Thu, Nov 22, 2007 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Autistic wonder heads for NYC

EMISSARIES With support from their families and financial assistance from the government, three very special musicians will bring Taiwan to the world

By Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Lee Shang-hsuen, right, plays the electric piano while Cho Yu-fang accompanies him on the cello at a fundraising event for autistic children at the Grand Hi-lai Hotel in Kaohsiung on Aug. 1.

PHOTO: KE YU-HAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Lee Shang-hsuen (李尚軒), an autistic piano prodigy from Kaohsiung, has proved several times in the past that he is able to transcend his multiple disabilities through music.

Next month, he will further spread his wings at UN headquarters in New York City and one of the most famous musical venues in the world.

Lee, a winner of a Concern for Life Award from the Chou Ta-kuan Foundation and a Presidential Education Award nominee in 2005, is scheduled to leave for New York on Dec. 1, where he, along with another young autistic pianist from Taoyuan, Chuang Tien-yue (莊天岳), and Lee's piano teacher, Sung Shu-min (宋書敏), will give a six-handed piano performance.

The performance will be part of a demonstration concert at UN headquarters and Carnegie Hall in midtown Manhattan for events surrounding the International Day of Disabled Persons.

The performance is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the 20-year-old pianist, but it has also become a burden for the Lee family.

Lee was born with G-6-PD deficiency -- a genetic, sex-linked enzyme defect that results in the breakdown of red blood cells when an individual is exposed to stress from infection or certain drugs.

At the age of three, he was diagnosed as a "hyperactive autistic child with medium-grade mental disability." Nevertheless, like Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie Rain Man, Lee is gifted with an extraordinary memory for numbers and musical scores.

Undeterred by their son's multiple disabilities or their modest financial means, his parents have devoted an enormous amount of time and energy helping him develop his musical talent.

Lin Mei-shu (林美淑), chairwoman of the Kaohsiung Autism Foundation, where Lee plays the piano for its percussion band -- said the Institute for Piano Teachers and Disabled in Japan had invited Lee, Chuang and Sung to perform in New York after its members saw their performance at the first International Piano Paralympics held in Yokohama, Japan, in 2005.

Then in his late teens, Lee won two awards in the competition.

The institute, however, did not mention to the three performers until earlier this month that participants were required to share the cost of the hall, Lin told the Taipei Times last week.

All the expenses -- food, transportation, accommodation and rental of the performance hall -- will add up to about NT$130,000 per person, Lin said.

When Lee's mother was informed of the cost, she decided she would not let it prevent her son from experiencing this golden opportunity, said Cheng Fang-hsin (鄭芳欣), a social worker at the foundation.

"All she was concerned about was that her child have a chance to perform on the international scene as a representative of Taiwan and that he be able to take his music to the next level," Cheng told the Taipei Times on Tuesday.

As Lin said, the trio's performance will contain Taiwanese folk songs to enhance the nation's international exposure.

The foundation has started raising funds for the trio, Cheng said, adding that Kaohsiung City Government's Social Affairs Bureau has offered to subsidize Lee and his mother to the tune of NT$100,000.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Deputy Spokeswoman Phoebe Yeh (葉非比) also promised on Tuesday that MOFA would do all it can to help the Lee family, including providing financial assistance.

It would also ask the Taipei Economic and Trade Office in New York to encourage overseas Taiwanese to attend the trio's performance.

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