Thursday, 6 February 2014

A Cautionary Tale...

Many years ago, much against my better judgement, I was persuaded to do a public performance, supposedly showing off my "skills" on the piano.

This mostly appeared to consist of demonstrating my ability to listen to a sonata or concerto, and then repeat it.   I was very concerned about doing this right from the off as, to me, I felt as though I was being paraded in a performing monkey sense and I would have preferred to play the pieces I'd worked on and struggled hard to understand and express, but the powers-that-be weren't too interested in my "normal playing" as they called it.  They wanted a demonstration of my freak powers!

I should say that I would NEVER agree to this now, but then I was young and easily bullied and so I somehow allowed this thing to go ahead.

It was soul destroying.   Really it was.  Most people came along I suspect, in much the same way as they might have gone along to a circus side-show in the old days to see the proverbial bearded lady!  Yes, I was the bearded lady and, apparently, it was more politically correct for them to come and stare at me in a concert hall, than behind bars in a circus!  To me, it seemed that the two things weren't very far apart.

The performance went off OK, people seemed happy with me and I was relieved it was all over but the thing I remember most about it were the comments I received afterwards and, in particular, the critical reviews which I saw about it.  This WAS many years ago remember and so perhaps people were less discerning in those days, I'm not sure but it certainly separated the metaphorical men from the boys (hope that's the right metaphor) in a reviewer sense, in my own mind.

Many said how marvellous it all was, how brilliant I was going to be, and what a great "find" I was (I hadn't been hiding anywhere incidentally!)  but some, and these are the ones I truly admired, made the point that I showed no particular ability of my own, I merely mimicked what others had done and, although this was clever in one sense, it wasn't particularly "brilliant" in another.  A one trick pony is, I think, how one person described me.   And he was right .... in a way.  At least, he was right about THAT particular performance.

As the years have gone by, I've learned to lay down rules about what I will and will not do performance-wise.  I'm actually not an over-keen performer as I have severe sensory integration disorder and this means that someone in the audience only has to move their arm about unexpectedly, or cough, and I get distracted (and quite angry!) but I no longer do the "party trick", I refuse to do it, even for friends. I do not wish to be a performing monkey for ANYONE.

I have certain affinities with certain composers and, in particular, love J S Bach and play a great deal of his work.  I also compose and I believe that I HAVE finally gotten to the point in my life where I very much hope that my autism and the abilities it has given me, are a side-issue, and NOT the main point.  I write this blog really with the intention of trying to point out some of the difficulties for those born with such a abilities - it can create all kinds of problems along the way and trying to explain to non-musicians, that the ability to listen and repeat things is NOT a particularly fine musical talent, is often very hard!

One line, written by a very observant and (in my opinion) accurate critic, after that first performance, will always stick with me.    He wrote :

"This girl will go far, but I pity the person who has to go with her"!


Friday, 10 January 2014

Autism, Music and Me!

For a very long time now, I've wanted to write something about my freaky connection to music and finally I seem to have gotten around to it!

I have high-functioning autism with a savant profile.   The first thing to say is that everyone with autism is different.  No two autistic people are going to be the same and neither will they have the same skills, abilities or difficulties.   Believe it or not, we are individuals!

Most autistic people do not have savantism.   I sometimes think that, since Rainman, the non-autistic world just assumes that all autistic people have special skills (which are usually linked to savantism).  This is simply not true.  In fact, I forget off hand what the statistics are (Google is your friend on this!) but it's actually quite low as an overall statistic.  And so, although it's true to say that SOME autistic people have savant skills, it's probably more true to say that most don't.

When I was a very tiny child, it was noticed that I had a very freaky ability to hear something played on the radio, on the piano, and then sit at our knocked-about old upright piano and repeat the entire thing from beginning to end.   This caused no small degree of consternation and curiosity and it was finally realized that, although I was pretty useless at nearly everything else (!), I could indeed play the piano!  And so I was sent off to piano lessons which, at first, were something of a disaster as, even at four years of age, I was pretty sure I knew better than the teacher regarding "what Bach might have meant!"  (where's the embarrassed smiley when you need it!)   But finally I found a very understanding teacher who could put up with my somewhat odd ways and encouraged me heartily and finally I, too, realized that playing the piano would probably save my life in many ways.

Playing allows me to express emotion in a way that I just never can verbally.   Autistic people do feel emotion, whatever the textbooks would have you believe, but we can often have difficulty in knowing how to appropriately express that emotion.

My "connection" to music is odd in many ways and misunderstood by others all of the time.   Yes, I can do a great party trick - you can play me some record of a pianist playing whatever, and I will then sit down and play the entire thing back to you but... and this really is a huge but...  I will play it back in exactly the same way as the pianist played it.   Good OR bad!  If the pianist has made mistakes, I will replicate those same mistakes (yes, I HEAR that they are wrong, but I still play them!), the expression in the piece I will play is not MY expression, it is the expression I have heard from the original pianist.

This ability does not make me a great pianist - it makes me a reasonably good  mimic.  And there really is a her-yuge difference!

It was also discovered that I had perfect pitch and this, I must say, is another bug bear of mine!  Yes, it's a great thing to have in many ways, just one of those things you're born with and not a talent or skill but, if you ever want to sing in a choir, or play in an orchestra, prepare to suffer terrible headaches if anyone is remotely off-key (and they often are!) and prepare to be glared at if you dare to point this out to them!!

I intend to post shorter posts in future, with some uploads of various things I've played, and to talk about various different issues which affect and confront the autistic pianist and I really hope that people may ask questions that  I can also have a go at answering.

If you have a child with autism who has a particular ability musically - ENCOUARGE THEM and then encourage them some more.   I do not see the savant aspects of my autism as a disability, I see them as a true gift, something which enhances my life, gives me great pleasure and allows me to find a way through this slightly strange neuro-typical (non-autistic) world that most other people inhabit!