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Music & National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month with Ashley Pennycooke

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“I was born with a combination of birth defects. They are craniosynostosis and frontonasal dysplasia. My forehead is not curved like everyone else’s. Instead it is flat, and I had no nose bridge. I was also born with a unilateral complete cleft lip and cleft palate. This meant that neither my lip nor my palate closed on one side while I was still developing.

My cleft lip and cleft palate affected my ability to be eat early on. So, after a few weeks of being breastfed, I was bottle fed. My cleft lip and cleft palate gave me a little lisp that was helped with speech therapy. I have had many surgeries over the years. Some have taken place in Jamaica while the rest took place in the USA.

My birth defects are very rare, and doctors do not know why it happens outside of the fact that it is just my genetic make-up. My right eye looks to the corner. So, everything I do is done with my left eye. Doctors have told me that glasses would not help my vision in any way. The only thing the glasses would to is to protect my eyes.

I take a little longer to process what I learn than my classmates. Regardless of that I have always tried to do my best and push myself in everything I do.

I try to stay true to myself and be the best version of myself. My journey is not finished, and my story is far from done.” – Ashley Pennycooke


(Original composition by Ashley Pennycooke)


How does your face make you feel?

“Growing up, it made me feel insecure. I did not look “normal” like the other children around me at school. Now that I am an adult, I feel proud of my face. My scars show my journey and show others how far I have come and the obstacles I have overcome to be where I am. Children still stare at me but I don’t let it bother me like it used to.”



Do you have any messages for people who like to bully and shame others around them?

“Do onto others as you have them do unto you. Get to know a person that looks different to you before you scrutinize them for their physical appearances. I was bullied all throughout prep school and high school by some people who never ever took the time to get to know me. Shaming and bullying others will get you nowhere. You do not know what a person is going through on the inside. Chose your words wisely and treat people the way you would want to be treated. What goes around comes around.”



How have your studies in music helped you grow?

“I was privately taught piano from the age of 7. After not getting into year one at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts School of Music in 2015, I took some time off to work on my weak areas. After coming back to music school in 2016, I realized that there was still more for me to do and things that I still did not know. If I have learned anything from being in music school, it would have to be how you finish the journey, not how you start. I have broken out of my classical training bubble and I am now able to push myself to play Jamaican genres of music (I was scared to play it before because I just did not know how to play and I was never taught how to play it before starting music school. Rhythm is not also my strongest area in music). I have now developed confidence that I tried to find for years.”


 (Arrangement of “Day Oh” & “Hill and Gully” on piano by Ashley Pennycooke)


What would you like to achieve in life?

“I would like to be the best musician I can be. I want to pursue a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis on music. I want to do more with song writing and arranging. I want to continue to be an inspiration to my friends and classmates and everyone else around me.”


Who/which group inspires you?

“The musicians that inspire me are Andrea Bocelli, Stevie Wonder, and the late Ray Charles. These 3 musicians are all blind. They all have had to adjust to no having vision and working their way around their disability. They have all become successful in their individual crafts and have gained recognition and fame for their talent. They have not let their disability define them as individuals or as musicians.”



Please feel free to contact Ashley at:






Blessings in abundance!




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