After decades of teaching music to people with disabilities, drummer Edwin Nathaniel has co-authored R.I.S.E. (Rhythm Interactive Special Enabler), a music therapy book for people with special needs.
The instructional book on the practical use of percussion for therapeutic benefits was written together with physics lecturer Dr Tan Swee Chuan.
“It has been my dream to release a book that caters to people with learning disabilities. Together with a small team, we started this project during the movement control order. It took us about 18 months to complete the book,” said Nathaniel, 63, in an interview in Petaling Jaya recently.
Co-writer Tan, 61, was honoured to work with Nathaniel because of the latter’s tireless efforts to reach out to the disabled community.
The duo met a few years ago due to their interest in music, specifically the drums.
“Edwin has a deep sense of calling in what he does. He approaches his work with compassion and kindness in his heart.
“He has unwavering resolve to bring joy and a sense of dignity and value to these individuals with special needs.
“As an educator, I see the tremendous value of putting Edwin’s work in a form and structure that can be used as an instructional tool for those who are interested in using percussion rhythms and instruments to foster growth and development for individuals with special needs.
“Lay practitioners, teachers, parents and professionals will find the book practical and engaging in creating a fun and well supported learning environment for special needs learners,” said Tan, who works in an international school in Petaling Jaya.
Nathaniel, vice president of the Musicians for Musicians Malaysia Association, is also co-founder of the award-winning music band Aseana Percussion Unit (APU).
In 2000, APU designed the R.I.S.E. programme, a music therapy syllabus for children with different types and varying levels of learning disabilities, including those with autism, cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome.
R.I.S.E. focuses on the idea of making music using percussion instruments (or anything at hand, including mortar and pestle, or frying pan and chopsticks) while having fun. In 2006, the programme was named the Best Community Arts Project at the 5th Boh Cameronian Arts Awards.
“Many children on the spectrum have an interest in music. Our programme has benefited not only participants with cerebral palsy but also hundreds of other individuals with learning challenges,” said Nathaniel, who received help from his staff, teacher Sheena Moorthy, and his son, musician and teacher Daryll Nathaniel, to complete the book.
Nathaniel added that the programme fosters the development of individuals with special needs using percussion in a relaxed environment.
“It revolves around playing percussion instruments and rhythms, and incorporating exercises and activities which facilitate the physical and social development of the participants.
“Percussion instruments are intuitive to play as they are rhythm-oriented and built around pulses and beats. Unlike the violin, piano or saxophone, one does not need prior music knowledge and skills to play percussion instruments.
“Hence, the learning process is more manageable and less intimidating, especially for individuals with special needs.
“Individuals with cerebral palsy, for instance, have great difficulties in muscle movement and coordination. Routine exercises, workouts and practices are burdensome unless they develop inner motivation to engage in these activities.
“The R.I.S.E. method seeks to make these exercises and activities fun and relaxing, making the learning process enjoyable.”
The book is divided into eight chapters based on the eight parts of the R.I.S.E. method.
They are Breathing In Unison, Ice Breaker, Warming Up, Counting in Unison, Chanting, Hands-On, Following A Pattern and Playing As An Ensemble.
Tan said one of the biggest challenges of completing the book was poring over research articles on the benefits of music therapy.
“There is substantial amount of research on the therapeutic benefits of music for clients with special needs.
“However, in writing the book, we had to focus many of our research specifically on the benefits of percussion music, for instance, the positive effects of group drumming interventions and the use of rhythm and reflection in therapeutic settings.
“Hence, we had to sift through many research articles (about 100 of them) to obtain what we needed.
“Additionally, we were also interested in getting more up-to-date research findings.
“This involved studying many relevant research literature published in the last 15 years to gain a good understanding of the extensive scientific support for the use of percussion music for the personal and social development of participants with special needs.”
Nathaniel hopes the book, priced at RM49, can equip parents and teachers with the appropriate skills to use music as a therapeutic tool to engage participants with special needs.
“The book gives practical steps on how facilitators can develop a positive mindset, expectations and attitude as they engage with them, minimising factors that may provoke anxiety in the participants.”Tan hopes the book will create awareness of the tremendous value of percussion music in fostering personal growth and social development among individuals with special needs.
“I hope we can also build a caring and inclusive society where the wellbeing and rights of children with special needs are embraced and attended to.
“We hope that the book will help readers to be aware of the plight and challenges of children with special needs and to reach out to them in whatever capacity that they can.”