Daniel Kan: Using Music to Help, Heal and Inspire Others

Music runs in the family
A family photo taken by Daniel during Chinese New Year
Daniel, his wife Hsueh-lien and their 3 daughters.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Kan.

Daniel Kan, 38, is a teacher-musician. Happily married for ten years to Hsueh-lien, 42, a music therapist, the couple has 3 daughters, Darlene, Jewel and Olive-ia, aged 8, 7 and 2 respectively. The music gene runs in the family. His parents met in the choir, his brother “sings like Andy Lau”, his sister plays the piano expertly, whilst his uncle was the drummer in a popular band in the 1950s. Extremely versatile himself, Daniel plays the drums, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboard, clarinet and violin. Hsueh-lien plays the piano, Darlene sings and plays the keyboard, Jewel is learning the violin and Olive-ia has the budding flair of a drummer!

Tuning instruments akin to life skills coaching

Besides looking upon music as a form of celebration, Daniel also uses it to teach numbers, counting, and as a tool to fine-tune his kids’ Character, instill Confidence, hone Competence and spark Chemistry – his top Cs. At home, this Dad turns into a life coach: He sets the “syllabus” by breaking down complex concepts into digestible morsels for kids. He also trains them to listen, follow instructions and perform tasks, though simple, exceedingly well.

Approaching music in a non-threatening way

He urges beginners to start by borrowing “white elephant” instruments, lying around, unused or spare, from friends and neighbours. By focusing on creating platforms for music learners to perform simple repertoires before loved ones, friends or colleagues, he demonstrates that it is possible for a family, a group of friends or colleagues to grasp and play to a common beat and that the seemingly high “mountain of music-making” can be more easily overcome than most think.

Using music to help, heal & inspire others

Daniel believes that music can help people who find themselves socially excluded, “trapped in their caves”, with hidden talents or untapped potential. Through his wife’s music therapy work and interaction with special needs children, Daniel recently got acquainted with a mildly autistic child and his family. Once he found the boy’s “frequency” and what excited him, he realized that the child could then sit for longer periods of time and concentrate. Daniel helped form the family into a band, which they all thoroughly enjoyed.

Music as a bridge to connect with kids & youth

When Daniel sings and plays his favourite songs, his daughters keenly look over his shoulders, to learn from, imitate and model him. He hopes to reach out to at-risk youth in a new project, to instill – through music – a culture of honouring, loving and serving others and working as a team beyond self-interests.

The family band dream

Although Daniel’s music coaching business occupies him till late most nights, whenever there are celebrations like birthdays, he will spontaneously “roll out” music activities at home. He dreams of setting up his own “Family Band” and reckons that it will be a valuable lesson and life experience his kids will cherish and remember forever. As a music coach, he aspires to help families bond, build unity whilst learning to appreciate the uniqueness of instruments and relish the bigger, overall effect of a combined effort. He shares that family dynamics is like a guitar, where one string alone can cause the sound produced to go out of tune. Yet just like the guitar, “tuning things back” to key is not difficult, as one only needs to listen and be mindful of each other’s needs. Daniel sees opportunities provided for children to perform before loved ones to be the “real goals”, and far more valuable than music examinations or certification they are often primed to take. Birthdays and parties are wonderful, meaningful platforms for children to enjoy playing music in the encouraging atmosphere of friends and family. To affirm his children’s efforts, he sings generous praises of them whilst recognising the difficulty and discipline it takes for a young child, for example, to hold a violin bow straight and pull it perpendicularly. He cultivates the discipline of unity and perseverance in his charges by telling them, “It is perfectly alright to hit the wrong notes. What is more important is to move, sonically, to a common heartbeat.”

Of Music & Magic

To Daniel, there exists but a thin line between music and magic – both are invisible, yet unravel beautifully and stunningly when performed before an audience. As a family learns to sing and move in agreement to its internal rhythm, it gathers familial momentum and stirs powerfully as one. Soon enough, the musical beat transforms itself seamlessly into a “Family Heartbeat” resonating deeply and acutely felt by one and all.

About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.