Music with four fingers

Music with four fingers

Lee Hee-ah has not let disability stand in the way of her love of music. We can all learn from her example

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Lee Hee-ah performs in Hong Kong.
Lee Hee-ah performs in Hong Kong.
Photo: Edward Wong/SCMP
Playing the piano has been a life-changing experience for Korean Lee Hee-ah. It boosted her confidence and strengthened her belief that "with perseverance, any difficulties can be overcome".

That's because she has only four fingers.

The 27-year-old was born with only two fingers on each hand and without legs below the knees. She started playing the piano at age six as a form of physical therapy.

"My mum encouraged me to play the piano since she thought it could help train the muscles on my fingers," Lee says.

With her severe disabilities, learning to play music was a tough task. And Lee also had to overcome other people's prejudice.

"At first, no piano teacher was willing to teach me. Also, my dad was opposed to the idea since he thought playing the piano would do me more harm than good. At last, my mum, who is a nurse, asked a colleague who knew how to play the piano to teach me," she explains.

But her troubles weren't over yet. Playing complex compositions with only four fingers, instead of the normal 10, was no child's play.

"Because of my disabilities, I have to work extra hard. Every day I have to practise for 10 hours. It's really tough," she says.

But she persisted and is now a professional piano player.

She was in Hong Kong recently to show off her skills to local audiences.

She has been inspired by mainland pianist Lang Lang.

"The way Lang Lang plays is simply fascinating. He's a master at conveying emotions to the audience through his music ... He really inspires me a lot and helps me persevere despite all the difficulties I've faced," Lee says.

Lee rose to fame after winning a number of music contests in her native South Korea.

Then she began touring around the world. But that has brought new problems. With no legs below her knees, she cannot reach down to the pedals of a regular piano.

"I have a set of customised piano pedals which suit my height. Every time I travel, I have to bring them along," Lee notes.

She does not feel, though, that it is inconvenient or troublesome. Rather, she treasures any chance to share her music, and inspirational story, with people around the world.

"I hope that my story can inspire other people, both normal and disabled, and encourage them not to give up easily just because they think they won't be able to achieve certain things," Lee says.

"Have faith in yourself and any difficulties can be overcome".

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