Category Archives: music

How we Communicate – A Podcast

*This was an assignment for English Composition to create a podcast about something you care about.  This is mine after many revisions and incorporating notes from my teacher.  A written transcript of the podcast is below, but if you can, listen first!


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Emma – 2016  Photograph by Pete Thompson

This voice?  The one that you’re hearing read these words?  Yeah, that one.  It isn’t my voice.  It’s my mom’s.  You’re probably wondering why a teenage girl would want her mom to read what she’s written.  In my case, it’s because I can’t read what I write out loud.  There’s not a direct line between my brain and my mouth.  It’s more like an elaborate maze.  I can’t speak so people understand what I mean.  If asked a question, my mouth says things that do not answer the question.  My brain doesn’t think in words the way most people’s do.  Names of things and people get handed to me instead of the words that would make sense to the person questioning me.  Sometimes I blurt out whole sentences from another time in my life.  (Emma’s voice) “I bounce a balloon to Emma.  I bounce it back to me.”  They may be images that remind me of the person I’m with or where I am, or words I’ve heard spoken by others, things that get caught in my mind, or unrelated scripts, but that convey the exact emotion I’m feeling.  (Emma’s voice) “No more ice skating.  Ice skating’s gone.”  In any case, what I manage to say usually baffles the people I am speaking to, causing them to misunderstand me.  Not being able to speak what’s in my heart so that others are able to understand can be challenging, but I can type things that I cannot reliably say.  There are computer generated voices that say the letters as I type them and sound like this – (Computerized young girl’s voice) “I am your friendly computerized female voice.  I sound like I’m maybe five years old.”  (Another computerized young girl’s voice) “Or I can sound like this and pretend I’m British.  But yeah, it’s just not me.”  Or I can sound like this.  Okay it’s not my voice, but with some direction, Mom sounds better than a computer.

Imagine for a minute that you can’t talk to people in any way that makes sense to them or you.  Imagine if every time you opened your mouth to speak other words tumbled out.  If you are like me, you might get used to not answering people’s questions or being able to stay on topic.  So what would you do?  How would you interact with people?  Would you ignore their questions?  Pretend you didn’t hear them?  How would you express yourself?  Maybe you would try to connect with scripts you’ve memorized, things you’ve heard other people say in similar situations or maybe you’d find non-word based ways to communicate.  That’s what I do.

(Sound of footsteps, people talking and the subway)

Sound is everywhere.  I don’t have a filtering system marking one particular sound as more important than another.  Can you understand what I’m saying right now?  Mom had to raise the volume of her voice so that you could hear it above all the other noise.  My brain doesn’t do that.  It hears all sounds equally and does not discriminate.  But some people’s voices are not as dramatic to my ear as the honking of a horn.  I love the sound of honking horns.  (Horns honking and traffic noise)  Favoring some sounds dilutes others, but music has the best sounds of all.  (Body Knows Best – Anya Marina)

Music is my first language.  It is a friend who loves me unconditionally.  It’s there when I need it and does not shed a tear if ignored for some time.  Music is a positive force as it stands by my side.  I like hearing the same melodies repeated and did so even when I was very young.  It’s been a comfort to me as long as I can remember.  Music grounds me and plays a huge role in seeking my creativity as it allows me to perform as I choose to.  It’s a way to communicate; it gives me hope, tells me I am not alone and inspires me to create.  Though people respond differently to music, I believe there are always emotions involved. Music has the ability to transform my fearsome thoughts laden with anxiety and stress.  (Music fades out)  It calms me and this has been the case throughout my life.  When singing lyrics I stumble and have trouble articulating the words, (Lose Yourself – Eminem) but I can remember the sounds I hear and recreate them with my voice.  When I sing I am not apart from, but instead am part of.

Music can be both private and public, but it needs to be loud.  (Music gets louder) No one composes music in a whisper.  My body needs to feel the beat so that I can be consumed by it.  (Volume increases steadily and then fades)  When that happens I become part of the music, like another instrument or an extension of it.  I jump and dance and move.  My arms swing or are raised up and my head bops, my whole body keeps time to the beat.  I’m transported to another reality and it is in this alternate reality that I am most happy and comfortable.

At home my need for high volume can cause problems because the members of my family have differing sensory needs that come in direct conflict with mine.  (Heartless – Kanye WestMy older brother has to have music as background, while I perform alongside, so it makes sense for mine to be public and his to be private.

(Emma’s brother)  “Yeah I think it’s totally fair that you’re able to use the living room.  It’s not like you play bad music or anything.  If you played music I didn’t really like, I’ll just shut the door and go in my room and hang out.”

