Saturday, September 12, 2009

From a Very Special Listener

During our August concert we had a very special person, a true musical savant in our audience. We wanted to share the unique story about him written by his mother, Cathleen Lewis.

Rex Lewis-Clack is an exceptional 14-year old. He is exceptionally gifted and exceptionally challenged. Blind, autistic, musical genius—that’s Rex … and that’s quite a mix! When Rex was invited to attend the Classical Underground event August 3 by his new friend and voice coach Sam McElroy, he was instantly captivated, first by the warm greeting he received and then by the feel and sound of the unique place. When he arrived, Alexey Steele came to greet him, and Rex immediately began a spiel from his own press, “Alexey, I’ve been profiled three times by CBS’ 60 Minutes, who labeled me a ‘musical savant’ (no pause for breath) that means I have an island of genius in a sea of disability . . . But Alexey didn’t accept the press version, cutting in with, “Rexy, Rexy … come on … all that means is you can really play music, right!?” Alexey punctuated with a laugh that struck a resonant chord with Rex, who broke out laughing himself! And with that, the tone for the evening was set. Later that evening, Rex said the music was so “big in his ears” that he felt like he was playing the piano himself!

Rex’s world was a dark place of chaos and dysfunction when he began playing the piano at age 2. He was blind with such heightened sensitivity to touch and sound from autism (imagine hearing a light switch like it’s sonic boom, or feeling the need to curl you hands into fists to avoid the merest touch) that getting through each day was a tortured balancing act for mere survival. Doctors thought he might never walk or talk. Then Rex discovered the magic of music . . . and transcendence. Banging away on the little keyboard he’d been given for his second birthday, notes began to take form, and Rex began unlocking the mysteries of his world. Notes, intervals, rhythms . . . a world of creativity and order . . . and life! Alongside the blindness and autism, Rex had an extremely rare gift . . . he had a whole world of music already in his head. He didn’t understand the chaotic world, but he did understand music, notably classical music! And when he heard (or played) a classical piece, there was a look of such intelligence and absorption on his face, that it was like he was leaving his disability behind to stroll in the heavenly realms with the likes of Mozart or Beethoven. As Rex began speaking the language of the classics, the cacophony that was the rest of the world began to transform into a place of beauty and laughter as well.

CBS 60-minutes: Catching Up with Rex

Today Rex’s music is infused with joy . . . as is his life. He continues to defy the expectations of doctors and educational specialists as he’s a living example of the healing power of music. He not only walks and talks, he runs and skies, is learning to sing opera, and travels the world meeting people and sharing his unique musical gift. In addition to the three 60 Minutes profiles that have aired to date on the 14-year old (the newsmagazine began following Rex’s life when he was only 7!) he has been the subject of various documentaries around the world, including, “Musical Savants” for the Discovery Health Channel and Britain’s “The Musical Genius” with Derek Paravicini. Rex was the recipient of the 2006 “Winspiration Award” in Germany where he traveled to perform, for taking the hand he’s been dealt in life and using it not just to “win” himself, but to “inspire” others to do the same. Blind, autistic, genius? A lot of labels people try to attach to Rex, but Alexey Steele got it right, they don’t mean anything to Rex, because he lives his life beyond labels . . . he’s just Rex! And like Alexey, Rex loves to laugh! And he uses music to celebrate his uniqueness and to celebrate life!

We all are looking forward to Rex playing at our Classical Underground!

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