Abu Dhabi, UAE: With a musical instrument held to his lips, six-year-old Falah was gently instructed to blow across its open hole. A wind-like whistle rang out, catching the six-year-old autistic boy’s attention.
“Do you know what this is?” his teacher Dana Gillespie asked. “It’s a flute.”
“Flute,” Falah repeated, taking a hold of the instrument with both hands.
As Falah continued to blow, a professional musician pressed the keys to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The boy smiled. “Good job,” Ms Gillespie said.
On Wednesday, all the students at the New England Centre for Children were encouraged to try instruments and conduct a string quartet of National Symphony Orchestra members.
On Thursday, the public will be welcomed to the school at 4pm for a free interactive concert featuring 14 members of the orchestra, including musical director Andy Berryman.
Children will be invited to lead the symphony, experiment with the instruments and sit alongside the musicians during their classical performance.
“It’s an opportunity to have their children participate in a music activity,” said Catherine Welch, chief operating officer of the NECC. “There’s a lot of parents that haven’t been able to do that with their children. You know, you can’t go to see the orchestra, you can’t go to see a band play because you’re worried about whether your will child react in a way that others might feel is inappropriate.
“Then, they either can’t stay in the venue or you just worry about that so much that you don’t even attempt to go. Something like this, however the children react, it’s fine. This is very open and welcoming and accepting of however the children respond to the music. It’s not for just children with autism, it’s for any disability at all.”
The interactive concert is organised by Music for Autism International and is believed to be the only event of its kind in the GCC, said Jill Bradford, the company’s chief executive.
The programme was launched in Abu Dhabi last April as part of Autism Awareness Month. This year, the company also organised musical workshops at the Al Noor Centre for Special Needs and Dubai Autism Centre. It introduced brightly-coloured plastic instruments to help engage children.
“The idea is the kids can express themselves however they feel comfortable through the music – whether it’s conducting, whether it’s playing percussion instruments,” said Mrs Bradford. “We just recently started introducing the classic instruments, so that’s new. What I want to do is use these workshops to find kids who might like to play an instrument, because they tend to gravitate toward one or two.”
Mr Berryman, who eagerly engages the children in conducting the orchestra or taking part in group activities such as keeping rhythm with egg shakers, said the children are clearly positively affected by the experience.
“It’s amazing to watch the reactions of these kids when they get exposed to this for the first time,” said Mr Berryman. “What we generally see is that when they start to hear the music, they stop everything that they’re doing and what we find in all the schools that we visit is that the teachers at the end tell us that they can’t believe that they sat for so long and concentrated so well. Some of these kids could actually be musicians themselves. It’s a beginning.”
© The National
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