Anthony Esolen on the Divine Music of an Autistic Son
The vain imagination of man, that factory of idols, hums along. Somewhere in its shabby basement stands the laboratory wherein parents will soon select their children, pasting their chromosomes together, falling before the nothingness of “choice.” What sorrow for the world will be bred, the Lord knows. For there it will not be a matter of choosing up sides at the sandlot, with the last little ones waiting until someone says, to their relief, “I pick you.”
There the choice is for existence itself. And, if I may press the metaphor, many a poor fellow like the one young man I love most in the world, my son David, will be left standing outside the fence, looking in—to the terrible impoverishment of our lives.
“What’s this one?” I asked him, clanking my knife against the side of a wine bottle. He hardly looked up; too busy munching a snack.
“There’s more than one note,” he said, and sang them out, testing them for accuracy. “C and C sha-a-arp.”
I plinked out that discord on the piano in the other room. Sure enough.
“How about this?” I followed it up, playing a chord in the third octave above middle C.
“D and A,” he sang.
It took him a moment longer. “G sharp and A sharp,” he said.
Davey has never been taught to do that. Had we tried to engineer him into musical genius, we would surely have failed. Nor was he ever taught, at five, to draw pictures of computer keyboards, complete with cross-hatching and trapezoids tapering to a handsomely eccentric vanishing point. Nor how to take computers apart with screwdrivers and put them back in order, cobbling together spare parts salvaged from machines left on the side of the road.
Anthony Esolen is a professor at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire, and the author of many books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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