My mom and dad both work at home and need quiet in order to concentrate.  I am told to wear headphones, which encumber my movement and dilute my experience.  My family has worked out a solution that allows me to commandeer the living room in the evening.  For several hours I am blissfully able to indulge my love of loud music and dancing while my brother stays in his room or hangs out with my parents in theirs.

Until about a year ago I didn’t know the joy of creating music.  Until then I was an audience member, but not a participant.  My parents encouraged my love of music and hired teachers to help me expand my interests.  Guitar is beautiful to listen to, but it is difficult for my fingers to recreate the sounds flowing through my mind.  Piano is also hard and requires dedication and lots of practice, but I think it’s a better fit for me.  Singing is easy and my lack of inhibitions, great sense of tone and ability to mimic sounds I hear makes it the best choice of all.   Eliot is my piano teacher and Karen is my singing coach.  Eliot came first.

(Eliot) “Emma has a great ear.  She can learn to sing new melodies really quickly and accurately.  Recently she’s been listening to the car horns outside and sings their exact pitch.  Emma is a fun, expressive and creative singer/performer.  She brings a lot of life, passion and feel to the material.”

Karen came next.

(Karen) “Emma has really great pitch control.  She knows exactly how the melodies go whether she knows the words or not and she makes it a real point to study each specific thing that happens in the song and can honor each thing in the song by movement and she can also emulate the sound really well as far as consonants and vowels.”  

(Gimme Resurrection – Anya MarinaKaren and I have great fun together.  I feel at ease in her presence, which is important when you are learning new things and trying to be creative.

Eliot and Karen have taught me to be patient with myself.  From them I have learned how hard it is to become masterful and yet I’ve decided it’s better to love the process of learning as much as the final product.  Communicating isn’t just talking, it’s developing a connection with another.  Music connects us all.  I wrote these lyrics and composed this melody, so this voice?  Yeah, this one’s mine.

Emma sings Over and Coming
Eliot Krimsky on keyboard

The girl’s going in the bed
the girl is going inside
the girl is going outside.

Who is this girl I see?
Who is that girl I see?
Watch careful-ee-ee-ey
Listen to me-ee-ee

Over and coming and over and coming,
over and coming and over and coming

Go, go, go,
go, go, go,
go, go, go, go

Go, go, go,
go, go, go,
go, go, go, go

Find a way
to seize the day
Dare to be the leading girl!

The girl walks out the door
the girl walks in the door
the girl is a teenager.

I am the girl you see,
I am this girl you see,
Do you believe in me?
Please do believe in me.

I’m ready to fly if you let me,
I’ll go
Turn up the music and
just don’t say no.

Starting and going and starting and going
starting and going and starting and going
Starting and going

Do, do, do, do, do, do….

A Language I am Fluent in

Gazing hungrily at the docking station that cradles my iPhone, I can already hear in my head the first song I will play.

It is a charge surging through my body.

It’s electric.

It’s stars that shower down.

It is invigorating, a power drink transforming lethargy into intensity.

Pounding beats, it’s Jessie’s Bang Bang, Lily’s Smile, Beyoncé’s Dangerously in Love and the crazy pre-rap rap of the Talking Heads.

It tastes like an explosion of chocolate hazelnut, a glop of Nutella hitting your tongue before you’ve even swallowed.

Understanding the notes is a full body experience.  It’s a world where I can be me, unedited, pure and perfect.

This is a language I am fluent in.


The Language of Music

Sunday morning Emma wanted to listen to music and dance.  There was nothing extraordinary about this, except that her ipod wasn’t charged and Richard’s iphone was with him in the back where he was still asleep.  Both of these devices hold Emma’s favorite songs.  However, Emma picked up my iphone, a poor and unfamiliar substitute, but she was in desperate straits and realized this was not the time to be picky.  “Mommy?  Can I listen to Mommy’s iphone please?”  Emma asked.

Fortunately I have a number of Gwen Stefani albums programmed in.  It took no time for Emma to find one she liked, which I’d never heard before, Hella Good.  “You hold me like I should so I’m going to keep on dancing.”  It’s got an electronic sound infused with a great beat, blending rock and funk and makes you want to dance.  Which was exactly what Emma proceeded to do.  When the song began Emma got an intense look in her eyes, a look of concentration and focus.  I knew she knew I was watching because she looked over at me in the middle of a particularly complicated set of twirls with her arms raised high, her new string (I call it her starter string as it has no tape on it at all) she held in her right hand and twirled as the tempo picked up.  Emma went from twirling slowly to adding her head to the swirling movement, as her hand twirled the string, her upper body moved from side to side as she spun around.  The bass line reverberated and Emma suddenly thrust both arms up toward the sky and threw her head down while she spun.

