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Self-directed Study Sheet 5

Context: Romy is on the autism spectrum, has severe learning difficulties and is non-verbal. Despite this, she has absolute pitch, and she responds very strongly to music. Here, she is having one of her twice-weekly lessons with her piano teacher.

  1. Observation: Think about what you see and hear in the video.
  2. Interpretation: What can you reasonably infer about the person's musical engagement?
  3. Assessment: Suggest a Sounds of Intent Level and Domain.

Romy plays a slightly modified version of the opening phrase of O Little Town of Bethlehem in A. Her teacher responds by playing the (original) phrase, and the next one, with harmonies. Romy signals her approval and pleasure through flapping her hands and smiling. There is a pause. The teacher offers the opening line of Lord of the Dance in G. Romy cuts across the end of the phrase with a slower version of the interval that opens the song (D rising to G). She repeats it. The teacher offers Lord of the Dance to Romy again. She vocalises to tell him to stop and offers a counter-suggestion that also uses an interval rising to G – Rockin’ All Over the World. The teacher picks up on the suggestion. And so the session continues. In the course of four-and-a-half minutes that follow, Romy chooses the following pieces: Tonight from West Side Story in G, O Little Town of Bethlehem in A, Cockles and Mussels in E, Sailing in G, the Goodbye Song in G from Tuning In (to convey symbolic meaning for Romy, the song has to be in E flat – hence, here, she treats it purely as a piece of abstract music), O Little Town of Bethlehem in D, Cockles and Mussels in D, and a passage made up of motifs from Beethoven’s violin concerto in D, F and C. Although this session is clearly interactive in nature, it is important too for the insights it offers into Romy’s capacity to process, remember and respond to music. Indeed, the music that non-verbal children like Romy produce may be the only way for other people to explore the contents of the black box that is her musical mind. Romy’s habit of using a motif to stand for a whole piece (rather like the figure of speech known as ‘synecdoche’), shows that she understands how short fragments of music combine to form longer musical narratives. Moreover, she enjoys toying with what in literature would be called ‘intertextuality’ – recognising the similarities between motifs from different pieces, and using them to sustain the musical interaction in a coherent way as it unfolds. This implies the Romy is familiar with a number of pieces (that happen to be in the broad tradition of Western tonal music).

Romy’s musical engagement in this excerpt in the Reactive domain can be classified as Level 5 (R.5): ‘attends to whole pieces of music, anticipating prominent structural features and responding to general characteristics’.