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[Herald Interview] 'Music is everything to me,' Gong Min-bae, violinist with autism, saysBy Park Ga-young
Published : April 6, 2023 - 15:55
The story of 18-year-old violinist Gong Min-bae, who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at the age of 5, is one of overcoming adversity, as he has managed to turn his diagnosis into an opportunity to excel in music.
“Music is everything to me,” Gong told reporters during a press conference held Thursday. "I feel good and comfortable (when playing the violin)," he said, adding that he finds nothing difficult when he is playing his instrument.
He spends four to five hours a day playing his violin until someone reminds him to eat or practice conducting while listening to music on YouTube. He now makes eye contact with people and smiles, not to mention performs in front of large audiences, but some ten years ago, this was unimaginable, his mom, Im Mi-sook, noted.
“Everything got so much better after (Gong) began to study piano and violin. He still has some limitations in communication but compared to where he started, his current status is remarkable,” Im said, explaining that Gong would not want to eat, go to the bathroom or make eye-contact, and that he was always covering his ears.
Im decided to enroll him in piano lessons so that he could spend some time by himself while she was at work. She then put 10-year-old Gong in violin classes instead of other forms of care. The decision which stemmed from the needs of a desperate working mom ultimately transformed her son.
Gong now attends Hwasung Narae School, a public school for those with special needs, and has collaborated with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra on the group's program which brings together people with and without disabilities.
In his fourth collaboration with the SPO, Gong will take to the stage with the orchestra, led by its incoming music director Jaap van Zweden, for "A Very Special Concert” on Friday at Ewha Womans University. Gong will perform Allegro Molto Appassionato from Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64.
“He’s proof that people with special needs don’t only need something. They also give back to us,” van Zweden told reporters, adding that Gong is an incredibly talented young man. The conductor will conduct in Friday's concert for free.
The music director and his wife, who have a son with autism, has been running the Papageno Foundation since 1997 to help children and young people with autism.
Although Gong's progress is remarkable, his journey remains uncertain.
Im expressed uncertainty about her son's path after graduating school. She explained that students like Gong, even if they pursue higher education, often face the same question of how to make a living as a member of society while pursuing the music they love.
Meanwhile, Gong hopes to continue learning new violin pieces and performing at as many places as possible.
"Great performances are made by performers playing with a joyful ... and sincere heart. I'll practice harder so that I can perform on many stages," Gong said.
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