Disability no hurdle for sharing her gift

LAURA G PEREZ SACRAMENTO

The audience watched with bated breath as pianist
Mary Grace Gellekanao walked with measured
steps towards the piano.

She began playing “Let there be Praise,” her right
stump playing the melody and her left fingers
expertly playing the accompaniment and making the
necessary improvisations.

It was a spellbounding performance, something you
would expect from a classical pianist. But Mary
Grace has an obvious disability, thought to be the
result of amniotic band syndrome, a congenital
malformation.

She plays with her right elbow that gets painful and
even bleeds after a series of concerts. Aside from
that, her right leg is eight inches shorter than the
left, a condition that necessitates a corrective
platform shoe.

She played mostly spiritual pieces, some of which
she had composed herself like “God’s Promise.”
Another number, “From a Distance” was played
almost effortlessly while “How Great Thou Art”
proved specially moving.

The Americans in the audience were amazed that
she could play “Flight of the Bumblebee” which got
her fingers and her stump flying all over the
keyboard. Her grand finale “To God be the Glory”
made us soar.

The 27-year-old pianist with an easy smile and
sweet disposition exchanged pleasantries with us
before she left for another concert in Sacramento
that same evening. We found out she was born in
Talisay City, Bacolod. She said growing up was
difficult.

“I couldn’t do much, not even simple things like
buttoning my dress or taking off a candy wrapper.  I
felt so sorry for myself, especially when kids made
fun of me.”

She was never invited to social gatherings. Her
parents often asked her to go to her room when they
had visitors to protect her from stares and nasty
remarks. But her grandmother turned things around
when she looked for somebody to give Mary Grace
piano lessons from age six until she finished high
school.

“My Grandma saw my interest when I was five years
old and found a piano teacher for me. The first three
piano teachers she approached didn’t want to teach
a one-handed student.  But my grandma told them
to teach me in one hand and she’d pay for two.

“Finally, the fourth teacher took me in.  After I started
my piano lessons, I found out that I could play with
my stump. Playing the piano became the outlet to all
my sadness.

“Sometimes, my back and my stump hurt when I
play but I like to inspire people through my music. It
has become my passion.”

Mary Grace showed so much promise that Sylvia
Javallana, a well-known pianist in their province,
brought her along to a European tour in the late
1990s, along with a cultural group. They performed
in Germany and toured Switzerland, Italy and France
for three weeks.

Later, she gave a concert in Canada and then in
Korea as part of a missionary group. She stayed
there for two years. “Traveling got my mind off self-
pity. I began to understand that everything happens
for a reason.”

Mary Grace said that if she had not been disabled,
she would have taken things easy and not focus on
developing any of her talents.

She would not have engaged in a constant dialogue
with God.  “I tell people there is no such thing as
junk. God creates only the best although we may
have disabilities or misfortunes. It’s up to us to
develop what we have and rise above apparent
limitations.”

She graduated from La Salle Bacolod with a degree
in Psychology. In 2001, during a trip to the US, she
met Reva Moore, a Filipina married to an American
who has two biological sons.

Reva later adopted Mary Grace. They currently  live
in Louisiana .

Six years ago, Reva Moore established the Adopt a
Minister International with the support of Mary Grace.
The proceeds of her concerts go to Filipino pastors
who are unemployed by the local missions. There
are around 500 unemployed Theology graduates in
the Philippines.

Now the ministry also supports ministers in other
Asian countries.

Mary Grace performs practically every weekend all
over the United States. She is open to performing
for any church or organization.

She can be contacted at 225 664 8174 or you could
e-mail her at revawall@bellsouth.net
I couldn’t do much,
not even simple
things like buttoning
my dress or taking
off a candy
wrapper.  I felt so
sorry for myself,
especially when
kids made fun of me.
All rights reserved. Filipino Globe
Born with congenital malformation of the extremities, Grace Gellekanao plays the piano
with a stump and her good hand. She wears platform shoes to correct a gap in her posture.
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