surprised and thrilled. Despite our visual impairment, we have managed to excel in music. We thank our music teacher Cikgu Stefanus Lucas for his patience and guidance,” said Putra in a phone call from Putatan.

IYMC comprises monthly international online music competitions. Stefanus, 29, submitted his students’ video entry for July’s theme on folk, traditional and world music.

“The theme was on traditional instruments and I felt my talented students stood a good chance. They were the only blind students who participated in July’s competition,” said Stefanus, who’s been attached to the school since 2016.

Stefanus (top left) has been training his special needs students virtually since the start of the third movement control order.Stefanus (top left) has been training his special needs students virtually since the start of the third movement control order.

Last month, the students added another feather in their cap when their video submission was awarded the silver diploma (second prize) in the online edition of the XI World Championship of Folklore 2021 in Bulgaria.

Stefanus, a graduate from Penang’s Institut Pendidikan Guru, said the students had been training since January, and had initially prepared their performance in order to audition for Asia’s Got Talent reality TV show.

“The children practised after school hours as well as during the weekends. During the third movement control order in June, we conducted our training virtually. It can be a challenge to train visually impaired students because they cannot read notes.

"It takes effort to train them to listen by ear to remember the pitch and melody,” he said.

Stefanus thinks anyone can soar to greater heights, including people with disabilities.

“All they need is support from their family, teachers and the community. Most of them lack confidence but with the right guidance, they can excel.”

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