Through the launch of our Simply Music Gateway project, you may have heard the story of Jewels, a special needs student with a special relationship to music. In this profile, Simply Music Piano Teacher Anne Smith introduces us to Celeste, a student on the autism spectrum for whom music has been a life-changing expressive outlet. Read how Celeste’s music has made a difference, not just for her, but also for those with whom she shares her gifts. Anne, and Celeste’s earlier teacher Janita Pavelka, have been an essential part of the partnership between student, teacher, carer and teaching approach. Their story is below.
Celeste Pierre is known to many Simply Music teachers for her participation in the Special Circumstances video several years ago. At that time her teacher was Janita Pavelka, who moved out of the area in 2009. Celeste and her siblings became my students at that time.
Celeste was diagnosed with autism at age two, and she was about 12 years old when she started piano with Janita. Her mother Deanna had tried to start Celeste with a teacher in a different method, but the teacher was unwilling to work with her. Janita was willing to work with Celeste where she was and move forward at Celeste’s pace. Celeste blossomed under Janita’s guidance, and by the time Celeste came to my studio, she was making great progress.
Celeste is now 20 years old. She is in Level 16 and is in the Jazz and Accompaniment 2 programs. She has a very solid grasp of all the chord types and can sight read chords of any piece of any difficulty. She was able to grasp the playing-based songs up through Level 9 with ease and although she was reading music by that point, I was a little concerned to leave behind the playing-based songs with the DVD backup.
Deanna and I were delighted to discover that Celeste is able to read and play complex pieces of music. When she is unsure of a note, she counts intervals until she figures it out. She does need some guidance, but often I only have to say, “Look again” and she will correct herself. In addition to the Simply Music curriculum songs, she plays several additional pieces and is always willing to work on new things. She has a great memory and can play almost every song she has learned.
Celeste has a gift for music and loves to share it. The playing-based methodology of Simply Music was perfect for her.
Celeste is pretty consistent in her relationship to piano at this point, not really experiencing the peaks and valleys common to most students. Sometimes she has a bad day and a few times she was not able to come to lessons because her behaviors had become unmanageable. On the occasions when she comes to lessons upset, I have found that if I just let her play whatever she wants to for a while, she will usually settle down.
Up until last year, Celeste was always in a private lesson environment. But she loves interacting with her peers, so when another student’s lesson partner discontinued lessons, I discussed with both moms the possibility of putting them together in a shared lesson. They were both amenable to that, so Celeste has been sharing a lesson and it has been going well! The other student, Mary Emma, has been very patient and good with Celeste, the ideal lesson partner for her. This has been a good environment for both of them.
Celeste has been able to blossom in shared lessons. In this performance, the bond with her lesson partner Mary Emma is clear.
Celeste is not very verbal but is able to communicate on a basic level and with gestures. One thing that has been a great activity for her is playing duets. I started doing duets with her years ago, and then I had her younger sister working on duets with her. Deanna told me during this time that for the first time in her life, Celeste initiated an activity with a family member when she said, “Catherine, come play piano”. This brought tears to both Deanna and me, to see how music has enriched her relationships in her family. She has developed the critical ability in playing duets, of adjusting to the other player when necessary. Last year Celeste and Mary Emma played a lengthy duet arrangement of Canon in D at a recital, and they did a beautiful job.
Simply Music has been ideal for Celeste, and she was blessed to have the combination of a wonderful mother and a caring, loving teacher in Janita to get her started. Celeste has a gift for music and loves to share it. The playing-based methodology of Simply Music was perfect for her, as she is very good at watching and listening, and then replicating what she sees and hears. This laid a solid foundation for her to learn how to read later on, and her ability to sight read complex chords as a result of the Accompaniment program is almost instinctive. She is easily coachable and I treat her the same as my other students.
We love the results Simply Music has helped Celeste achieve and we want that for EVERY other special needs child. Help us provide our program FREE OF CHARGE to those families who need it by visiting our Indiegogo campaign page and giving what you can. Thank you!