Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Thai concert for 'the deaf and the rest'

Like many students at the Setsatian School for the Deaf, 18-year-old Supawan Klaiyana has been hearing impaired from birth and cannot listen to music.

She enjoys watching pop singers dancing on TV and thought that was the maximum extent of music she could experience. But that changed completely last week when she and 40 other deaf students attended a concert targeted to suit their special needs.

"I’m so excited," Klaiyana signed, as her hands fluttered over her chest, before the concert. She was sitting in a quiet yet animated classroom, as her classmates were busy signing with each other. Some giggled when she was being interviewed on camera. "I want to dance. I want to have fun. I’m so ready to dance at the concert!"

The "Love is Hear" concert was held at a downtown Bangkok theater last Thursday and was the first concert ever organized in Thailand for "the deaf and the rest."

The concert wasn’t the brainchild of a government agency or big-name charity. It was produced by a community of friends who wanted to raise funds and awareness for the deaf – which accounts for 103,000 nationwide – without having any money to start with.

"Some people want to do something for other people but they don’t have money," said Pradhana Chariyavilaskul, the main producer of the concert. "So they wait for the money to fall on their laps, but that never happens."

Chariyavilaskul, who works at a branding agency, had no money, but a network of good friends who turned out to be her greatest asset. The many artists and full-time professionals promptly responded "count me in" when she approached them with the idea for the project. They devoted time after work to plan the concert from scratch. They did not ask for commercial sponsorship so that they could maintain artistic freedom and truly fulfill their goal.

"One day I had this question: Can the deaf enjoy the music?" Chariyavilaskul said. She did some research and found her answer.

"The deaf can still feel the rhythm, which means they can access up to 50 percent of the music already. If they sit in the same room, share the moment with us, they can see how we enjoy the music and that will increase their potential to enjoy the music as well."

The concert featured some aids to enhance tactile and other senses of the deaf. A heart-shaped balloon was tied to each seat so that the deaf students could feel the rhythm through vibration. Visual presentations – such as photographs and captions – were projected on large screens to complement the rock and acoustic music performed by local bands. Some songs came with fragrance, while some singers signed as they serenaded.

With a crowd of almost 700 filling a theater, 39 deaf students sat alongside other music lovers during the two-hour show. They waved and clapped, swayed and danced, and even participated in a pantomime.

"I want this to happen again," signed one deaf student after the concert. "I got goose bumps thinking that I was sitting in a concert with people with good ears."

The concert raised about $24,000 from ticket sales and fundraising that was donated to the Thai foundation for the deaf.

"I want to be, not a role model, but maybe a little inspiration for people to start thinking about other people," Chariyavilaskul said after the concert with a smile. "Even though they don’t have any money, if they believe [a cause] is good enough, they can do it."

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