This is how all of us would dance if we could.  Emma’s body, the expression on her face, the way she moves, the string extended out from her hands as though it were part of her.  She raised one arm and twirled, faster, her hair fanned out, her nightgown billowed around her ankles. Emma incorporated the music into her being, it was a part of her, it was her language.  She had taken it and made it her own.
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*A quick aside about Emma’s “string.”  After she covered it in red duct tape, she then covered just one end in purple duct tape and then left it in her brother, Nic’s room.  When she reappeared from her own bedroom, she was carrying two pieces of this new string.  I asked her what happened to her old string and she said, “No more.”

“I’ve Got the Moves Like Jagger”

This morning, Emma turned on Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger featuring Christina Aguilera.

It began like this…  (By the way, the turquoise thing Emma is holding is her string.  It’s a work in progress.  Every few days she adds more duct tape to it.  Pretty soon she’ll be able to use it as a snowboard.)

and then she did this

Which turned into this

and then this

“I’ve got the moves like Jagger”…

and she did and she was…

It was beautiful.

In it’s purest form – joy.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   Emma’s Hope Book

Emma and the Air Guitar

Emma has learned to play the air guitar.

There.  I’ve said it.

Words I never anticipated saying, let alone writing.

Last night I arrived home to see Emma, wearing a nightgown she had long ago outgrown, dinghy and grayed from years of washing in organic, environmentally safe detergent, strutting around the living room to music blaring at decibels rarely heard outside of professional performance spaces.  Her right arm ramming down on imaginary strings, her left holding an imaginary microphone as she sang the lyrics or what she thought were the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s song Beat It.  When she doesn’t feel confident of the words she lip synchs, dances and well, plays the air guitar.  The other night, Nic commented, “Look Mom.  Emma’s like one of those backup dancers.  She’s really good.”

I have since printed out the lyrics to the song as I could not figure out how Emma’s words “… show em your pocket…” could possibly be part of a song about coming of age and manhood, unless said pocket contained a knife.  But never mind.  Each time Emma came to that part of the song, she’d thrust her hand into the pocket of her bathrobe for emphasis.

The actual lyrics are – “Showin how Funky Strong is your fight It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right Just beat it, beat it, beat it..”  I’m not sure I have the heart to correct her, she so loves theatrically shoving her hand into her pocket.  It will come as a blow, I know.  However, for the sake of using moments presented to us as teachable ones, I will show her the actual lyrics.  It is perfectly plausible Emma may not care what Michael Jackson’s lyrics are, artistic license (hers) being what it is and all that.

We have come a long way since her Carole King’s Chicken Soup phase.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:  Emma’s Hope Book

Emma’s Party

Last night we had some guests over for dinner.  Emma, upon hearing guests were arriving, announced, “It’s a party!” before dashing off to her bedroom to don the appropriate attire.  When she returned, wearing a dress my mother wore to dancing school in the ’30’s, we all oohed and aahed.

“Emma!  What a pretty dress you picked out.”

“Look!  It’s so beautiful!” She said bouncing up and down and twirling around.

My mother told us it was a Hungarian dress that had a velvet vest and a faux fur hat, which evidently Emma had chosen to forego.

Emma seated at the dinner table wearing her party dress

Emma loves a party.  She always has.  She has no inhibitions, loves nothing more than to sing and dance in front of a crowd – the more the merrier.   Her love of parties is something I am always surprised by, as both Richard and I were so very shy at her age.  It’s one of those things, like her talent for holding a tune that we joke about.  “She must get that from you,” I tell my husband.

“Not me.  Don’t know where that came from,” Richard will respond.

And if my mother’s in the room, she’ll usually get the credit.  “Must be Mom,” I’ll say, looking over at her as Nic rolls his eyes.

So after dessert (Nic and his Granma made a fabulous cheesecake, which Nic decorated) and the plates had been cleared, Emma ran downstairs in her pajamas and said, “Ready for performance!”  She gestured with her hands for us to gather in the living room and take a seat.  She waited until everyone had sat down before launching into a song, neither Richard nor I had ever heard.  The song whose lyrics at one point are – “I am the thunder, you are the lightening” was sung in a loud voice while she did a little dance.

Emma singing and dancing

When she’d finished she said, “Sing it again?”

“A different song, Em.  You can sing one more song, but it has to be different.”

So she chose an old stand-by, Gwen Stefani’s “It’s my life”.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:

Nic’s cheesecake

“Too Good?”

We have a bedtime routine, which Emma because she loves routines, helps us implement.

“Okay Em, time to brush teeth!”  One of us will tell her.

“Mommy come,” Emma often replies.

“I’m right behind you, Em,” I tell her.

