Music, to hold head high

It is widely believed music can heal the soul. What music has given to Swaranandwan Orchestra members is much more than that.

It has given them its 125 members are physically or socially challenged an opportunity to lead a confident life holding their heads high. Instead of depending on others, they are even lending a helping hand to others through their charity.

The brainchild of Dr Vikas Amte, secretary of NGO Maharogi Sewa Samiti and son of social worker Baba Amte, the orchestra was started in 2002 to give visually challenged, hearing impaired, physically handicapped and leprosy-affected individuals a platform to showcase their talent and instill in them the confidence to lead a regular life.

"We found that many individuals, visually challenged girls for instance, were not able to land jobs in spite of being well educated. So we decided to teach them skills and began with special training in music. Seeing them, others expressed a desire to participate and the group grew," says Dr Bharati Amte, Dr Vikas' wife and head of various initiatives taken up by the NGO.

Through their unique renditions of Hindi and Marathi music, tribal and folk dances and some mimicry thrown in, the orchestra members enthrall audiences.

"In our orchestra, hearing impaired learn dance through sign language and the visually challenged sing. A person cured of leprosy is our compere. These individuals show society that their hands are not for begging, but working. Many of them are not accepted by society but through this platform, we want to show that such individuals are the nation's wealth," says Sadashiv Tajne, director of the orchestra since it began 12 years ago.

The Amtes chose music not only because it helps in breaking down barriers but also because it is therapeutic. "Music is a way to feel joy and give joy to others. We have seen that music has given a boost to their physical and mental well-being. Also, through these performances, the orchestra members have received praise and encouragement from audiences. This has helped them get over a depression and low self-esteem," says Dr Vikas Amte.

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