Looking beyond his disability

20 August 2019
The Straits Times, Page 14 & 15

The only music teacher at St Gabriel’s Secondary School has a condition that you would think disqualifies him: he is partially deaf. Suffering from high frequency hearing loss in his right ear and tinnitus in his left, Mr Ong Ting Kai hears only the bass line and drum beats in a piece of music. That has not stopped the 29-year-old from passing on his passion for music to the next generation for the last four years. But music has not always sounded muffled to Mr Ong.

Once a rising star in the local dizi scene, he spent most of his growing years in pursuit of a professional career in music, before the tables were turned on him. Diagnosed in 2009, just before he entered the army, he was told by doctors he would be completely deaf by the time he turned 45 if he did not take good care of his ears. The news was a huge blow for the then 19-year-old, who had spent the better part of his life training to be a professional dizi player. In a wrenching twist of fate, the piercing sounds of the Chinese bamboo flute may have caused the damage to the hair cells in his ears, leading to the gradual hearing loss.

Mr Ong began learning music at nine, when his mother instructed him to follow his elder sister and join the school Chinese orchestra. It was there that he picked up the dizi. His talent caught the attention of his music teacher, and he was chosen for the exclusive Young Talent Programme at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA). There, he practised the flute under the watchful eye of one of the biggest names in the dizi world, Professor Zhan Yong Ming, rising steadily to become one of the most prominent young players in the nation.

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Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.