Musical brothers Adrian and Justin Anantawan want kids to know special education needs don't define them

Musical brothers Adrian and Justin Anantawan want kids to know special education needs don't define them

Violinist Adrian Anantawan and his family talk about using music to help children with special education needs


Adrian stuns the crowd with his ability to play the violin masterfully with just one hand.
Photo: Adrian Mak

Violinist Adrian Anantawan was in Hong Kong earlier this month to perform in the concert, To World, With Hope, with the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra (MYO) and four local autistic students.

The acclaimed musician, who was born without a right hand, has been taking his story all over the world and working with students with special educational needs (SEN). 

“[When] you’re playing a concert, you’re going to affect someone for a moment, but to spend a longer amount of time with some students can provide a longer, lasting, deeper impact. Education provides that vantage point,” said the 33-year-old, who also performed in Hong Kong with MYO and three of the same children in March.

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His younger brother Justin Anantawan, 29, joined him on the more recent trip and staged his own concert with MYO, The Sound of Love. The show featured members of the Hong Kong Association of the Deaf’s Children Hand in Hand.

Justin has spent time working with deaf students in Africa over the past eight years and, for the past two years, was a dedicated teacher at a school for the deaf in Gambia.

Three days before his concert, Justin told Young Post that he wanted to share his experiences in Africa with Hongkongers to change the way they view disability. Rather than seeing it as something to pity, it should be regarded as a difference that should be celebrated and embraced. Justin has been teaching deaf children baking, photography, English and music. “I teach them songs in sign languages ... ironically, I taught a little bit of taiko drumming [in Kenya] but the kids were better at drumming [than me] because it’s part of their music,” he laughed.

Justin (right) at The Sound of Love concert with members of the Hong Kong Association of the Deaf’s Children Hand in Hand.
Photo: Adrian Mak

Justin had wanted to go to Africa since his teens. He first visited the continent when he was 21 and stayed there. The musician’s mother wasn’t initially too keen on Justin’s plan.

“I didn’t expect him to go for two years straight. All parents [would] find it a little bit long because they miss their kids, period,” said Maria Yim-Chu Anantawan.

“But ... he’s safe and sound and he still has two arms and two legs.”

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One second later, she turned to Adrian, and could barely contain her laughter. “I’m sorry, you’re fine, too.”

Adrian hopes to deliver one message through his music — “never give up”.  

“Any time you make it personal, you have an opportunity to reach a student in a way that makes that relationship less about one person telling [another] what to do,” Adrian said. “Whatever [the message] is that you're trying to give, personal stories are often the best way for people to learn, because they’re very much about the person rather than the textbook.”

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Surprisingly, Adrian didn’t find working with the autistic children too different from working with other musicians – they try to listen to each other as much as possible, work out what needs to be blended together and are “always receptive to feedback”.

Although it helped to have music as a communication tool, Adrian believes every child has a preferred method of communication, which requires a lot of thought and care.

“You have to read the communication; some actually might [be open and] give a lot,” he said.

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As someone who believes in giving back to society and who has raised her children to do the same, Maria wants to assure special education needs families that there is support for them. “SEN families are just another family, a lot of things are more similar than what people think,” she said.

A mother of children who required special support growing up, she understands how concerned parents of SEN children can be. But she wishes she hadn’t spent so much time worrying about the worst-case scenarios she imagined for her own children. “Nintey-five per cent of those things never happen,” she explained. “Spend 95 per cent of your energy living in the moment. Don’t forget that the family has a warmth in there that’s worth everything.”

Proceeds from the Anantawans’ concerts will go to MYO’s Music Angel Programme, which offers training and performance opportunities to local autistic students. A final fundraising concert will be held on November 19 with Nick Vujicic, the Australian motivational speaker born without arms or legs.

Edited by Ben Young

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Teach love through music


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