- Associated Press - Sunday, August 10, 2014

METHUEN, Mass. (AP) - When Douglas Anderson received a toy keyboard as a gift, he began plunking random notes like any small child would. Soon, he was able to mimic the keyboard’s preset songs flawlessly.

Twelve years later, the 16-year-old Presentation of Mary Academy student is not just passionate about music, but also dedicated to using his skill to enrich the lives of others. Late last month, he did just that on a visit to his twin brother’s summer program at the Collaborative for Regional Educational Services and Training in Methuen.

Anderson’s twin brother, Robbie, is attending a program for special needs children who also are considered medically fragile, according to instructor Karen Rutherford. She said the approach to teaching the class is “multi-sensory,” and the activities students participate in focus on enhancing their ability to communicate with others.

The twins’ mother, Sherry Anderson, said Douglas’ music always has appeared to make a difference in Robbie’s demeanor.

“We noticed that (Robbie) would really respond and seem calmer,” she said of their observations at home. “I think, too, the classical music brings out something in the kids. It’s like they have to stop and focus and listen to what’s going on.”

Prior to his performance at CREST, Douglas played two weeks ago at Robbie’s old school, the Developmental Day School. Douglas also has performed in recitals and at weddings. He said he feels a special connection with his audience when he plays at a setting like the Developmental Day School.

“I find that, especially when playing for young children, they can really connect to the music. And I always find that they enjoy it very much,” he said. “I always enjoy how much they can really find enjoyment and happiness.”

Douglas does not use sheet music when he plays, but learns by ear. He has absolute pitch, a rare talent that allows him to replicate music he hears. He said he enjoys playing classical music the most because it is beautiful, though challenging and intricate.

Last month, he explained to his audience that more complicated pieces may require him to listen 10 or 20 times before he feels able to successfully play them.

“A lot of the time, a modern generation isn’t connected with classical music, so I like to share the classical influences with everyone,” he said.

In July, the Developmental Day School brought Douglas in as the first in a series of community guest musicians. Ellen Waddill, community and parent liaison at the school, said it has proven effective for students to interact with guests. Many preschoolers stood up while Douglas played to watch his fingers more closely, she said.

“You can see that they get really excited,” she said.

Douglas said he does not intend to pursue a career as a musician, though he plans to continue as a hobby for the rest of his life. He stopped taking lessons about a year ago because he felt able to advance without an instructor, he said.

“I’m always eager to play at any opportunity and as a musician I can get the experience and the exposure, but it’s more to share the music with everyone and see the enjoyment in the audience … just the joy that it brings others,” he said.