How music opened up a world of possibilities for my son with Down syndrome and ASD
A couple of years ago, I was on Richmond Green with my son Barnaby, who is now 16 years old and who has Down syndrome/ASD. It was a warm, sunny day and as I was preparing our picnic, I turned to find him lying on his back on the grass, hands behind his head and staring at the sky. He took a deep, relaxed breath and with a contented expression on his face, he turned, smiled at me and said “This is the life”.
I had my guitar with me and I remember saying that his remark was a good title for a song and would he like to write one with me. To be honest, it was partly a ploy to keep him calm and focused.
Barnaby was enthusiastic and we talked about all the things we did together, discussing images, emotions, lyrics and what style of song he would like it to be. It wasn’t long before he had likened the white smoke coming from a factory chimney that he had seen and remembered on our travels to “the silver sky” and “sugar clouds” and had suggested lines such as “the ones we love” and “lazy days on our favourite green”.
We wrote the song over the next couple of weeks, recorded it together at a friend’s recording studio and made a video to go with the song as a personal record of our work together and simply to show our family and friends.
Since that day in Richmond, things have moved on apace and Barnaby continues to enjoy song writing as a means of relaxation and self-expression. Although he’s certainly no Tom Jones, he can often be heard singing his own words of love and more. He never fails to surprise and inspire and thanks to added help, guidance and support from family, friends and professionals, Barnaby’s love, understanding and knowledge of music have grown. At the same time, his concentration and behaviour have vastly improved. He has a great sense of humour too.
He is now a keen and proficient drummer/percussionist (his request to legendary drummer Clem Cattini resulted in the gift of full drum kit gift for his school music department), he is included on an album in the making, is a member of the Musicians’ Union and a published song writer to boot. He occasionally accompanies, performs and likes to roadie at my sessions and gigs, which makes him, and me, very proud.
He has just left his school and will be entering the 6th Form at a new school in September. I recently attended his Year 11 Record of Achievement presentation/celebration where he and his class mates proved that in the right place and with the right people, they can and will all thrive and enjoy life to the full. The students had decided they wanted to present their evening as an awards ceremony similar to The Oscars. They all wrote and made their own speeches which, dare I say, were far more poignant and worthy than most of the Hollywood ones we hear.
Over the summer, Barnaby will be away working and resident at a music college in Suffolk (for a whole week) and we will then take a holiday and enjoy a few days relaxing by the sea. Who knows, maybe he’ll come up with another song title.
Of course, I know it won’t all be plain sailing but as the future looks bright for Barnaby, I often think back to that sunny day on Richmond Green.
Yes, this is the life. Congratulations and thank you, Barnaby.
Chris Beck is Artistic Director at Song Unite, where he runs song-writing workshops and projects for young people: