Why Does this Classically Trained Musician with Rare Bone/Tissue Disease Play His Cello in the Subway?

Kei Otake is a 19-year-old cello student at The Juilliard School – a prestigious performing arts college in New York City that boasts alumni like Viola Davis, Robin Williams, Adam Driver – and so many more.

If you live in New York City, you might have actually seen him playing his cello in the city’s subways on weekends; you might have even tipped him a dollar or two!
Otake is also diagnosed with Treacher Collins syndrome (TCS)  –  a condition that affects the development of bones and other tissues of the face. Most affected individuals – like Otake – have underdeveloped facial bones, particularly the cheek bones, and a very small jaw and chin – among other symptoms. To learn more about this rare condition, click here.

The prevalence is estimated to be between 1 in 50,000 individuals in the general population.

So why is this Julliard-educated teen playing subways during his free time?
“I definitely think that society of today tends to judge on appearance,” Otake said in a CNN interview. “The reason that I perform in the subways is trying to show this is not who I am, this is who I am. I’m a cellist at Juilliard. Some of them think that I’m mentally disabled.”

Otake’s TCS diagnosis left him without cheekbones, giving his face a permanently sunken look and causing him impaired speech. But he has been intent on his goal to make sure people know that those disabilities or impairments have not affected his talent..

…and more importantly, it has not defined who he is.
“I found it hard to express myself, so I express myself through music,” he explained. “I want people to care, I want them to listen, I want them to feel something inside. What I hope for the people to see is that I also have something to say.”

Despite sharp facial abnormalities, Otake has exemplified – like so many in the rare disease community –  that his illness is no excuse to slow his goals or his life down!

Check out his concert performance here!


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