Music therapist helping pupils find their voice

Dennis Kahui helps Dunedin pupils with diverse abilities find their voice through music.

Mr Kahui is Dunedin’s only music therapist and he works at Sara Cohen School with pupils between 5 and 21 years old.

He said music assisted the pupils to become more independent because it helped them articulate their feelings.

"[For] some of the non-verbals who do not speak, this microphone does magic.

"I give it to them and the next minute they're singing songs."

Sara Cohen School pupil Nathaniel Ellis, 18,  jams with music therapist Dennis Kahui yesterday....
Sara Cohen School pupil Nathaniel Ellis, 18, jams with music therapist Dennis Kahui yesterday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Mr Kahui said he had left home at a young age barefoot with his guitar and he always found music was a healing mechanism when he met people with similar or worse pasts to his.

"Back in the day when I was on the streets there was always that connection and understanding.

"I never knew the word therapeutic was just jamming with someone and smiling at the end of it."

He said a lot of his work was intuitive and he needed to be aware of when and when not to intervene.

However, if a pupil could make an "ou" or an "ah" sound there was a good chance he could turn it into words.

Some of his work was collaborative with physiotherapists and involved coming up with creative ideas to help the pupils.

He made drum sticks for a pupil with locked shoulders and progressively made them heavier.

Nine months later, the pupil would lift a cup of tea and drink it on her own.

"For me it’s a journey ... it’s like literally watching grass grow and you have to have patience," Mr Kahui said.

This year he was planning on taking the entire Sara Cohen School to Otago Polyfest.

They would sing two Maori, two Pasifika and their school songs at the festival.