Pairing Nonverbal Autistic Voices to Opera?

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Readers, I promise you, when you check out this documentary by the Lynx Project (vimeo.com/249943807), tears will come to your eyes. In disbelief, I watched it over and over again, riveted by the prowess of these nonverbal songwriters with autism who expressed so much within by simply tapping the letters of songs they authored themselves. Their words, complemented with the sonorous operatic voices, pulled at my heart, while my daughter, Soanirina (aka Soa) miraculously also sat still (Thank God!), mesmerized by the plurality emanated by both the words and the heavenly voices singing them in none other than opera. Soa even started singing the tunes in a soprano pitch, engulfing the house in a majestically calming atmosphere.

When I received the email from Caitleen Kahn, co-founder of Lynx Project, I was shocked. She wrote, “My name is Caitleen Kahn and I am the executive director of a nonprofit called Lynx Project. Our main project currently is one in which we take words written by children who have autism and are primarily nonverbal, and commission professional composers to set their words to music for voice and piano. It has been such a powerful project and we feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to share the words and abilities of these young writers. I am writing because David Russ, a resident of Rockaway Park, recommended we reach out to you. He mentioned you write a column, ‘Life With Our 'Artistic' Child,’ and that you might be interested in our project. I just started reading your column online and wanted to say how much I'm enjoying it. I wish I had found it sooner!”

Here’s a snapshot of a poem-song written by 16-year-old nonverbal Lynx Project’s songwriter, Sameer Dahar: “Your music emerges sound and feeling. Autism emerges senses with silence. Marriage too beautiful to describe. Make my poem opera manifest a hurricane of sound and madness.”

Readers, I write poetry, spoken word and prose, but even at my best, I could never match the unabashed soul emanated in Dahar’s words. I started to think about my daughter, and how she loves music, and could capture and retain a tune only after hearing it once. But could she actually tap her own words to a song?

After speaking with both Kahn, a former NYC-based soprano opera singer; and co-founder, Megan Moore, a mezzo-soprano performer, who are both accomplished violinists, I learned that these children practice Rapid Prompting Method (RPM). RPM was created by Soma Mukhopadhyay, a native of India, who developed RPM to instruct her son, Tito, who is now a published writer and poet, in spite of his severe autism. Soma and Tito have been featured on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, Scientific American, The New York Times, National Geographic and other media. She has instructed hundreds of students (youth to adult) with autism and similar disorders at schools and organizations across the U.S. as well as at her clinic in Austin, Texas. She uses RPM to teach academics and communication by eliciting responses through intensive verbal, auditory, visual and/or tactile prompts.

Folks, I’m ready to book a ticket to Mukhopadhyay’s clinic in Texas to learn how RPM can help my musically-inclined daughter. Check out my next column as I delve into what RPM can offer for our special, gifted children.

What also keeps resonating is when Lynx co-founder, Megan Moore said, “I was especially inspired to work with autistic children because of my sister who works in special education in Cincinnati, Ohio. I saw the kids my sister worked with and realized how terribly wrong I was about nonverbal children with autism. They have a lot to say, and when we gave their text to professional composers and heard the results, we were shocked. It became a ripple effect. Art song inspired by deep songwriters, matched with our amazingly sensitive music composers and performers was so awesome and breathtaking.”

Kahn and Moore want to bring the Lynx Project to Rockaway. Readers, together as a community, we can make this a marriage tapped in with eternally resonating words matched to majestic heavenly voices. Please reach out if you are interested, and let’s make it happen for our Rockaway autistic voices.

Also, Mr. David Russ, I hope we get to meet one day. Your introduction to Ms. Kahn has inspired a zest for me to get the Lynx Project to Rockaway. Readers, keep sharing and reaching out, because as a community who knows the operatic pitch we can reach for our loved ones with autism.

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