Autistic cellist finds his goal, voice to music
LOS ANGELES – For Adam Mandela Walden, the cello is not just an instrument. This is how he interacts with the world.
Adam was almost a year old when his mother, Roseanne Walden, says he stopped talking and making eye contact. He’s been diagnosed with moderate / severe autism and hasn’t spoken for years, but Roseanne says he’s found a way to function that makes him happy.
âIt’s absolutely music,â she said.
As a young child, Roseanne got Adam involved in Special Olympics. Someone there recommended that she try playing the violin, and she says it was going well with one exception.
After Adam finished a song, she said “he would take a victory lap around the house”.
A cello, she thought, might keep him more grounded. So when he was about 5 or 6, she bought him one.
âAnd that was it. He was in love, “she recalls.” It literally became her voice. “
Adam is no stranger to the spotlight. British neuroscientist Oliver Sachs diagnosed him with Scientist Syndrome. He has been featured in two HBO documentaries on autism and has performed with the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra, touring California with Gustavo Dudamel.
Adam played the cello for federal judges when his mother successfully fought to get him into a magnetic school. Once there, Roseanne continued to fight, this time to get him into the school orchestra. She is still moved when she remembers this first performance.
âWe worked so hard to make it fit in,â she said, barely fighting back tears. âHe was the only special kid in his class and his classmates were so proud of him. “
She continued to defend her place in the music world, living with Adam in Boston while he attended Berklee College of Music.
âThat’s what he’s supposed to do,â she said of her son. “It’s his way of being part of society.”
Getting Adam seen and heard is Roseanne’s life mission, and appearing on stage as part of the LA County Holiday celebration is certainly one way to introduce him to another large audience. The 62nd annual event is a celebration of the diversity of the Angelenos, featuring artists from all walks of life, neighborhoods, cultures and abilities.
Roseanne says their family went to the show every year when Adam was a child.
âWe always said to her, ‘you know, Adam, if you practice, maybe one year you can be on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Stage’,â she recalls.
This will be Adam’s first year there, accompanied by classical pianist Jordan Daniels as he performs two classical pieces. Adam knows the music by heart, but he keeps practicing, to make sure he’s ready.
âI can’t wait to perform on stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown LA,â he said.
Adam is also working on an original composition that includes excerpts from a book written by a 13-year-old autistic boy called “The Reason I Jump”. He recites the text playing original pieces inspired by it.
“But what we really want,” he read between rhythmic notes, “is to be able to look to a better future.”
This is also what his mother wants. Roseanne is very worried about Adam’s future after his departure and hopes to create a place for him, a musical group home especially for people with autism.
“We have to find their place in society for what they can do and what they can contribute,” she explained.
They have strengths and talents and a lot to teach us, she says. We just have to learn to listen.
Due to concerns about COVID-19, the LA County holiday celebration will not be played live in front of an audience. Instead, it will be streaming and televised on Christmas Eve and over Christmas.