Summer Camp Connects Musicians with Autism With Mentors at MSU

Jul 21, 2017

This is the second year of a week long summer program where Michigan State University students mentor young musicians who are on the autism spectrum. 


It's four in the afternoon and the practice rooms are alive with sound on the 5th floor of Music Hall.

Inside a small room with a baby grand piano is Joey Tan. The eleventh grade student from Georgia is playing Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata the 3rd movement from memory.

Celebrating The Spectrum Concert: Saturday 4:00 p.m., Cook Recital Hall at MSU's Music Building

Tan is one of seven college bound students picked for Celebrating the Spectrum Festival, a week long summer camp for musicians who are on the autism spectrum. She spent the week living in an MSU residence hall, sampling dorm food and learning from mentors like Cwen Homa, who just finished her masters in musicology at MSU.

"Music can be used as therapy to help people develop in terms of their brains and what they’re able to do physical as well," said Homa. "And also just to be able to communicate with people."

Joey Tan (left) is being mentored on piano playing by MSU graduate Cwen Homa (right).
Credit Reginald Hardwick / WKAR Public Media

Tan said she loves playing piano because it allows her to express herself.

"I can feel the feelings of others [while playing music]," said Tan. "You can see people, their personalities. Always very unique and very different. So many forms it can take."

Saturday at 4:00 p.m. at Cook Recital Hall, Tan and the other young students will perform several pieces of classical and jazz music after a week of guidance from their mentors, like Homa.

"Every single one of these people are unique and they are spectacular artists and are so open to showing who they are thru the music and its incredibly inspiring," said Homa.

Just down the hallway, pre-college student Rex Lewis-Clack practiced playing jazz with his mentor Lisa Summers, an MSU doctoral student in piano performance.

If Lewis-Clack’s name sounds familiar, you may have seen him on 60 Minutes. He was born blind and diagnosed with autism as a toddler. Lewis-Clack is also considered a prodigious musical savant who started playing piano at age of two.  

Rex Lewis-Clark (left) listens to mentor Lisa Summers (right) during piano practice session.
Credit Reginald Hardwick / WKAR Public Media

"I get to see Rex grow just from meeting him on Sunday and hearing him play and being able to see how his mind works," said Summers. "And how he can play, I learn so much from him."

Saturday's concert will be at College of Music's Cook Recital Hall, Music Building at 333 W. Circle Drive in East Lansing. The concert is free and open to the public.