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.

Jonathan introduces himself

Jonathan goes to the gym three times a week.

(At the beginning of the school year in February Jonathan started a course at CPIT. He sent this email to his teacher introducing himself.)

My name is Jonathan Petty and I’m blind which means I can’t see with my eyes. I read and write using braille and I use a computer called Braille Note and a Desktop Computer called Jaws and they both talk.  I go to the Gym two or three times a week which is located at Burwood Hospital. When I’m at home I like to listen to any kind of TV programmes including classics, children’s programmes and (one of my personal favourites) game shows, because its fun and its for everybody to enjoy (young and older like).

Sometimes my mum Nicola or my dad Mark go to the Canterbury Public Library which is now re-opened because of an earthquake we had last year. But when places like the Library is re-opened there are still things that needs cleaning up from the inside. But mainly the reason why I like going to the Canterbury Public Library is because there are something that you can’t borrow, but you can read it there anyway. And its called Listeners. And its not the articles you can find, but it also includes the TV guide. And that’s what I like about Listeners, because it has past programmes that maybe you remembered watching from along time ago. Like Its in the Bag, Krypton Factor, Country Calendar and course Sesame Street.

And speaking of Television I was on there a few time. In 2007 my first TV appearance was on 60 Minutes (NZ), then one year later I was on New Zealand’s Got Talent. And mostly I made a few appearances on the program that’s made especially for disability people like me called Attitude which is on Sunday Mornings on TV One. The first one that I was on was just a 7 minute segment in 2008, then I played the Piano for the Attitude Awards both for 2008 and 2009. By the way the piano is an instrument I play. Then in October 2009 my mum, dad and I and the Attitude crew went to New York to meet some of the characters from one of my favorite programmes which was Sesame Street. And that was my dream, because Sesame Street was 40 years old then and I wanted to congratulate them. And believe it or not the people of Sesame Street kindly recorded us as part of the program, but only the beginning part which is when my mum and dad and I came past a couple of Sesame Street characters named Elmo and Telly and they said hi to me and they were playing basketball. And speaking of Sesame Street it came back to New Zealand early this year (if you didn’t know that). So if you want to find the ones that had me on I’m on episode 4219.

Never Ordinary

As a child I liked to be different. Ordinary was dull. I was really happy to come from a family of multiple surnames, when that was far from the norm. (My mother was quick to tell people she had been widowed, rather than divorced). I could say I had four grandmothers, through the various permutations. In my eyes it stopped me from being ordinary.

In 1989 I gave birth to Jonathan. It was a challenging delivery but at the end we were so happy he seemed fine. In some ways he really was. But he sure as heck wasn’t ordinary. And if our family was ever ordinary (which I doubt), it stopped being ordinary that day.

In our family we use the word “ordinary” for people who don’t have special needs. We prefer it to “normal”. Sometimes we have wished that our life were a little more ordinary,when the challenges of raising our children became overwhelming. But it isn’t.

This blog is about our life with Jonathan. I could call it “living with an alien”, which is what Jonathan’s grandfather suggested it was like. Or I could refer to Jonathan’s autism, blindness and prodigious musical talent on the piano, and call it “Savant life”. But I like “Never Ordinary” because of the positive spin it puts on things. “Never Ordinary” is good.