Lee Hee-Ah, 26, was born with only four fingers and no legs below the knee. She started to play the piano aged seven as part of her physical therapy and dedicated herself to the instrument…
Lee Hee-Ah, well known as a four-fingered pianist, was born with two fingers on each hand and short legs under the knees due to a congenital disorder. Then later at three she had to undergo amputation to remove the legs below the knees. The feet she uses to walk are very soft and easily hurt. Therefore she can’t walk very long. However, she inspires courage and hope in many people through her music despite her mental and physical disabilities.
Hee-Ah has played the piano since six. She explains the reason she started the piano as follows. “My fingers had no strength. So, my mother had me learn piano as therapy so that I could hold a pencil at school, and it led me to where I am now.”
Her piano teacher discouraged her from the instrument saying she was not gifted. It took her several months to even press any keys because her fingers lacked strength. To make it worse, she was not able to tune into the beat and melody due to her brain dysfunction, and the doctor said if she memorized a piece five minutes long or more, her brain would become more dysfunctional.
However, with perseverance Hee-Ah can now memorize and play a piece that lasts longer than seven minutes. In learning her favorite piece, Chopin’s impromptu Fantasia, she practiced so much that the score sheet was worn to tatters. It took no less than five years for her to play it.
“With ten fingers it would play rhythmically, but I had the most difficult time when melodies were not smoothly connected to each other because I have only two fingers.” “My favorite motto is ‘Always try my best’ and ‘Make ceaseless efforts.’”
When she first took part in a piano contest, the event organizer rejected her application in the beginning. Yet after her persistent request, she was able to participate in the competition and eventually won first prize. The jurors did not know she was physically disabled until the first prize winner was announced. Since then she started winning many awards in various competitions. Observing the results of her superhuman efforts, she would play the piano more than ten hours everyday resulting in blisters on her fingers.
A standout pianist, her story was covered by different media and also published in books causing a sensation. The school district office of Seoul included her book in the reading list for elementary schools. In 1997 Ms. Lee had her first solo recital and donated all earnings to a fund for the disabled. She now does concert tours overseas as well as nationally. Hee-Ah has gained international fame as a pianist. Her music touches many people wherever she performs, and stations such as ABC and CNN in America have aired her story as well.
Despite her disabilities Hee-Ah is optimistic and always smiling brightly. “I am an ordinary girl same as others close to my age. The only difference is that I have a physical disability, but that doesn’t mean I feel easily hopeless and give up what I want to do just because I don’t have legs and a few fingers. I believe that there will always be hope if I keep my dream and work hard to make it come true.”
Furthermore, she inspires people through her disability. When asked during a TV show interview, “Why do you think God gave ten fingers to others and only four to you?” she responded, “That’s for the disabled. Through the music of 4-fingers, God gave me a mission to let them know. I always thank God that Hes did this to make use of me in some way.”
Hee-Ah thanks God because she believes if she had ten normal fingers she would merely be one among many pianists. Conquering her mental and physical barriers, her music, along with an artistic impression, makes her audiences feel an indomitable spirit and beauty. Lee Hee-Ah’s music convinces us again that art is not a body or brain but the expression of a soul.
Watch her concert below where she played heartily…
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