From JoCo to India: Overland Park teen taps into power of music to help these groups

From a very young age, music has been a powerful force in Aaram Salem’s life.

“It’s a feeling of calmness and of something I can hold onto when I am feeling down or tired,” he said. “It alleviates negative feelings and brings back positive feelings.”

The 17-year-old Overland Park resident has worked to help others experience those benefits both in Johnson County and some 9,000 miles away in India.

Aaram began studying piano at age 6. He’s been bringing his music to others since he was 12.

Though he took a break during during college application time, he regularly volunteers to play for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia in Johnson County. Caretakers have told him that many residents seem calmer after hearing him perform.

“When I’ve played, I noticed a physical change,” said Aaram, a senior at The Barstow School.

Aaram loves all types of music, although his favorite composer is Beethoven. His favorite Beethoven works are “Fur Elise” and “Moonlight Sonata.”

“They each stand out in their own way,” Aaram said. “ ‘Fur Elise’ is romantic, while ‘Moonlight Sonata’ is darker.”

While music will always be in his life, the teen does not intend to make a career of it. Instead, he hopes to pursue a career in medicine.

“I enjoy playing as a hobby and helping other people,” Aaram said.

Which Aaram did last summer in a big way.

Aaram held a garage sale of his toys, books and clothes and, along with his birthday gift money, collected $500.

That was enough for him purchase an electronic piano and to help teach others about music in India. With the exception of when COVID-19 restrictions were enforced, Aaram takes yearly trips to India to visit family.

During last summer’s trip, Aaram embarked on a project at a school for people living with mental, physical and developmental disabilities. The facility is within an impoverished community in Vypin Island, Kerala, India.

Aaram said he hoped the music would help with their challenges, or, as he said: “Changing any negative energy to positive.”

For one month, Aaram played the electronic keyboard for 30 to 60 minutes each day. It was better for the residents that the music was played in small increments, Aaram said.

“I would give them the basics about the piano,” he said. “For example, which keys were which. It was a little hard because their mental disabilities played a significant role on how they could comprehend. We tried to drive hard on the basics so they could learn to read the notes, if they chose.”

The teen started with the basics of how the piano worked.

“When I first presented the piano they were very happy to see something new,” he said. “They were eager to learn and sort of practice.”

Many tapped the rhythm with their feet, or using their hands on a table.

“I liked seeing that. I was giving them something they didn’t have before.”

For his work there, Aaram received a Rotary International Humanitarian award from the Rotary Club.

V.P. Sabu, district official for Rotary District 3201 and past president of the Rotary Club of Cochin Vypin Island, appreciates Aaram’s connection with humanitarian services.

“His talent and skill to play piano and the capacity to teach others, especially to the differently abled children, is excellent.”