Musical Savant, Derek Paravacini, Stuns Audiences


Even autistic people without savant capabilities often show a particular affinity for music.

Dr. Leo Kanner, the first scientist to study and document cases of autism in the 1940s, noted that many of his patients were drawn to music.

Lori Warner, a psychologist and the director of the HOPE Center at Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, said music opens a pathway to emotion and communication that is usually closed for people with autism.

"It's a way to connect without the use of words, but still get that emotion, that feeling," she said. "It's especially appealing if your ability to use language is somewhat limited."

Treffert said the more savants like Paravacini practice their abilities, the more some of them can improve in other areas of their lives that are typically impaired by autism. In the 24 years he's known Paravacini, Treffert said he's been impressed by how greatly his independence and his ability to socialize have improved.

"Not only that, but his musical abilities have come far as well," Treffert said. "One of the things that Derek does better than other savants is stylizing or improvising music."

Paravacini's improvisational skills were what first impressed King, the composer who wrote Paravacini's concerto. He said he wrote the music to reflect Paravacini's ability to improvise and to honor Paravacini's favorite composer, George Gershwin.

King said he thinks Paravacini's improvisation can make his performances even more interesting.

"The way he plays it is different every time, he embellishes some things of his own," King said. "He can go slightly down the wrong tube sometimes, but that's part of the excitement."

Ockelford, Paravacini's mentor, said life for Paravacini would vastly different if he couldn't express himself through his music.

"Music is Derek, Derek is music," Ockelford said. "It's everything he thinks about, it's how he communicates, everything is related to music. It's impossible to imagine Derek without music."

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