Wednesday April 8, 2009
Drumming up support
By PANG HIN YUE
WHEN it comes to lending a hand to special needs groups, musician Edwin Nathaniel never misses a beat. Although he has a tight schedule, Edwin, the front man of the legendary Aseana Percussion Unit (APU), is determined to make time for his pet projects.
“I have always enjoyed doing social work through church and other community groups. Besides, I love kids,” says the father of two. So when he was approached by one of the members of the support group Parents’ Resource for Autism (PR4A) on the possibility of training and performing with their autistic children, Edwin did not hesitate.
Although it is his first time working with persons with autism on drums and percussions, he is no stranger to teaming up with other special needs groups.
For the past eight years, Edwin has been teaching students at the Selangor and Federal Territory Spastic Children’s Association (SCAS) in Petaling Jaya on a weekly basis to get them into the groove of creating their own unique brand of music with drums, percussions and even cooking utensils.
APU started out as an ensemble of four in 1998 and over the years, the band has expanded to encompass a culturally diverse group of musicians numbering 11. It earns the distinction of being the band that creates its own music with a fusion of jazz and ethnic music, using a myriad of drums and percussions.
“APU wants to spread the joy and fun of playing drums,” says Edwin. “Drumming brings people together. It creates a bond. There is a no hierarchy, no power play. You don’t need to be a drummer or musician to be in our drum circle. As long as your heart is beating, you’ve got the rhythm.”
Edwin’s passion for drums prompted him to approach SCAS and offer APU’s services. Week after week, Edwin and his team kept at it.
In 2000, they formed Rhythm Support to reach out to more special needs people. They pioneered the Rhythm Interactive Spastic Enabler Programme (RISE) which revolves around the idea of having fun while making music using instruments such as congas, shakers, bells, hand drums, tabla and kompang.
“It is a form of music therapy as it incorporates exercises to help improve body movement and co-ordination,” explains Edwin. It is also done in an interactive manner to instil team spirit, discipline and self-confidence. It is hoped that through various ways of engaging special needs students, they will develop an appreciation for music and create their own beat.
APU has since extended its services to coaching the visually and hearing-impaired, and residents in old folk’s homes.
The good works of APU have not gone unnoticed. APU won the 2006 BOH Cameronian Award for its innovative music and earned a trip to Britain, sponsored by the British Council. There, Edwin witnessed first-hand how the creation of music through the blending of rhythms and sounds in drum circles, can serve as a form of therapy to bring cheer to patients in hospitals.
Another break followed when the Ministry of Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage sponsored Edwin’s trip to Hawaii in 2006 to attend a facilitators’ training course at the Village Music Circle. Edwin learnt how to teach music to both special needs and regular children in a community-based setting.
Till this day, Edwin keeps in touch with like-minded musicians worldwide through the Drum Circle Group to share his experience and to gain fresh insight into drawing the community together, using music as a tool to bind them.
Edwin will be teaming up with 15 students with autism to hold a concert next month to raise money for PR4A. Themed Hand in Hand with the Stars, the concert will be held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from May 8 to 10.
“We have a month to practise and we are confident that if we do it with an element of fun, the students will enjoy it,” says Edwin, adding that he is working with his teammate, Paul Lau, to bring the concert to fruition.
PR4A president K.C. Lim says the money raised will go towards the support group’s plan to set up centres in the Klang Valley, Ipoh, Penang and Malacca to train parents in various forms of therapy. This will empower parents to take charge and cut down on the cost of hiring consultants.
“We are working towards setting up one-stop centres to help parents learn the various forms of therapy,” says Lim. “Then they can train other parents and provide the kids with access to different types of intervention. These training sessions are targeted at parents who can’t afford to enlist experts to provide therapy for their children.
“We are proposing to hire experts in their respective fields such as Applied Behaviour Analysis, Sensory Integration and Occupational Therapy to train parents,” says Lim.
To date, PR4A had raised RM100,000 from last year’s art exhibition and fund-raising dinner themed Artists with Autism: Awakening, Aspiring, Attaining that was held in conjunction with the United Nations’ inaugural Autism Awareness campaign.
The support group hopes to repeat a similar feat this year by raising money through the concert and an art exhibition entitled Artists with Autism 2009 at Sunway Pyramid shopping mall from April 21 to 28. Paintings, pottery and artworks done by persons with autism will be on sale.
“Our ultimate aim is to empower parents to be both teacher and therapist to their children. We hope more experts and artistes will come forward to work hand-in-hand with us to help our children realise their full potential,” adds Lim.
Those interested in attending Hand in Hand with the Stars concert at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from May 8-10, please contact Ticketpro Malaysia / Ticket Hotline (03-7880 7999 / 03-7880 4992 / fax no: 03-7880 8266 / e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).