Music to empower people with learning disabilities

| | posted on:Learning Disability

Former child prodigy Brian John Yim reaches out to the learning disabled and helps autistic teenager Umar Hasfizal realise his potential as a singer with his debut album.

WHEN he was four years old, Brian John Yim’s father left him and his younger brother with their mother and took everything away except an organ. The very object of his sadness became his source of comfort and inspiration. “The organ was the only connection I had with my dad,” says Yim. With no money for piano lessons but an ear for music, he would listen and play the organ as his mother and grandmother sang along.

By the time he turned eight, his mother, Gan Lee Yong, an insurance agent then, had saved enough money for him to take up piano. He was so good that he leapfrogged to fifth grade. Within two years, he completed the final eighth grade. But the child prodigy wanted more – to pursue a course on Electone (electronic organs produced by Yamaha).

Father and son: Hasfizal Mukhtar with Umar. ‘Your child can still be successful even with a disability,’ says Hasfizal.

But staying in Mentakab, a small town in Pahang, did not help. “There was no organ teacher in Mentakab,” recalls the 28-year-old. Undeterred, he decided to learn it at a Yamaha school in Kuala Lumpur. So for one year, every Sunday, he would faithfully take a two-hour bus ride on his own to KL to attend a 45-minute lesson and then hop on the next available bus to go back home.

By 12, he passed his Electone exam, an achievement few can boast of.

To make sure he did not lose out academically, Yim poured his heart into his studies – just as he did with music – scoring straight-As. When he wasn’t studying, the brilliant boy could be found performing at social functions in his hometown.