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Musical savant Derek Paravicini

Derek Paravicini: A Musical Genius Who is Blind and Autistic

Derek Paravicini is a 32-year-old blind, autistic man with a stunning talent: he is a musical prodigy who can replay songs and instrumental pieces on piano after hearing them just once, and then also improvise and play them in different styles. This recent BBC News report gives a quick insight into his talents, but for an in-depth look at his life and development of his talent, see the 45 minute documentary embedded below.

Derek was born premature at just 25 weeks with his twin sister (who did not survive), and suffered a number of developmental problems due to this and also because of incorrectly applied oxygen therapy during his time in hospital (minor piece of trivia: his mother Mary Ann Parker Bowles is the former sister-in-law of Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall). Despite being left completely blind, and without the ability to tell left from right or count to ten, his musical ability is staggering.

When I watch these savant abilities, I wonder at the immense capability of the human brain and how – to operate in the way that ‘normal’ humans do – it seems to be restricted in the general population. Will future generations learn how to unlock these skills for anyone to use, allowing us all to be musical, artistic or and/or mathematical geniuses (and if so, how sad that development would be for these savants who have been blessed with it ‘naturally’)?

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  1. Musical genius?
    I watched all three sections of the programme, only to find that it stops at the best bit – Derek playing ‘boogie woogie’ on a single piano with Jules Holland!

    Derek doesn’t just regurgitate other tunes or melodies, he crafts them into many styles and has such expression in much of his playing.

    And given Derek has such a handicap, he seems to be a very kind and laidback human being. I wish him the very best in his music

  2. Lest we forget Blind Tom
    If you get a chance, check out a book by Ricky Jay called Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women. There was an amazing slave child taken in by the plantation’s family that could do the same precise thing. His Vaudeville name was “Blind Tom”. He was quite the character.

    If you can’t get a hold of RJ’s book which is assuredly 1000 times better, then wiki may have to do:

    1. A relative of mine has a
      A relative of mine has a child with Aspergers who has some degree of savantism and a fairly amazing memory for certain categories of thought. I spent some time with him last Easter holiday – he is around 10 years old – and I was very curious to know if he felt he was afflicted with something bothersome and confusing. He has had enough expert guidance and tutoring all his life that he was both high functioning and also somewhat aware that he was “different” and in what manner, and had a sort of sense of humor about it though I could not tell whether the apparent levity about his specialness was learned emotion or something genuinely welling up within him. Savants are typically accomplished at mimicry and often aren’t even aware they are mimicking.
      Spending a lot of time around a savant child like this can be disconcerting after awhile because yo see things in them that are in yourself, and the dividing line between them and you will dissolve enough that you begin to wonder if you too might have elements of Aspergers or autism lurking within. Of course, you do. We all do, and that is what is so fascinating about it. I kind of wonder if everyone should be advised to spend a few days socializing with people of this build so as to expand our own consciousness about what it is to have a very complex brain capable of such amazing plasticity.
      In the end I found myself mimicking him a little bit and admiring and praising his narrow mental skills which gave him true pleasure I think, but I was also subconsciously trying on his brain for size and hoping a little of him would rub off on me.

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