Delivering the magic of music to disabled children

Nathaniel has been teaching children with disabilities at the Selangor Spastic Centre in Petaling Jaya for decades, and he continues to touch the lives of many. — Filepic

MUSICIAN Edwin Nathaniel was elated after his performance at the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching recently. His joy knew no bounds as he shared one of his biggest highlights – collaborating with the Sarawak Tourism Board to secure a spot in the Malaysia Book of Records for “Most Percussionists In A Music Festival”.

To Nathaniel, 64, music is a powerful tool that transcends race, skin colour and disability. In an interview in Petaling Jaya, he said it was truly heartwarming to witness people from different walks of life coming together in the universal language of music.

Nathaniel, co-founder of Aseana Percussion Unit (Apu), is known for his dedication to teaching music to children with disabilities.

In 2000, Apu developed Rise – a music therapy syllabus catering to children with learning disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome.

Rise is about making music using percussion instruments or anything at hand, encouraging children to have fun while expressing themselves. In 2006, the Rise programme clinched Best Community Arts Project at the 5th Boh Cameronian Arts Awards.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Nathaniel, alongside his son Daryll, organised over 50 free workshops across Malaysia, training special education teachers to implement the Rise programme.

His teaching methods have also been shared with educators in New Delhi, Bangkok and Singapore. In collaboration with physics lecturer Dr Tan Swee Chuan, Nathaniel co-authored RISE Rhythm Interactive Special Enabler last year, a music therapy book for those with special needs.

Nathaniel's (right) unwavering commitment to teaching music to children with special needs has earned him recognition and admiration from the community. — EDWIN NATHANIELNathaniel's (right) unwavering commitment to teaching music to children with special needs has earned him recognition and admiration from the community. — EDWIN NATHANIEL

Transformative powers

In 2022, Nathaniel’s exceptional contribution to music education for children with special needs earned him the prestigious Star Golden Hearts Award (SGHA).

“This recognition has not only shed light on the importance of inclusive music education but has also provided a platform for me to advocate for the rights of these children and showcase the transformative power of music,” explains Nathaniel, who is also the vice-president of the Musicians for Musicians Malaysia Association.

The father-of-two says music education offers a host of benefits for children with special needs.

“It’s a powerful tool of self-expression and emotional release. For children who face challenges in verbal communication, music can be a platform through which they can convey their emotions, thoughts, and experiences,” says Nathaniel, who also runs a music school in PJ.

Music activities, he added, enhances cognitive abilities such as memory, attention and problem-solving skills. Learning to read music notation, recognising patterns and coordinating movements while playing an instrument or singing stimulates the brain and fosters intellectual growth.

Having worked extensively with children with special needs, he acknowledges the unique challenges posed by sensory processing difficulties.

Nathaniel’s dedication has yielded remarkable success stories. In 2017, his students Joshua Daniel Johnson and Salvador Ling received the Best Duet Award and Appreciation Award at the Autistic Talent Gala in Hong Kong. Many of his students with special needs actively participate in Rockschool examinations, achieving outstanding results.

Looking ahead, he aims to broaden access to music education for children with disabilities. “My goal is to establish partnerships with schools, therapy centres and community organisations to provide a platform for these children to perform and create job opportunities,”

Nathaniel’s tireless effort is a reminder of the immense power of compassion, creativity and the magic of music in shaping a more inclusive and harmonious world.

This story is part of a series of articles featuring past Star Golden Hearts Award winners. Nominations are now open for this year’s award. Uplift your heroes by nominating them at before July 31, 2023.

Nominations are open for this year’s award at are open for this year’s award at

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