An untapped talent
Ranui teenager Julian Mclaren has perfect pitch, perfect rhythm and a powerful memory – but music is the only area in his life which isn’t a struggle.
The 14 year old is severely autistic and finds social interaction difficult. At music practices he is distracted and energetic, strumming his fellow pupils’ violin strings and sawing at their cellos. When he sits at the piano, however, he is calm and measured.
‘‘It all seems to melt away,’’ dad Stuart Mclaren says.
Julian has savant syndrome, meaning he is exceptionally talented at music but finds everyday life hard.
‘‘He does struggle. He really does have a hard struggle with everyday life,’’ Mr Mclaren says.
Julian’s musical talent was not discovered until late last year, when he began violin lessons with Redwood teacher Liz Sneyd. Despite not having had a single piano lesson, Ms Sneyd discovered by chance that he could replicate pieces from memory or just by hearing them once.
Julian now plays piano with Ms Sneyd’s orchestra, Wellington-based Virtuoso Strings.
‘‘He has such huge talents and strength,’’ Ms Sneyd says. ‘‘Some things it will take me five or six years to teach to an average student, Julian can pick up in about five seconds.’’
No conductor is required for Virtuoso Strings’ performances, as Julian has uncanny timing.
‘‘We call him the human metronome,’’ Ms Sneyd says.
Julian’s playing is not cold and mathematical, however, she says. ‘‘He feels the music as well. It’s like a paradox.’’ Teaching Julian has its quirks – routine is all- important and many things make him anxious.
‘‘It’s like teaching a highly intelligent toddler,’’ Ms Sneyd says. ‘‘It’s a big challenge but I absolutely love it. It’s students like him who continue to make teaching interesting.’’
Her group class, including her own children, get a kick out of Julian.
‘‘I think it’s really good for the other kids. What you understand and get to know, you’re not afraid of. When kids play music with Julian there’s that common ground. They become much more accepting of differences,’’ she says.
Julian has also shown interest in cello and flute, Ms Sneyd says. ‘‘I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what he’s capable of.’’
Music is his medium: Autistic Ranui teenager Julian Mclaren, left, practises with his music lesson group, Catherine Sneyd-utting, 10, Cedric Doak, Daniel Sneyd-utting, 8, and Benjamin Sneyd-utting, 11.