Perspective: Equal Opportunity

Mike Lawson • Commentary • November 19, 2013

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Unfortunately, some people tend to have preconceived notions of what students who have physical, mental, or other challenges may accomplish with their musical aspirations. In most instrumental teaching, it is typical for a standard technique to be taught for a particular instrument. In most cases, this makes sense. A bow needs to be handled in a certain way, an embouchure should be set in a certain position, a horn should be held at a certain angle. However, is it possible that the same result could be accomplished by being creative and flexible in our thinking? And, to what degree of achievement or level can the student reach based upon our own conceptions? Well, I’ve learned a great deal on this topic, quickly and soundly, after having recently performed with Adrian Anantawan, the virtuoso violinist, who just happens to have been born with only a portion of his right arm. His dazzling technique on the Brahms violin concerto that he performed absolutely mesmerized the audience. And it wasn’t because of his “challenges”: it was simply due to stunning technique and interpretation of the piece that they experienced.

 It is reasonable to posit that some teachers would have looked upon him as a young student and either turned him away, quickly suggesting that he play the trumpet or another instrument that might not require the use of both hands, but we are all lucky that his visionary instructors somehow knew that Anantawan’s talent was as great as that of any musician. Adrian Anantawan is not only a brilliant musician who has performed with some of the great orchestras around the world, but he’s also very involved in passing along his ideas, confidence, and passion by helping young students who may be facing challenges of their own. According to his website,, “Adrian helped to create the Virtual Chamber Music Initiative at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Centre. The cross-collaborative project brings researchers, musicians, doctors, and educators together to develop adaptive musical instruments capable of being played by young person with disabilities within a chamber music setting… The initiative has helped transform the lives of children with Cerebral Palsy, Spinal Muscular Atrophy and Rett Syndrome.”

Seeing and hearing what can be done by this extraordinary human being is an eye- (and ear-) opening experience that is both inspirational and opens up incredible possibilities for young people with challenges. Anantawan pushes us to consider ways that all students may perform to great success, albeit perhaps not using the most traditional techniques. However, if we don’t consider these options, it’s sad to think that how many students’ full talents may not be developed. Look for in-depth coverage of Adrian Anantawan’s story in an upcoming edition of SBO

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