We believe that the power of music can transform any life, which is probably why, if you look around the school, you can see the huge diversity among our students. From babies to seniors, beginners to aspiring professionals, jazz singers to Irish fiddlers – everyone’s life can be enriched through studying music. But, we are especially proud to help students who are blind, deaf, or have other special needs. One of our first special needs students is a legend around these halls, and his life has been dramatically transformed by music.
It wasn’t until Michael Regner was 10 that he got the label of “autism” that helped explain his social isolation and slow speech development, but his mother Marcia was determined to have him be a part of their musical family. At the time, Indian Hill didn’t have any special needs students, but Marcia filled out an application anyway. “Everyone said, if you can get him into Indian Hill, do it,” she explained. “And Indian Hill was open to it.”
He started taking voice lessons with Sue Bonito, which not only helped develop Michael’s singing voice, but his breath control and diction. “She was a great teacher, and she did very well with him. Sue always had a lot of great ideas. He thrived on the one-on-one interaction.”
After two wonderful years with Sue, they decided to get a different point of view, so they started to work with Mary Crowe, who encouraged Michael to experiment with choreography. “She was enthusiastic, always positive, good at praising him when necessary,” Marcia said. “He was able to try all different kinds of music – he especially loves Broadway.”
Michael’s teachers loved him back. They would say that they wished all their students were like Michael because of his drive to do well. Neither his family nor teachers ever had to remind him to practice.
Michael’s rehearsing paid off – he performed solos and duets in several Performathons. Even though he was nervous, he always came through for the performance.
These days, Michael is 35 and living in a group home on the South Shore that is too far for weekly lessons. However, his mother is still involved with Indian Hill as a member of the Threshold Singers. Michael hasn’t stopped practicing his scales and learning new pieces, though. He has done solo performances and participated in musicals. He’s lectured at his family church and even did some voiceover work for a documentary on autism. He was especially proud of his recent performance of the challenging and tongue-twisting Broadway classic “Modern Major General” from Pirates of Penzance.
Would Marcia recommend music lessons for other autistic children and adults? Absolutely. “Music is what initially opened Michael up. It gave him a world where he was accepted and could contribute his skills. Music made him talk more. The more he trained in voice, the more it built his confidence and self-esteem. It gave him a sense of belonging, especially when he was able to do group things, like duets or musicals. In the early years after an autism diagnosis, it’s so easy to focus on what’s wrong, but the strength of autistic children is their creative side. The more you can build up and strengthen that, the better their development. You just have to keep going after it.”