Sunday, March 14, 2010

Derek Paravicini

Colleen Skull

Blog Entry 3#

Derek Paravicini: “In the Key of Genius”

I was just watching 6O minutes when a segment came on following up on the extraordinary musical life of Derek Paravicini. This segment sparked my interest partly due to my work with autistic children as a musical educator, and also inspired me as a researcher and performer. After watching the segment I went to his Derek’s official website and began digging around for information on his mentor Adam Ockelford.

Derek is autistic and due to treatment as a premature baby also has severe learning disabilities. Adam Ockelford was teaching Derek’s sister piano when Derek is reported to have challenged Adam to teach him and subsequently displayed high levels of musical ability. Adam requested to teach Derek and has remained his teacher for the last 20 years. After searching for information on Ockelford, I discovered he has his doctorate in the psychology of music and is an accomplished academic in the areas of music teaching with disabled children and in the area of music cognition. He gained a PhD in music at Goldsmith's College in London in 1993, in which he set out his 'zygonic' theory of musical understanding. This theory has proved a valuable tool in music theory and analysis, in investigating musical development, and exploring interaction in music therapy and education. “Zygonic theory” is a theory of musical understanding that holds that the cognition of structure stems from a sense of derivation arising from the presence of repetition in certain contexts. Using this framework, a new, composite theory of expectation in music is developed, which acknowledges the potential implications of three sources of regularity in music: patterns within groups of notes, and between them - as encoded in short-term memory and long-term, both veridically and schematically. I am not sure what this definition means entirely but considering our upcoming topic on music therapy I intend to read some of the numerous academic writings Ockelford has written. Adam’s research interests are in music psychology, education, theory and aesthetics, particularly special educational needs and the development of exceptional abilities; learning, memory and creativity; the cognition of musical structure and the construction of musical meaning. On the website of Roehampton University in London, Adam welcomes enquiries from PhD students with any of these or related areas of interest which I think is fantastic and a new found resource for anyone interested in music cognition and all of the other areas he investigates.

For the moment back to Derek, it has been purported that autism and his blindness is the source of Derek's extraordinary musical ability because the part of his brain that would normally be used for sight and light detection could be used for extra auditory ability. Derek is able with a great deal of precision and accuracy to detect and recognize not just one but multiple notes played at once (so far he can distinguish over 20 notes). I have no idea whether or not this might be the case, but what struck me was how powerful the medium of music was as a form of communication for Derek. He has been able to not only perform at the highest levels of performance but has participated in charity concerts that have raised millions of dollars to aid in the further musical development of individuals suffering from disabilities. He has also dedicated his time to play in senior`s homes. Ockelford discusses the profound benefits of music as therapy in elderly individuals pointing out that music cognition starts before individuals are born and is one of the last memory facilities to go. Of course Derek may not understand these deeper implications of what his performing does for the seniors but what is evident is his love for performing and interacting with the audience whoever that might be. I volunteered for years with a music therapist in a senior living facility and I was inspired to see Derek`s participation in the ``giving back” aspect that music so powerfully provides. What I found equally intriguing was Derek’s continued weekly lessons with his mentor and his interest in composition. When he performs audience members will choose three random notes and from that he will instantly improvise a composition with those notes in a certain style. What also resonated in me was when the “experts” weighed in and predicted Derek’s music ability would eventually plateau. Which it never has...fascinating.

For those interested, Ockelford wrote a biography entitled “In the Key of Genius”, there is a documentary available for free online in which Derek is one of the participants and he is also featured in the NOVA series “Musical Minds” featuring Oliver Sacks. Worth a watch for anyone interested in music therapy or working with children with disabilities. Personally I think it is just worth the watch.

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