Derk lottman

Music and Autism event celebrates neurodivergent minds – The Observer

Colorful music filled McIntyre Hall as a projection screen featured various paintings by autistic artists on stage which inspired four original musical compositions performed by Piano, Percussion and Composition Studios on Sunday, April 24.

Dr. Yerin Kim was the artistic director and hosted the event, and after an entire year of planning, she said she was thrilled to see it all culminate on stage. His experience working with autistic students and inviting people with autism to different cities to attend his rehearsals led to the creation of this event with the aim of combining two types of communities.

“I want people to see it a little differently,” Kim said. “I know how important music is to autistic minds. I play and I play for autistic communities, and I was wondering if there was a way to integrate that on stage, if they could use their voice in our works. When we put it all together, it creates an incredible amount of synergy.

According to Kim, the concert was broadcast live and many painters were able to watch from across the country. The paintings are from “The Art of Autism” website, which features poetry, paintings, sculpture, and mixed media by autistic artists.

“They do a good job of really telling the stories of individual autistic artists there, so I’m having a lot of fun designing in my head what that year’s concert is going to be like,” Kim said.

The opportunity for collaboration between percussion, piano and composition studios was particularly exciting for many involved. Senior Piano Performer Isaac Montgomery played piano for a piece titled “Third Movement” by painter JA Tan and composed by CWU student Nicholas Sasse.

“It’s so unique to work with the different teachers as well as the different people,” Montgomery said. “Art can come from so many different places and [it’s fun] sometimes going beyond the boundaries of the studio and collaborating with different people who have different experiences, because that’s where the real beauty of music happens.

Junior in music education and composition, Stephen Williford also said that the collaborative aspect was one of his favorite parts of the concert. Williford composed the second piece entitled “Beautiful Colors”, by painter Jeremy Sicilia-Kira and performed by CWU students Thomas Snedeker on marimba, Zack Mautz on vibraphone and Daniel Hankes on piano.

“One of the most exciting things about these songwriting events is working with other young artists and having this experience of sharing music,” Williford said.

Composition teacher Dr. Jiyoun Chung composed the first piece of music based on a painting titled “Randomosity” by Ikea painter Juanita “Syance” Wilson. The piece was performed by Mark Goodenberger on marimba and Kim on piano, and the sounds meandered haphazardly with punchy moments of intensity interspersed.

“There were many, many, many objects in the painting,” Chung said. “When you look closer, there’s a bit of quirkiness, some humorous twists, also some absolutely beautiful things, like a little reinterpretation of piano scales, piano keyboard, sky, sun, rainbow… When I first saw the painting I felt like it was almost a movie or something moving. It’s very dynamic.

According to Kim, the composers had fun finding creative ways to use their instruments, including pianists striking the strings with their hands and percussionists bowing their marimba with a string bow to achieve an intriguing sound. Given the current social climate, adding neurodiversity to the conversation seemed to suit Kim.

“The efforts are incredible to become more diverse and inclusive,” Kim said. “It’s an exciting time, and it’s about time. There are about three or four concerts a day in the music hall now, we are used to performance and artistic creation, and for the public to see that this type of partnership and collaboration is possible and that they can create as much of synergy and artistic excellence, I hope this will make people realize that it’s not too hard to do if you have an open mind.

Composers expressed the importance of showcasing voices that might not otherwise be featured.

“That was what was so special about it for me was finding these underrepresented artists and really falling in love with them and finding personal connections in this work,” Williford said. “I hope the public can feel this experience and learn from this experience.”

Likewise, Chung said that for the CWU music community, autism isn’t something that needs to be fixed or cured, it’s just a different way of living.

“For musicians and composers, we like to write different music because we like the differences,” Chung said. “Difference is not something to feel uncomfortable about, it’s something we can celebrate together.”

Kim stressed the importance of focusing on the similarities in order to see beyond what sets us all apart.

“Neurotypical or not, we’re all very different anyway,” Kim said. “It’s good to find the banality, the passion, the art, rather than focusing on what is difficult to understand.”