Once in the bathroom she’ll walk us through the steps of teeth brushing.  “First, floss,” she will remind me, grabbing the floss from me.  “Now brush,” she’ll say making little brushing noises in a sing-songy voice.

“Wait, you have to go slower Em.  You have to get all your teeth,” I’ll remind her.

“Now fluoride!”  Emma will say, swishing the fluoride around  in her mouth dramatically, before spitting it out into the sink.

“Okay, now pee,” I will say.

“Already did pee,” Emma said, last night when I reminded her to.

“Oh.  Okay.  Let’s get into bed then.”  Most evenings I read to Emma before going to bed.  We’ve gone through dozens of short non-fiction books ranging in topics as diverse as the first moon landing to the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.  We’ve read about wild life in Northern America, we’ve studied carnivorous plants, we’ve learned about General Washington’s love of dogs, we’ve studied the works of daVinci, Degas, Renoir and O’Keefe.

Then one evening Emma said, “Alice?”

“You mean Alice in Wonderland?” I asked.

“Yes,” Emma said burrowing down beneath the covers.


“Yes,” she replied.

“Well, okay.”  I found Alice in Wonderland on my ipad, downloaded it and within minutes was reading to her about Alice falling down the rabbit hole.  When we finished Alice we moved on to The Wizard of Oz.  When Dorothy and her haphazard group arrive in the Emerald City, Emma seemed less interested.  “Do you want me to keep reading?” I asked.

“Yes,” Emma said.  She always answers yes to that question.  But in less than a minute she was asleep.

Then the other night, Richard put her to bed and I heard music playing so I poked my head into her bedroom.  “What are you guys listening to?”

“Lullabies, Alycea,” Emma told me.

The oh so talented Alycea Ench made Emma a CD of lullabies for Emma’s last birthday.  Alycea sings like an angel, her voice is about as beautiful as any I’ve ever heard and she also happens to play the guitar beautifully.  There are only a few vocalists I am moved to tears by when listening to them sing and Alycea is one of them.

So for the past week and a half Emma has chosen to listen to Alycea sing before going to sleep.

As Em and I lay in bed together last night, listening to Alycea I thought about how happy Emma is when left to her own devices.  Her median state is one of tranquility.  When she was a baby we use to describe her as being in her own hippy dippy acid trippy little world.  She was just so happy all the time.  (That this should have been our first tip that something was “off” is an interesting comment on what we believe is “good”.)  As I lay next to Emma contemplating all of this, Alycea began to sing the John Lennon song, Beautiful Boy, written for his son, Sean.  Except Alycea changed the words to “Beautiful Girl.”  In Alycea’s version the song ends with – “Beautiful girl, Darling, Darling, Darling Emma.”  (I can’t even write this without feeling a little weepy.)

But every night, Emma jumps out of bed when she hears the first “Darling” and turns the music off.

“Wait Em.  Let’s wait and hear the last part,” I protested.

“No.  Music all done,” Emma said firmly, while removing the CD.

So I began to sing the last words – “Darling Emma.”

But Emma clamped her hand over my mouth and said sternly, “Mommy no!  Be quiet!”

Now one could interpret this to mean that my voice in no way able to reproduce the ethereal beauty of Alycea’s and that in comparison Emma simply cannot tolerate it or one can try to muddle one’s way through the puzzle of why those last few words Emma cannot listen to.  It reminds me of my favorite book written on autism, by Clara Claiborne Park called Exiting Nirvana My Daughter’s Life With Autism.  Her daughter explains to her, when she’s much older and more verbal that certain things were intolerable to her because they were “too good.”  I wondered for a moment whether these last few words in Emma’s lullaby are “too good” and so Emma can’t hear them.

Until Emma can tell me, this question will be filed under – questions to ask Emma – along with all the others.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and to hear her sing Que Sera, Sera with Alycea, go to:

Emma wearing another “pretty dress”.

Nic Teaching Emma to Play the Piano

A few weeks ago Nic was playing “Hey Jude” on the piano.  “Hey Jude” happens to be one of Emma’s favorite songs, so Emma sang along as Nic played.  A little later, maybe the fifth or sixth time Nic ran through the first verse, Emma wandered over and stood beside him at the keyboard.  Every now and then she would play a note and look at him.  Within a few minutes she was seated at the piano and Nic was teaching her the notes.  (That’s Nic’s hand on the right side of the photo showing Emma which note to play.)

In the beginning Nic helped her by prompting her to find the correct notes, but after a few times, she was “prompting” herself.

This is an instance when her ‘perseverative’ behavior pays off.  After much practicing the notes Nic showed her, Emma was able to play the first verse of “Hey Jude”!