Glenn and his Magic Flute

Glenn was the first ever to play the Magic Flute


photo: Wim Kluvers

Wednesday, August 15, 2006

My name is Ruud van der Wel, and I work at a Rehab Center in The Netherlands. I have two jobs there. I am a Respiratory Therapist who uses electronic wind controllers in my work, and I teach swimming to children with special needs. Here is my memory of a very special first moment with the Magic Flute.

Today I’m working in the pool. I’m teaching six-year old Glenn how to swim. I am very excited because yesterday I received the prototype of a new wind instrument for my therapy work.

I ask Glenn: “Tell me, would you like to help me?” “What master Ruud?” asks Glenn. “I have something that I want you to try,” but I do not say what it is.

Glenn is curious and says, “That sounds very exciting.” So with Glenn, his mother, and brother we go to the music therapy room. In recent months I have told Glenn’s mother about our exciting plans: developing the Magic Flute, a new instrument that will be playable without hands.

It is an exciting moment for me and for the Glenn’s mother. Will the Magic Flute meet our expectations? Will all our effort be worth it? What happened next took us completely by surprise.

Luckily, I had a video running so we all can enjoy Glenn’s show. Glenn plays the song he later called “The Kidnapped Camels.” The clip lasts about seven minutes.

Following this event, Glenn’s mother wrote the following:

To sing a man’s head off…

Our son Glenn was born with a physical abnormality. He was born without arms, his hands connect directly to his shoulders. His legs are also abnormal, making him unable to walk. The first year after he was born, he was also very sick. It is a small miracle that he has come through so well.

The first years we were very concerned. How could Glenn ever have a nice life? To everyone’s surprise, he began to develop into a boy with attitudes like any other, sometimes devilish, but always good humored. Where we see problems, he never does. The word “can’t” does not exist for him. He shows again and again that he can find a way to do anything. Somehow he finds his own way, usually with his feet.

We soon learned that we were going to do with him all the things you normally do with your kids. Whenever we go out, we take him, and he does everything the rest of us do. At home we have the same rules for him as our elder son. He also has to put the plates, knives and forks on the table and clean up, etc.

We took Glenn to the beach to enjoy playing in the sand and swimming. But he was so enterprising around the water that we thought it important for him to learn to swim. Glenn was very excited to start swimming lessons with his teacher, Ruud. Again, for Glenn “no” and “cannot” did not exist. He made himself familiar with the water quickly and also with “Master” Ruud as Glenn calls his teacher.

Ruud regularly told me about the musical instrument he was developing: the Magic Flute. Empathetic and curious, we followed the developments with great interest.

During one of Glenn’s vacation periods, Ruud asked whether Glenn had some extra time to try something new. Glenn who was curious (and indeed, so was I) thought it was pretty cool.

We all were thrilled, I could finally take a look at the instrument that Ruud had been talking about for so long. After everything was installed, we were ready to start!

Glenn took a gulp of air, blew and the first notes came out of the speakers. I’ve never seen such a mixture of amazement and surprised expression in one happy moment! Glenn might have been surprised, but I was too! My tears rolled down, because the moment was so intense! Glenn showed that making music was possible for him. No words can describe what this did to me emotionally.

Glenn was excited while playing, and in his eyes you could see that he was searching for tones and melodies. His foot tapped on his wheelchair to the beat of the music, and he had concentration and attention that I’ve never seen from him before. He looked as if he could go on with this forever. He called his own music and first song “The Two Kidnapped Camels.” After the session, the entire day was turned upside down. We were all overwhelmed!

Ruud had the happy inspiration to run a video camera. Seeing the tape still makes me very happy. Especially because we can show Glenn’s introduction to playing an instrument, and the joy it brings him, to family and friends. The responses were so heartwarming and nice. Everyone was so surprised to see there was this wonder instrument, an instrument that enables Glenn and people like him to make music.

Now Glenn is awaiting his first music lesson. We cannot wait until that time comes! Meanwhile he continues to surprise us at home. Since the first introduction to music, Glenn sings a man’s head off. He sings certainly, not gently, and he turns paint brushes, pencils, spoons, plastic bottles into a real drum orchestra!

As a parent it is so good to see that this is possible. We know that despite Glenn’s willingness to try everything, realistically there are some impossibilities. Making music is not part of that, fortunately, because of Ruud and his friends. We are extremely grateful. He gave this project endless energy and diligence, and without self-interest This opened a door which might otherwise not have opened. We can only be happy and welcome the musical talents of our little man with his perseverance. He sings and drums, and soon plays the flute!

Cinska Arkema and Sam Nugteren (Parents)

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