x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Special keys open door to better health

A Scottish pianist and singer uses his talents to help disabled people learn.

Senses Residential and Daycare Centre patient Hind grooves as Jimmy Miller plays his brand of music therapy for special needs children and youths.
Senses Residential and Daycare Centre patient Hind grooves as Jimmy Miller plays his brand of music therapy for special needs children and youths.

DUBAI // The children are gathered around the musician, completely absorbed by his performance.

But they have not paid to see an idol. Every week they come to see Johnny Miller, a pianist and vocalist from Scotland, as part of their therapy.

Mr Miller, 50, visits the children, all of whom have special needs, every Wednesday as a volunteer at Senses Residential and Daycare Centre.

The audience, aged between 3 and 20, dance around as he plays lively western, pop and rock music - without lyrics - on a portable keyboard.

They bust their own moves, jumping in the air, some even breakdancing. Those who cannot walk sway side to side and bob their heads in enjoyment.

Staff, nurses and specialists also join in on the dance floor.

"I call this the crazy hour, and all kids love music," says Mr Miller, a Dubai resident who has played professionally since he was 17, touring 45 countries. "It's a chance for them to have fun, dance and mix."

Khalid, 15, from Bahrain, cannot stop jumping when the Michael Jackson song Beat It rocks the room.

"I'm very happy, I like Michael Jackson," says a smiling Khalid, who has mental disabilities.

But it's not just for fun. Music therapy also helps in development, says Aris Totle, a physiotherapist at the centre.

"If they are dancing they are using their body, so it's good for their physical health and it also improves their mental health," Mr Totle says.

The class increases interactions between the children, allowing them to express their emotions, he adds. It also helps with their speech.

"The music sometimes use sounds like 'ah-ah', so these tunes could help the child pick up the pronunciation, which would help in their speech," says Hamdan Al Nadi, a speech therapist at the centre. "The class … also raises their awareness level and attention span."

Senses has been operating since 2004 and has 80 children, 45 of whom live there. Mr Miller visits about three days a week and has been volunteering for two years.

"I like to get involved with the community and mostly children with special needs," he says.

Mr Miller professionally organises music festivals and shows in Dubai, and does the same at the centre.

"When you meet the kids and see how wonderful they are, you know it's an amazing opportunity because whenever you walk in here and whatever you feel, they fill you up when they smile," he says.

"People may feel a little scared because they never spend time with them. They need to realise these are like any other kids, they just have different needs, and many of them a lot more loving than other kids.

"They're like everybody else, want to be loved and get attention."

aalhaddad@thenational.ae