Hitting the right notes: deaf pianist Ron Tan

This story is brought to you by Our Better World, an initiative of the Singapore International Foundation – sharing stories to inspire good.

By Noelle Martine Perera

It’s difficult for many of us to imagine a deaf person being passionate about pursuits we tie to hearing: music, dance, performance.

Yet for Ron Tan, who was born with 80 per cent hearing loss, music is a vital part of life.

The 21-year-old taught himself to play piano when he was 17, after trying out a slew of other hobbies and activities in search of something meaningful in his life.

“I realised that what I really want is to produce music, and that has to come from my heart,” explains Ron.

Trial and error

Though he uses a hearing aid, Ron still has difficulty hearing music perfectly, which is his greatest challenge when working out what sounds good to audiences.

“A hearing aid can never be the same as an ordinary human ear,” he says. “So I need to know the difference between what I hear and what other people hear.”

It took a lot of trial and error before Ron finally worked out a sweet spot, but the effort has paid off. He now has regular gigs at Changi Village Hotel in Singapore and they provide him with experience that’s proving invaluable for his greatest venture yet.

Having discovered and developed his own passion, Ron is now eager to help other people with disabilities stoke theirs.

So he started a talent management outfit for special needs performers, called Inclusive Art Movement (I.AM).

His partner in the project, Muhammad Danial bin Hamdan, has no trouble hearing. But he’s just as excited as Ron about their social enterprise.

“Ron and I share the same purpose: to help this community. I’ve met many people at the Singapore Association for the Deaf – students who have a passion for the arts. That really motivates me.”

Business of passion

The idea for I.AM was thought up for a competition in social businesses at Republic Polytechnic, where both the young men study.

Spurred on by their win there, they decided to submit a business plan for the Singapore International Foundation’s Young Social Entrepreneurs programme, for which they were shortlisted for mentorship and a study trip to Thailand.

Together with three other teammates, Ron and Danial will hold auditions to find a pioneer batch of talents. The recording, sale and distribution of original music are on the cards, as well as “live” performances.

And for Ron, the most important driving force for these talents is what drives him: passion.

“It’s just about loving what you do. People say, ‘Ron, you are deaf, you can’t do this. You can’t perform.’

But you still want to do it, because you love to do it.”

The Singapore International Foundation’s Young Social Entrepreneurs programme seeks to inspire, equip and enable youths of different nationalities to embark on social enterprises, where the power of ideas, know-how and resources can be harnessed to enrich lives and effect positive change for a better world.