To celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and Japan, a special event was organised at Paragon Shopping Centre in October: “A Stroke of Genius/The Sound of Silence” featuring celebrated calligrapher Shoko Kanazawa and award-winning Singaporean pianist Dr Azariah Tan.

We caught up with them at the sidelines of their performances for a chat and some pictures.

Shoko Kanazawa, calligraphy prodigy

Shoko Kanazawa, 31, is one of Japan’s most acclaimed and admired calligraphers today. Being born with Down Syndrome did not stop Shoko from pursuing her dreams. Her calligraphy, which is displayed in museums and temples in Japan and is known to move people to tears, is testament that talent and hard work transcend labels of disability.

Shoko started learning the art form at the age of five from her mother Yasuko, who saw potential in Shoko when she held a calligraphy class for Shoko and her classmates. Under her mother’s tutelage, Shoko developed her own style of calligraphy – channeling her optimism and strength into large, bold strokes onto paper larger than a king-sized bed.

Shoko held her first solo exhibition at the Ginza Shoro Gallery in Tokyo at the age of 20 and has since held about 250 performances across Japan and internationally including New York and Paris.

In Singapore to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and Japan, Shoko was a picture of concentration as she performed her calligraphy ‘Live’ on stage at Paragon Shopping Centre: the characters “Hikaru”, which means light, and “Toku”, which means virtue.

Dr Azariah Tan, deaf pianist extraordinaire

At a young age, Singaporean pianist Azariah Tan, 25, discovered his fledgling interest in the piano. Yet at about the same time, Azariah was diagnosed with congenital bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, a condition that now leaves him with about only 15 per cent of his hearing.

His condition did not stop him from further pursuing his passion and career in music. In addition to a string of international scholarships and awards under his belt, he recently completed a Doctorate in Piano Performance at the University of Michigan.

To Azariah, music has a grammar and vocabulary capable of expressing feelings and evoking atmospheres. He counts Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 31 Opus 110 as one of his favourite pieces. Besides being a touching piece about overcoming adversity, it gives him “an emotional experience just playing it.”

Along with Japanese calligrapher Shoko Kanazawa, he recently performed at the SJ50 event which celebrates Singapore’s 50 th year of relations with Japan, capturing audiences with his rendition of Liszt’s Rigoletto Paraphrase.