Blind Musicians

Alfred Ho

Alfred Ho with his guitar

Alfred Ho is the consummate entertainer with over three decades of performing experience at numerous stageshows, private functions and nightspots across the country. He has endeared himself to audiences for his interpretations of evergreen numbers from legendary crooners Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, and various country and westem perfomwers.

Alfred’s mellow but powerful voice is irresistible to those who long for the days when songs had words you could actually hear and appreciate — a time when melodies were not obscured and drowned by crashing guitars, pounding beatboxes and techno rhythms.

This Perak-bom performer continues to surprise audiences wherever he goes with everything from soothing ballads to rock and roll and even throws in some Spanish, Malay, Cantonese, Japanese and Hokkien numbers to prove his diversity.

Listening to the talented Alfred is a walk down memory lane, reviving gems from past that you may not have even heard on the radio of late. Alfred has such a wide repertoire that he has been known to play for four straight hours, with still some songs to spare.

Struck blind after a bout of measles at the age of three, Alfred showed a love for music from an early age. At Penang’s St. Nicholas School for the Blind, he taught himself to play the guitar and fomied a four-piece schoolboy band called The Sharks.

He later honed his craft doing the pub circuit as a solo guitarist and developed an uncanny sense of being able to ‘read’ his audience from the stage. His first brush with fame came as a semi-finalist in RTM’s Bakat W, the popular talent show of the 70s.

Alfred also did a few shows called Take Five with a commercial broadcasting station in that period and even cut two EP vinyl records of his own compositions. Two songs, Train To Tennessee and Wendy’s Love Song were particularly popular and he recorded several cassettes back then that were played on local airwaves.

In 1984, having gamered a following and dubbed Malaysia’s Jose Feliciano, Alfred finally quit his steady job as a telephone operator and went into music fulltime. A decade of performances later, during which no record labelwas willing to sign him on, Alfred self-produced an album of 22 covers of his favourite hits called “Special Gems”.

Today, his loyal fan base, from ambassadors to royalty, from vinyl connoisseurs to lovers of classic dancing still speak of Alfred of with fondness and continue to enjoy his special brand of music.

Visit his blogĀ

Colin Ng

Colin Ng with his Piano

HALFWAY through the piano recital, the lights went out. Everything was pitch black. Yet, like a true professional, the young graduating musician continued playing. Soon, everybody began to switch on their handphones and wave them like they do with lighters in a concert.

The scene spoke volumes of the admiration and respect they have for Colin Ng Soon Beng.

This 19-year-old is not like most students. Bom with multiple sclerosis, Colin has been blind since a very young age.

The lights-out incident was actually the work of some students who wanted to give the audience a feel of how it is like to live in a world of darkness.

Performing before a packed hall at the graduation ceremony of Sedaya Intemational College in Kuala Lumpur, Colin awed the audience with his recital. He was given a standing ovation by his peers, college staff and guests.

“Colin is no different from his peers. He completed his Diploma in Contemporary Music within the stipulated two years and
was not given any special treatment when it came to the awarding of grades,” says his proud mother Janet Ooi Ting Chin.

Colin is the third Malaysian with a disability to eam a diploma in music and the first to do so at a local institution. His feat has been recognised by the Malaysia Book of Records.

“We are all very proud of him. Of course, at first the college staff was a little sceptical about admitting Ng as we did not have the proper facilities to cope with his needs and we didn’t know what to expect,” says Sedaya Intemational College public

relations executive Doreen Loo.

“Having Colin as a student has been a leaming process for us too. We had to face each problem as it came along,” she adds.

Explains Ooi: “The college and I had an understanding that as each problem arose, we would find ways to overcome them.

“The main concem was how the theory part of music could be imparted to Colin. The lecturers did not know Braille. I did not know music. I could transcribe literary Braille but not music Braille. The organisations for the visually impaired did not have personnel with knowledge in music Braille either. There was no one to transcribe music notation into Braille for Colin. He had to depend on his ears to follow the lectures.

“Another pmblem was the usage of computer in certain subjects. Colin’s speech software in his personal computer was not compatible with the software used to compose and write songs. Thankfully, Colin’s course mate were helpful and were there for him during these lesson by assisting him in the set-up and completing his projects.

“His lecturers were also helpful by compromising and allowing him to sit for some of the exams orally,” she says.

Ooi says that Colin’s aptitude for music could be a result of her efforts to keep him occupied when he was young.

“Not knowing how to keep a visually-impaired child occupied, I used to play cassettes to him hoping that music would make up for the boredom of darkness. One day, I saw Colin, then aged three years, playing a music composition by Klaus Wunderlich using a calculator with basic music notes. That was when I realised that my son was musically inclined,” says this doting mum, who transcribes school books for the blind.

Colin studied at the Setapak School for the Visually Impaired and sat for his SPM in 2000. Colin took his piano exam for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music Grade Four in July 1998. He scored a distinction and obtained the best exam performance among all the Grade Four students in his schooL The following year, he sat for his Grade Five piano practical and produced the same result.

On college life, Ooi says that Colin was just like any other student but with a few limitations.

“| left him in college in the momings and when he was ready to come back, he would call me. You know boys, when they reach a certain age, they hate their mums to be around.”

Agreeing with Ooi, Chen Kim Kuen, one of Colin’s lecturers, says that Colin was just like any other student and got along well with his fellow coursemates.

“I found Colin a wonderful student. He was always enthusiastic in class. He is definitely gifted. He can play by ear. Not many can do that,” he says.

“I found Colin a wonderful student. He was always enthusiastic in class. He is definitely gifted. He can play by ear. Not many
can do that,” he says.

“He was always curious and asks a lot of questions. When he didn’t have classes, you could find him in the music room, practising on his piano.” Like any other person, Colin says that he gets nervous playing in front of an audience.

“I like perfomiing, but I prefer performing for myself, especially when at home.”

Ooi says Colin’s immediate plan is to take a break from studying before sourcing for options to further his music education.

“Due to his medical condition, he is unable to go overseas to study and is thus looking for opportunities to obtain a degree locally,” she says.

“From this experience with Colin,” says Loo, “we hope to be able to cater to more disabled students with music talent in the future.”

She adds that Sedaya is looking into whether it can make adjustments to allow Colin to take up a degree.

His music soars like the eagle AS part of his final-year assignment, Colin Ng had to compose a song. His song called Eagle was a
beautiful piece that touched the audience during his recitaL

Mum Janet Ooi Ting Chin says: “We used to live in a place where we could see eagles nesting on the mountains. Our place had the best view, so children used to come over to see this. Though Colin could not see, the children and I would explain what the eagle was doing. We explained how the eagle was soaring high in the sky.

“Because of this, every moming Colin would get excited and would ask about the eagles. So, when he was giventhe assignment to write a song, he thought to himself, why not write about this.

“Colin is very expressive, maybe not so much with words, but through music. I too was impressed by what he came up with.”

Here’s the song:

As I fly up to the sky,
Looking down I see,
Below me lie the fields in the land,
All in a glance.
As I look to the mountain top,
I breathe with pride and joy,
For this is my land,
Where I am lord of time.
Story by Siva Darshan, New Straits Times (Malaysia)