With his strong, vibrant baritone, Michael's performance would have been impressive regardless of the circumstances. What made it astonishing, however, is the fact that Michael has been autistic since birth and has attended special education classes most of his life.
When Michael came to College of Marin several years ago, he discovered that, with a little help from Disabled Students Programs & Services (DSPS) and Casa Allegra Community Services, he could succeed in credit classes. His love of music and desire to be an entertainer soon led him to the Music Department.
Michael's earnestness and perserverance won him many supporters among the Music Department faculty and staff, beginning with Dr. Stan Kraczek, in whose College Chorus Michael made his College of Marin debut. He was soon "promoted" to the late Martin Frick's prestigious Chamber Singers, but he was temporarily stymied in his desire to take more music classes; they all required that he first pass a Music Fundamentals class.
The written tests in Music Fundamentals require concentration and focusing, tasks that are difficult for people with autism. With tutors from DSPS and dogged persistance, however, Michael succeeded in opening every door.
It has been Donna Dutton, his tutor, mentor and coach, who has been the biggest help. Donna, whose developmentally delayed daughter, Dusty, is also a College of Marin student, has the musical knowledge, as well as the patience and motivation, to help Michael reach his potential.
Michael, says his mother Kathy, was also "blessed to fall into the hands of Linda Noble," a College of Marin voice teacher. Michael has also sung in two college opera productions with instructor Paul Smith.
"He just keeps growing," says Kathy Valcour. "We're amazed at what he's done."
Michael now volunteers in local special education classes, playing guitar, singing children's songs and leading student participation. He has written three songs of his own, and has performed at several parties and events for the likes of Casa Allegra, Special Olympics and Upper Brookside School. There are plans to start work on a CD.
"Every few months," says Michael's father, Arnold, "he reaches a new plateau."
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