Recognising “cool”

Jonathan has just finished his second week at Jazz School and it is going remarkably well. He has even accepted that he needs to practice. (phew)

One class he takes is called contextual studies and is a short version of the history of the western world, with emphasis on art, architecture and music. He also has a tutorial for this class focussed more on the musical aspects. This first section has been about “culture” and how it affects people, and how people affect culture. In the lecture they mentioned “culture shock”, which occurs when we are surrounded by a culture we are not part of, and have difficulty making sense of. It struck me that Jonathan is pretty much in a permanent state of culture shock. Everything has to be explained and analysed. Nothing “goes without saying”.

At the end of the tutorial the tutor commented that we all know what “cool” is. We can’t define it, but we know it when we see it. Well, Jonathan doesn’t. He has no concept of “cool”. When you are totally blind, with autism thrown in it’s pretty hard to tell anything from appearances. Sighted people fail to realise how much Jonathan has no concept of. Colour, light, sky, mountain, tree, ocean, most animals… Not a clue! Art? Pretty much meaningless. Architecture? I can see this subject is going to be a challenge.

Having said that, I don’t know if I’ve ever been cool. William was pretty impressed when I clocked Tomb Raider, and that made me cool in his eyes. Developing iPhone apps makes me a bit cool in some circles. Maybe I’m too old to be cool. I’m far from musically cool. Most of the people the tutor mentions in class are names I may possibly have heard of, but don’t mean anything. So I guess cool is culturally constructed.

Fortunately Jonathan feels no need to be cool. This is just as well when his wardrobe is chosen by his mother. Having said that, people have often said that Jonathan is cool. I think the fact that he is who he is, without any pretense or excuse probably makes him cool.


Jonathan starts at Jazz School

I was very glad the welcome to Jazz School at CPIT on Monday was held in a dimly lit performance venue, as the tears streamed down my cheeks and I tried surreptitiously to stop them dripping on my skirt. When the Head of Department, Tom Rainey, commented that for some of those assembled this was the culmination of years of work and hoping, he was right on the nail. (Actually that’s what set me off) Jonathan only decided about 18 months ago that he would like to go to Jazz School, and he missed out on the first application. However last year he and others pulled out all the stops and he wowed the audition panel and was accepted into the degree programme to study part-time. But Mark and I had been hoping for some time that he would one day be ready to take his musical talent further.

And now that Jonathan has been accepted I am impressed at the lengths to which the staff at CPIT are going in order for him to be successful. Jonathan will have a helper with him (support person) until he and the teachers are happy that he will be okay on his own. I will be going to some of the classes so that we can discuss them at home and help him with some of the trickier stuff. I was excited today to find out that I am better at piano scales than Jonathan is. (Mark says to make the most of it, because it won’t last for long.) Jonathan has never been one for scales, and managed to do without them until now. I think I’ve convinced him that he needs them.

Jonathan is in an ensemble made up of a drummer, guitarist, bass guitarist, vocalist, tenor sax and of course pianist. They have five tunes to master this term, and to me they sound pretty darn good already. We decided the aural training classes would be too much for him (lots of people trying to sing notes), so he will just do the tests. With perfect pitch, his ears don’t need a lot of training.

We have a lot of people to thank for Jonathan’s place in Jazz School, but three stand out. Nanako Sato is a jazz pianist and teacher who taught Jonathan at Mairehau High School in her own time for three years, and at Hagley Community College for another three. Jonathan learned so much about jazz piano from her. Nanako also had high expectations of Jonathan, so that he tried to live up to them. Margaret Robertson is head of music at Mairehau and had the good sense to employ Nanako and support her in developing Jazz at Mairehau. She also loved both my boys, nurturing their unusual talents. And Todd Jones is the head of Jazz at Hagley Community College. He took Jonathan as he was and enjoyed having him in the course for three years. Jonathan gained so much from mixing with other adults who loved to make music. There were so many others who were part of Jonathan’s progress – his fellow band members at Hagley, Annabel, Libby his tone-deaf teacher aide, Lois the piano teacher, Natalia his music therapist. Thank you!

I asked Jonathan why he wanted to go to Jazz School, and it isn’t about the music, really. It’s about making music with other people, and for other people. He loves to be part of a band and he loves to perform. When Jonathan plays in a band, he has a big grin across his face. His joy is infectious. It is his way of connecting.