Local musician and team put together book on how music activities can help special-needs children, methods for teachers

·4-min read
Joshua (left) on his electric guitar and both Edwin and Tan who worked together to create a RISE book for special-needs children. — Picture courtesy of Edwin Nathaniel and Sharan Vyner
Joshua (left) on his electric guitar and both Edwin and Tan who worked together to create a RISE book for special-needs children. — Picture courtesy of Edwin Nathaniel and Sharan Vyner

PETALING JAYA, May 17 — Subang Jaya man Joshua Danial Johnson who was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), has always been fascinated by the sound of the guitar and piano.

When he heard American band Earth, Wind and Fire’s hits on the television at age six, he liked it so much he would play their tunes on the piano.

Fascinated by the sound of the electric guitar whenever his uncle played, a young Joshua would place the guitar on the floor and play his own chords.

The 28-year-old’s mother Sharan Vyner told Malay Mail that it was her sister who saw her son’s talent in music and decided that he be sent for music lessons to further develop his musical skills.

“I was doubtful as to whether my hyperactive son could manage formal lessons and could cope, especially as he wasn’t able to speak much due to his condition.

“But my sister Cindy Deborah Vyner, a music teacher, was adamant that Joshua be sent for formal music classes after she saw his talents.

“At that time, I had sent Joshua to a clinical psychologist in Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and she only advised me to send him for speech therapy and occupational therapy lessons.”

Sharan said that it was music classes that truly helped him with his speech and communication with others apart from developing his motor and musical skills.

She also sent him to musician Edwin Nathaniel’s class as she heard that he was a talented, kind and a patient music teacher.

“It (music) is now his bread and butter thanks to the guidance of his music teacher, Edwin.

“Through music lessons, he is able to communicate better with other people and that helps with his ADHD,” she said.

Under Edwin’s guidance, Joshua completed his Grade 8 examinations in drumming just before the Covid-19 pandemic.

He can also play the guitar and piano by ear.

In 2017, Joshua and another student represented Malaysia in the Autistic Talent Gala Competition and bagged the Best Duet Award and Appreciation Award for their musical talents.

He has since been composing music since the pandemic hit and is also teaching how own students to play the guitar and another student the drums.

Joshua is now a composer and enjoys teaching music to his students. — Picture courtesy of Sharan Vyner
Joshua is now a composer and enjoys teaching music to his students. — Picture courtesy of Sharan Vyner

Creating the RISE programme and putting it in a book

Musician and music teacher Edwin who runs Music Mart in Petaling Jaya has been teaching children with special needs for the past 20 years.

Edwin, who is co-founder of the award-winning music band Aseana Percussion Unit (APU) wanted to make music lessons more accessible to others, especially individuals with special needs.

The musician has always been reaching out to those in need such as bringing cheer to cancer patients by playing songs on his ukulele or even strumming to some old tunes in various old folks’ homes.

“I wanted to make music more accessible to special needs children as wherever I went, I hardly saw schools incorporating music programmes for these children with disabilities.

“And that was when I decided to create the RISE programme (Rhythm Interactive Special Needs Enable) — a book focusing on music instruments to help children with different levels of disabilities including autism, and Down Syndrome.

“I wanted to give these children a chance although I know that it requires a lot of patience to teach them — but I was willing to do so as music can do wonders for them,” he said.

“Not just that, the book is essential to help teachers with various training methods such as warm-up activities and proper breathing exercises to help their students.”

Using percussion instruments and rhythms, and incorporating exercises and activities, the book aims to make music learning enjoyable and less intimidating.

Together with the help of Sunway University lecturer Tan Swee Chuan, the duo took a few years to pen down Edwin’s years of experience helping children with special needs and documenting it so that others can use it as a guide.

Tan would join Edwin’s music classes to see how the Rise programme was being used in the music classes and would jot down notes to help document it in a book format.

Edwin’s son Daryll Nathaniel also contributed in scouring research materials for the book.

“The book can be used for a diverse range of activities including fun team building activities using percussion and drum instruments.

“My aim was simple — to help marginalised groups of people learn music as I’ve been blessed to have been gifted with musical talents,” Edwin said.

The book, launched last month, is priced at RM49 and will be available at selected bookstores soon.

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