Rex is a musical savant.  He performs in public.  He’s been on 60 Minutes twice. He is 13-years-old.

Rex Lewis-Clack then, as now, was a study in contrasts: blind and full of enthusiasm, yet unable to dress himself, or even carry on a basic conversation. But with everything Rex couldn’t do, he could perform a musical feat. Stahl played him a song he had never heard, with his old piano teacher singing along. Rex, who can’t see the keys, was able to replay the entire sequence, after hearing it only once.

Rex is a musical savant, one of a handful of people in the world who share a mysterious combination of blindness, mental disability, and musical genius. But away from the piano, he was easily upset, confused by basic concepts, such as the difference between a square and a circle, and unable to find his way around the apartment he’d lived in his whole life.

Music seemed to be Rex’s only real connection to the world — to normalcy. And the question was how far it could take him. Now, five years later at age 13, he is playing Debussy for audiences around the country.

Let’s forget for a moment, the insult of the world “normalcy” in the 60 Minutes piece, and concentrate more on what appears to be Rex’s exploitation by his family, his instructors and the mainstream media.

What is the point of celebrating Rex is such an ongoing, public, and salacious manner?  Is it to make him extra-special against over savants?

Hasn’t Rex been made into a performing monkey — A Sideshow Savant, if you will — created to make money and curry fame for those around him?  There’s an important distinction between teaching children in private and using them in the public eye.

What is the point of The Savant Academy?  Does a place like that raise a false hope?  Are all savants expected to perform and earn like Rex?

If the people around Rex really cared for him — they would celebrate him in private and help him become a proper member of society — as it stands right now, it seems he’s a living marionette, controlled by his keepers, and enslaved by the very talent we hoped would set him free.

5 Comments

  1. He is a living marionette, but what’s worse, is there any hope for him to be a proper member of society if he can’t tell a square from a circle or get around his own home? It seems impossible for him to do just about anything and that is sad.

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  2. Very sad, David. He’s an exceptional talent and someone close should either somehow prepare him for a conservatory or find a program that has experience of working with musical prodigies like him.

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  3. The place I linked, The Savant Academy, is supposed to be a conservatory for savants, but in watching stories and reading about that place it seems more centered around publicly celebrating the genius of its founder than in the private teaching of its students.
    I don’t think Savants need to be placed in the public eye for the goggling. Let them have their private lives. They will forever be in the care of the state, so why force them into the public eye to perform? They don’t need to pay their bills. Savants should not be used to enhance anyone’s bottom line.

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