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’)?