Into Your (Joe’s) World
by Michael C. Kregler
As a composer, I’ve always tried to follow this self-imposed advice: in order to create authentic and convincing music, be sure to a) study great composers, and b) write within your own experience. The latter would become especially significant when, in April of 2017, my son Joseph was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Feeling unsure of what to do and even how to feel, I reached out to two close friends who happen to work in the autism field: David J. Finch, author the New York Times best-selling book, The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband, and Amanda Friedman, Executive Director of the Atlas Foundation for Autism, ADHD, LD and other learning differences.
Amanda and Dave’s advice, dispensed over the course of many generous hours via the telephone and Skype, was simple and inspiring. Their surprisingly positive words immediately took root in my heart and mind, especially the phrases “he’s not broken” and “get into his world.” Dave recommended I read Dr. Barry Prizant’s revelatory book Uniquely Human, which I devoured in a matter of days. Amanda stressed the importance of accepting Joe’s unique behaviors that kept him regulated, wisely me advising me to imitate him rather trying to squelch those habits.
Both Dave and Amanda promised this would be an amazing journey, and it has been exactly that. Joe, a remarkably content and achingly sweet child independent of his autism, has made consistent progress and has taught me how to connect with him in ways I never thought possible. His communicativeness has increased starkly since his diagnosis, including (but not limited to) the amount of eye contact he makes. He also smiles a lot more, welcomes my affection and closeness (which he previously shirked), and even initiates physical contact when he wants a hug or some other type of interaction.
So, it wasn’t very long before the composer in me started dreaming up a “concept piece” based on my experiences with Joe. Various examples of his behaviors – an expressive sort of humming that he often uses in place of words, his infatuation with spinning circular objects, the way he enjoys tilting his head, as if to “see inside” – are purposefully integrated into the text and music. In fact, in a live performance the singers are seen, at certain points, tilting their heads and making circular hand motions before their eyes. In the spirit of inclusion, the audience is invited to do the same.
Into Your World was premiered at Providence College in April, 2018 by the school’s elite choral chamber ensemble, I Cantori, under the direction of my friend and colleague, Dr. T.J. Harper. While I trust in the functionality of my compositions and certainly expected the piece to be effective, the emotional response was overwhelming. Numerous students, parents, and faculty members expressed in person and/or via email how much the music had touched them. I can only hope that Into Your World will now be shared and shared often through performance, social media, etc., in order to offer a piece of Joe’s soul and to help raise awareness about autism and neurodiversity.
The score (i.e., sheet music) for Into Your World bears the dedication, “for Joseph Celio and all who share his sweet and guileless mind and spirit.” What’s more, I’ve come to refer to the composition as “Joe’s Piece.”
He wrote the music just as much as I did.
Accomplished composer, arranger, and accompanist Mike Kregler was born in New York, New York. He earned both undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Miami before beginning his wide-ranging career in music.
As composer and arranger, Mike composes regularly on commission has been published by Walton and GIA for his compositions Soldier’s Elegy, The Baby’s Dance, and Heart, We Will Forget Him!. In 2016, he had the honor of having Now Winter Nights, a major work for chorus and orchestra, premiered by the Warwick Symphony Orchestra and a RI ACDA Select Chorus. Thinking of you and all that was…. for women’s chorus and piano was commissioned in 2017 by Regina McAdam, director of choirs at North Smithfield High School. Other recent compositions include Sabor for SATB chorus and piano (premiered by the Brockton High School Chorus under the direction of Matt Cunningham), Alleluia (composed for the Massachusetts Tri-County Choral Festival under the direction of Dr. Teresa Coffman), and Three Songs after Texts or Rumi for voice and piano (commissioned and premiered by PC alumnus and UM Amherst M.M. conducting student Joan Miller). In April, 2018, Into Your World, a choral composition about neurodiversity, inspired by the composer’s autistic son, Joe, was premiered at Providence College by the dynamic voices of I Cantori under the direction Dr. T.J. Harper.
As accompanist and pianist, Kregler has developed the reputation for being equally adept in the fields of jazz, opera, choral music, art song, chamber music, musical theater, and popular music. He is passionate about collaborating with seasoned artists as well as helping to motivate and stir the talents of young musicians. Mike has played extensively throughout the Northeast and currently serves as faculty accompanist and lecturer at PC.
When not accompanying or composing, Mike enjoys “mucha parranda” with his Colombian friends, dancing, dining, cooking, and pulling shots of espresso. He lives in Lincoln, RI. with his wife, flutist Mary Ellen Kregler, and his sons James Joseph, Anthony Thomas, and Joseph Celio.
Is there a recording online of this piece of work? I looked on Youtube but didn’t see it. I would love to share with my choir director. Our choir is committed to diversity and this piece might interest her. Thanks cheri
Hi, Cheri! Thanks so much for your comment. Here’s the link:
Hope you enjoy it. Please share!
Hi Mike, This is absolutely gorgeous! Thank you so much for your beautiful music and for letting me into Joe’s world. You have such a beautiful family and I’m sure the gift of music will be Joe’s source of continuing strength as he grows.
Bravo…I greatly enjoyed your music. I know first hand what you mean by looking inside.
May I suggest the work of Dr. Stephen Porges as a greater understanding of the conditions that autism imposes on the vagal nerve system. The fight or flight response is suffering of the ASD/Asperger’s individual. Both emotionally and physically it interrupts and causes havoc in their lives.
Food; gut health…love is power, but understanding what interrupts nourishment; nurturing is more important.
I highly recommend the polyvagal theory. It is a non-drug approach to the difficulties of societal adjustment — it is functional medicine that aids in the lost time waiting for the late bloomer to bloom sometimes.
A lot of times terrible fear, and shame, misunderstanding obscures the beautiful, and hors and days and sometimes decades are lost under masks of pretense.
By the time we figure it all out, arrested development has stolen a life.
Polyvagalism is good for all humans, but this greater understanding of what goes on inside the autist both neurologically and physiologically can aid in faster development and less lost time.
Life is short enough.
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