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Strumming their pain with their fingers

Update: July, 10/2016 - 14:57
Blind since 12: Võ Minh Hậu, head of the ban, who can plays three instruments. Photo
Viet Nam News

By Hạnh Đỗ & Thiên Hương

The AHF band has become famous among both young and old audiences in the central province of Bình Định for their memorable performances.

The band consists of 12 young adults, who are either visually impaired or physically disabled. Some play only one kind of instruments; some can play even two to four.

They come from various localities in the province, including Quy Nhơn, Tây Sơn, Vân Canh and Hoài Ân.

For the past four years, the band has gathered at Nguyễn Nga Centre for Young People with Special Needs in downtown Quy Nhơn City to share their interest in music, enjoy free music courses and give performances to tourists to earn a living.

Band leader Võ Minh Hậu plays guitar, drums and organ. He also composes. One of his songs, Thắp Sáng Yêu Thương (Turn on the Love), has been shared among associations for disabled people in the central region.

At the age of nine he suddenly contracted a disease that resulted in the shrinking of his optic nerves. Despite his parents’ efforts to find a cure, he became totally blind at 12.

“That was the most terrible period of my life, when I had to depend on my parents and siblings,” Hậu recalled.

However, music soon brought balance to his life.

“When I was half blind, I already knew how to play the drums and some other instruments, so when I became completely blind, I was able to practise with less difficulty than people who are born blind,” he said.

Playing guitar turned out to be more difficult than learning the drums, as the strings are too thin and close to each other. He found it hard to press on the right sections from memory.

“I couldn’t see the music sheet, so I had to learn the melodies by heart to play them,” he said.

At 18, Hậu was able to sing and play the guitar and organ for a local audience.

Since then, he has got several awards at local singing contests. He now plays with the AHF band, performing at local cafés and weddings.

Happiest years

Diệp Văn Thạch, 23, is another active member of the band. He became interested in music was a child. His father, Diệp Nhẫn, sought out music classes for visually impaired children to help him realise his dream.

When he turned 15, his father took him to HCM City to register for a music class. However, he had to quit the class soon after as his father was unable to stay there with him to take care of him and he was unable to stay alone.

“He kept calling around everywhere, hoping to find a branch of the music school closer to our house,” Nhẫn said of his son. “Then he was told about the AHF band sponsored by Nguyễn Nga Centre. It’s impossible to describe how happy he was.”

Tourists pay: The band perform at Đống Đa park in downtown Quy Nhơn City.

Members of the group have been taught by various musicians living in the province, including Lý Anh Võ, a lecturer from Bình Định Music College; Dương Thị Thanh Nguyên, a teacher of music at Quang Trung Junior High School; and Đinh Văn Nhân and Bùi Vĩnh Phi, musicians from Bình Định Bài Chòi (Folk Singing) Troupe.

“The two years my son spent learning music here were the happiest years of his life,” said Lê Thị Thông, mother of Dương Văn Hiếu, a 15-year-old blind boy. “He was here day and night and considers the class his second home.”

Although he can now play the đàn nguyệt (two-string moon-shaped lute) and electric organ, he still wants to keep studying here for several more years until he becomes a professional musician.

Both Cao Thị Ngọc Phượng, a girl paralysed from the waist down, and Nguyễn Thị Gái, another girl similarly paralysed and blind in one eye, are now experts at playing the đàn tranh (16-string zither).

Each of the 12 members of the band has a special skill. Together, they can present a varied music show, including singing and playing traditional and modern instruments.

“I was impressed and respect all members of the band,” said composer Gia Thiện, who attended the band’s first public performance.

“Only a few of them have completed the whole two-year music course at the centre; many of them have just joined and have only taken classes for a few months or a year. Their skill is based on true passion from their sensitive souls and a strong will.”

Nguyễn Thị Thanh Nga, head of the centre, hoped to help the band members find suitable jobs so they can continue to earn their livelihood through music.

“All the band members came to music based on their own interests. Music entertains them,” Nga said. “If possible, they can use their talents to earn a living. Of course their performances should be of high quality rather than attracting praise because of their hardships.”

To this end, Nga still manages the band. Teachers continue to refine the skills of the old members, while new members are welcomed even though the centre has run out of scholarships for the two-year-course.

At present, the band performs once a week for tourists at the centre. The tourists pay what they wish.

The band’s rehearsal space and headquarters is a 10sq.m. room on the fourth floor of the centre, which gets extremely hot in the summer.

Yet no one mentions the heat during rehearsals; they are all lost in their instruments.

“The walls are not even slightly soundproof,” said Hậu. “Our neighbours often complain about the noise. They have sometimes called on the head of the residential area to resolve the dilemma. The elderly man, however, would then invite us to practise at his house.” — VNS

Nguyễn Nga Centre for Young People with Special Needs was established in 1993 and has offered support to more than 1,000 local disabled people through vocational skills training in tailoring, embroidery, painting, computers and foreign languages.

The centre has created home-based jobs for 40 disabled people. It also offers start-up capital, free wheelchairs and bicycles to disabled people.



Bình Định fame: The AHF band consists of 12 young adults, who are either visually impaired or physically disabled. Some can play two and even four instruments. Photos courtesy of Nguyễn Nga Centre for Young People with Special Needs


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