Meet the Naturals

June 29, 2008 7:43:03 AM PDT
Music is a meaningful way for people with cognitive disabilities to showcase their talent.A Chicago area band was created to promote the musical abilities of two young men with autism.

Meet the Naturals: Maurice Snell, Terry Bracey, Dan Massey and Craig Christiansen. Both Maurice and Terry are autistic, and Dan and Craig teach music.

Craig is co-founder of Creative Exchange Music Therapy program that teaches music to children with different abilities.

"We've been coming to Easter Seals doing music therapy for about 10 years, and way back then we noticed that Terry and Maurice had just a natural ability for music," said Craig. "So as the years passed we thought that we should make a band with the guys now that they're adults."

They have been performing for almost two years. What amazing about Maurice and Terry is they are able to learn everything by ear.

"I remembered Terry just picked up... the guitar, and he played 'Do de do do do,' and he said he'd never played a guitar before, and he played a little blues thing just like that," said Craig. "So (it just) jumped right out at us that they have a musical ability."

"They say that less than one percent of all people have perfect pitch, but I've found (that with) people with autism it's more like 10-15 percent of the people... have perfect pitch," said Craig.

Maurice graduated from St. Xavier University with high honors, and he loves music and being in the band.

"At first I took piano lessons at a young age, then, I went on to percussion," said Maurice. "I participated in marching bands (in) high school and college, and then I suddenly (had) an itch of doing performance like melodic type of instruments."

Maurice's parents are extremely proud of their son's success.

"To see him perform, when at a very early age we would never even imagine that would happen? is always amazing and makes me feel very emotional," said Maurice's mom.

At times there are some challenges performing with band members who are autistic.

"We have to make sure we're really well organized (and) that everybody understands when the shows are," said Craig.

"There's challenges in communicating when we rehearse -- ... some musical things and how we're gonna set up, what things are gonna be like," said Craig. "Sometimes with shows that we do, we try to give them an idea of what the place might look like."

The Naturals are performing at several events. They are working on a CD that they hope to have available in the near future.

"Oh yea, I love it because we're the Naturals, you know," said Terry.


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