I have written previously about how grateful I was for having music in my life (1). I feel that it saved my life in several different ways. What I have not discussed is the fact that of all the things that I tried to do professionally, the only one that allowed me a degree of success was becoming a voice teacher. Not surprisingly, I found myself being tagged by one of my students to make me aware of Kodi Lee, a blind and autistic young man, performing on America’s Got Talent! (link to Kodi’s Performance here)
This particular student is well aware of my diagnosis, so I approached this with keen interest and some trepidation too. Why? Because I’m painfully aware of the risks of exploitation and the so-called “inspirational porn.” Of course I was rooting for him as I watched the introduction before his performance. It was a brave choice of a song. Quite risky actually.
Fears faded away as I heard the first notes being sung and I enjoyed the richness of Kodi’s voice. For a trained, experienced ear, it sometimes takes very little to recognize POTENTIAL, but I think that in Kodi’s case, we all heard it at once. Those first few words were nothing short of magical. But Kodi had much more for us.
Kodi gave us beauty, passion and nuance in his performance. A rich palette for dynamics, colors and registration acrobatics in service of the song instead of just cheap gimmickry! His vocal delivery effectively touched on rich “emotional overtones” that left me and many of us, in awe.
Many people in the autistic community were brought to tears. Most importantly, he OWNED this moment and his performance was worthy of praise on its own merits, not needing a “pity handicap” due to his physical and neurological challenges, in order to judge favorably the merits of his performance.
I admit that I might be a bit biased, being autistic myself, but so many of us identify so strongly with music or other artistic endeavors as a lifeline, that it’s hard not to. There is so much that we can learn from Kodi’s journey, as well as that of other talented neurodivergent individuals. There are also some things we can do better to support and honor people with different abilities, to be sure.
I will delve into some of these in the future, but I want to keep this one short and sweet for once and maintain the focus on Kodi’s remarkable achievement. He deserves to be heard, enjoyed and celebrated with a sense of gratitude and dignity. Gabrielle Union is on record stating that at some point Kodi, when asked what he wanted to say, replied “Congratulations!” Her take on this was insightful, “Congratulations world, we got Kodi!” I would have to agree. Truly, Kodi’s musical gift and unique voice is also a gift to all of us. Let’s try to make sure we are worthy!
by Eitan Rosa
- Previous article about my relationship with music as a teen and young adult: Thank You for the Music