Wednesday October 14, 2009
By PANG HIN YUE
An ensemble of children with autism will make its debut at a fund-raising concert in December, thanks to the commitment of two psychologists and the generosity of a music teacher.
WITH some corrugated paper boxes, tambourines and drumsticks, Takeo Miyoshi got a group of children to beat according to the tune of Chan Mali Chan as his wife, Naoko Miyoshi, played the keyboard.
Although they were not exactly in sync, Takeo continued enthusiastically to get the children numbering 20, with ages ranging from six to 14, to play. As trained clinical psychologists, each with more than 20 years of teaching experience in Japan, the Miyoshis were just glad to get the children engaged even though at times, they missed the beat.
Takeo, a percussionist and Naoko, a double bass player, believe that children, regardless of their degree of disability, should be given a chance to learn in various media, including music.
“Music is an effective way to help non-verbal children to communicate. Music evokes emotions and hence, helps them express their feelings. It is a great way to bring people together and connect,” explains Takeo, who is helping to put together an ensemble of children with autism for a fund-raising concert.
Entitled Give Hope, Give Life, the year-end concert is organised by the Opus Academy of Music.
Takeo is on a three-year sabbatical to accompany Naoko who works as a special education teacher at the Japanese School of Kuala Lumpur.
Every fortnightly Saturday, the Miyoshis would gather the children at Opus Academy of Music in Sunway, Petaling Jaya, to practise for their December debut. The concert will also showcase the talents of the academy’s students and teachers. The proceeds will go towards Parents Resource for Autism (PR4A), a support group for affected families.
Besides getting the children to drum in unison, Takeo is also coaching Liang Yihui, 18, to be the main keyboardist for the performance. Liang, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, has been taking piano lessons at the academy for the past three years.
Anne Lee, the academy’s principal, decided to open up the place to the Miyoshis to reach out to families with autism because she, too, strongly believes that children with learning disabilities should be given the opportunity to learn how to play musical instruments.
“Since we set up this academy 10 years ago, we notice a steady rise in the number of students with learning disabilities. Some parents do not know their children have problems until they enrol them. Usually, one out of 10 will have some learning problems and we need to be honest with parents when dealing with such matter as we want to see positive changes in the child,” says Lee.
As a certified early childhood music educator, Lee maintains that the sooner the affected children get help, the better the outcome for them.
“We owe it to the children to get the earliest possible interventions,” she adds.
For the affected families, it is heartening to know that the academy accepts their special needs children. In courses which involve group participation such as “Creative Kids” (for ages three to five), and “Music Adventure” (five- to seven-year-olds), the academy admits one child with special needs in each group. By being inclusive, the other students and parents learn acceptance and compassion.
To augment the academy’s support for special needs students, Lee says courses on child development are conducted from time to time so that parents and teachers have a better understanding of the subject.
Parents like Marina Lim literally go the extra mile and drive 20km from her house in Rawang to Sunway so that her daughter can participate in the concert. The Miyoshis’ egalitarian approach and Lee’s generosity in allowing the students access to the academy’s facilities, prompted Lim to sign up Jeanie Ng, 13, for the upcoming concert.
“The Miyohsis are equal opportunity teachers. They welcome children warmly irrespective of their level of ability. As a parent with a special needs child, I really appreciate that,” says Ng.
Sandy Lim whose children, Sean Ng, 12, and Tynia Ng, 11, are also part of the ensemble, concurs. “What I like about the set-up is that every child is given a chance to perform. Whether the children are musically gifted or have prior exposure to music therapy is immaterial. The only criterion is parents’ commitment to ensure their children attend all the practices,” says Lim.
The fact that the room is packed with parents rooting for their children each time the practice is held, is enough to assure Lee and the Miyoshis that they are hitting the right notes.
Give Hope, Give Life concert will be held at Dewan Sivik MPPJ, at 7pm on Dec 13. Tickets are priced at RM30, RM50 and RM80. For details, contact Opus Academy of Music at No.8 & 10, Jln PJS 9/2, Bandar Sunway, 46150 Petaling Jaya ( 03-5632 6303 / e-mail: email@example.com / website: opusmusical.com).
One Voice is a monthly column which serves as a platform for professionals, parents and careproviders of children with learning difficulties. Feedback on the column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. For enquiries of services and support groups, call Malaysian Care ( 03-9058 2102) or Dignity & Services ( 03-7725 5569). E-mail: email@example.com