By Miriam McBreen, Reading Specialist
This April, Xiersen hosted its first “Music in the Loft” event, a concert to celebrate Autism Awareness Month. Carole Gabay, who sang as a soprano in the event, is the recipient of the 1st prize from the Music Academy of France. Her son, Jonathan, has autism. In this interview with ELG, Carole shares a bit about her role in organizing the event, and why it was meaningful to her.
Where It Began
When I was 8, a friend of my late grandfather told my father I had musical sense and decided to offer me a piano. My parents signed me up for music school, but I slowly realized my connection to music wasn’t through my fingers. When I was 16, my uncle married someone who has been significant to my musical life. My new aunt found me a voice teacher, and that’s how I started, very humbly.
At 27, living outside of Paris, I auditioned for a regional music school and was immediately accepted. I performed at several friends’ weddings, and I joined a group of amateur singers doing French light opera, but I didn’t want to have my life fully centered around my art.
I had two children and a successful career when we found out about Jonathan’s problems.
In February 2007, my husband came home and told me his company was sending him to Japan; that’s when both my careers went international.
Carole Does Shanghai
When I moved to Shanghai, I put up an ad at a music academy and started connecting with other musicians. Pascal, a pianist who was visiting China, reached out to me. We decided to do something together, a few dozen people came, and now people knew me as a singer. I continued to extend my network to other musicians who don’t make a living from music, but who are talented and want to perform, including Patrick (who played cello at the event.
I met Alex (who played bass at the event) through a performance. I received a message from a conductor I knew in Shanghai asking if I could sing in his performance of Mozart’s requiem the next week. His Chinese soprano had quit, so I had just one week to prepare. I went to rehearsal, and Alex helped me to practice. We discussed our interest in music, and I found he was a good fit for my music partners.
How “Music in the Loft” Came About
Along with some of the musicians I play with, I started thinking about doing concerts for charity. Every year I sing for the French gala, which supports myopathy research, and I do two concerts with Pascal and Patrick annually – we have a good routine. We give a big part of the proceeds to the charity, and for the spring concert, we wanted to do it with another charity. I have a friend at the Rotary Club of Shanghai, who suggested doing a concert with them, and that’s when I reached out to Andrew Hill and Xiersen.
Jonathan’s Response to Music
When my eldest son was young, he was very possessive of me. One day, he came to see me sing in a nursing home, and in the middle of the show, he started to come onstage. I asked him what was wrong, and he told me: “There are people watching, and I don’t want them to think you are their mother”. For him, his mother’s singing was very personal, and that was his way to express it. Jonathan cannot express it in the same way, but I think he feels a bit the same.
Jonathan likes music; he gets excited when he hears it. He’s been making a lot of improvements lately – he’s much quieter, more settled. In December, I was asked to play at the Japanese ball, and Jonathan came. He was very quiet and attentive during the whole performance.
[Pianist Pascal played “Mozart, Sonata n.16 K 545 – 1st movement” in celebration of autism awareness.]
That was because of Jonathan, how much he likes that piece. After Chinese New Year, I took him to see a rock musical show based on an opera by Mozart, and he was very quiet, very well-behaved. My mom, in her stock inventory of things for children that Jonathan never cares about, had a book about Mozart, which she gave to Jonathan. A while later, the ayi told my husband “there’s something Jonathan likes a lot in that book”. He kept pressing the button to hear one piece of music, the Sonata. When I was in Paris the following month, practicing with Pascal, we recorded the Sonata for him, and I sent it to him for his birthday. Now, every night, he listens to it.
It was amazing to see a lot of people that I knew, and who knew Jonathan. To see that he would come, be well dressed, and sit and listen to his mother, it was very emotional for me and his father. There were also a lot of people he knew, people he sees every day in school. I told him it’s a concert we’re doing for children like you, so that was very emotional; to have everyone wearing the sleeves. But it wasn’t only about Jonathan, it was a concert for the cause.
For more information about Xiersen and to get involved, visit www.xiersen.org or WeChat official account Xiersen_NGO.