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Derek Paravicini: A Talent and Love for Music

By Darold Treffert, MD

Derek, now in his early twenties, was born premature, at 25 weeks, and weighing just over half a kilogram. As a result of the oxygen therapy required to save his life, Derek lost his sight, and his development was affected too. It later became apparent that he had severe learning difficulties. However, he soon acquired a fascination for music and sound, and, by the age of 4, had taught himself to play a large number of pieces on the piano, of some melodic and harmonic complexity (such as Smoke Gets in your Eyes). Almost inevitably, with no visual models to guide him, his technique was chaotic, and he his elbows would frequently be pressed into service, as he strove to reach intervals beyond the span of his tiny hands!

At this time, his enormous potential was recognised by Adam Ockelford, then music teacher at Linden Lodge School for the Blind in London. In due course, weekly and then daily lessons were arranged, in an extensive programme of tuition that was to last for several years. Painstakingly (though physical demonstration and imitation) Derek acquired the foundations of technique that were necessary for him to move forward. His natural affinity for jazz, pop and light music soon became evident; together with his improvisatory talents, ability to play in any key, and flair for performing in public!

Derek’s first major concert was at the Barbican Halls in London, when he was just 9 (in 1989). He played jazz with the Royal Philharmonic Pops Orchestra. Numerous national and regional television appearances followed, in the UK and overseas. His increasing maturity both as a person and performer enabled him to give concerts in venues across England and in Europe; among them, Ronnie Scott’s renowned jazz club in London.

Today, Derek is a student at Redhill College in Surrey, England, run by the Royal National Institute of the Blind. He attends courses at “SoundScape” — a unique performing arts centre for young adults with learning difficulties and exceptional musical abilities or needs. His talent, love of music, and — above all — the ability to communicate through sound means he will continue to thrill audiences for years to come in the UK and abroad. Doctor Ockelford can be reached at Adam.Ockelford@rnib.org.uk.

Update: May 21, 2013

Derek Paravicini: A truly prodigious musical savant

Once or twice a century there comes along a savant who is a giant among other musical savants who demonstrate the remarkable triad of blindness, musical genius and mental handicap. Three such giants in this rare but sensational condition are Blind Tom, Leslie Lemke and Derek Paravicini. This clip from a recent TEDx/Warwck program shows how far Derek has come with his incredible talent. One wonders what’s next?
Update: April 20, 2009

Derek Paravicini – 2009 Tour with the Emerald Ensemble

TV’s “musical genius” Derek Paravicini, the world famous musical savant, performs in his first tour with the Emerald Ensemble Chamber Orchestra playing classical, blues and jazz standards as well as sensational improvisations based on audience requests. Although severely learning-impaired and blind, Derek has a unique musical mind that moves and astonishes all those who hear him play.

Update: June 22, 2006

Derek Paravicini now has his own website (www.derekparavicini.net). The site gives more biographical information about Derek along with a summary of his recent concert appearances and media productions about him. Both a CD of his works and a book about him will be released later this year.

Derek will be part of several 60 Minutes programs on musical savants currently in production, and a Focus Productions documentary about him will be aired both in the United States and the United Kingdom later this year.

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For more information, please contact:
Darold A. Treffert, MD
St. Agnes Hospital, Fond du Lac Wisconsin
Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison
Personal website: www.daroldtreffert.com
E-mail: daroldt@charter.net