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From Choir for Disabled, Voices of Soul

Posted November. 01, 2005 03:01,   


Despite her awkward pronunciation and shaky voice, singing in front of a large audience will be a dream come true for Moon Kyung-wha.

Moon, a member of “Voice of the Soul,” a mixed choir composed of people with severe disabilities from Holt Ilsan Town will sing a song that she has been memorizing for three years on November 15 at 7:00 p.m. at Seoul Hoam Art Hall.

Moon has first degree mental retardation and suffers from Down Syndrome. Her performance will take place on one of the choir’s periodic performances. The title of the song is "The Story of Heaven."

For Moon, who cannot even speak properly and has a difficult time learning, memorizing a song for her is just as difficult as memorizing a long book for the rest of us. "She has a harsh voice and severe disabilities but the way she tries so hard is inspiring," said 30-year-old Holt social worker Park Ggotsong-yi.

The choir, which features 30 people with severe disabilities, was established in 1999. So far, the group has performed about 200 times both nationally and internationally.

For their upcoming performance, the choir has prepared a special stage for Lee Soo-hoon (10) who is also suffering from first degree retardation and Down Syndrome.

When Lee joined the chorus two years ago, he used to imitate conducting by grabbing the baton from the conductor, Park Je-ung (41). Now, Park gives the baton to Lee to conduct one or two songs when choir practice is ending. Lee is happy that the members of the choir sing well, despite his poor conducting. He even has the nickname “second conductor.”

But what began as an attempt to humor Lee has become much more. In the choir’s upcoming concert, Lee will be conducting the song, “Love Will Last Forever” instead of Park. At the choir’s most recent rehearsal on October 31, Lee was practicing his conducting during a break in front of Moon, who will perform a solo.

Lee Kang-young (8), the youngest member of the choir, has first grade intellectual retardation and has had two surgical operations for leuko-encephalopathy and bronchus removal. Her voice is recovering now, thanks to an operation three years ago to plug up the hole in her throat.

Lee once won the highest award in her school’s poem recitation contest. The poem she recited was titled, “Mom,” and had only one verse. She successfully memorized the verse, which must have been hard work for her, after several days, and made her teachers proud.

After this choir performance, she is going to be adopted by an American family early next year. Although she can’t go on overseas tours with other members, which she had always longed for even before entering the choir, the others are all happy for her and for having a new home.

“It is always touching to see disabled children overcome their physical challenges through songs,” a Holt official said. “This performance involves a lot of special stories.”

Jeong Eun-a and Kim Seung-hyun, famous Korean emcees, will be the show’s masters of ceremonies. Other celebrities, such as actor Jeong Jun-ho, Cho Hyung-gi, and Song Chae-hwan will also make appearances on the stage. All seats are priced at 10,000 won.

Dong-Young Lee argus@donga.com