East End Arts student with Asperger’s hits the red carpet

Patricia Boardman says her son Brandon has excelled in music since he was 2, when he remembers being told he had perfect pitch. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)
Patricia Boardman says her son Brandon has excelled in music since he was 2, when he remembers being told he had perfect pitch. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Billy Johnson, a jazz bassist who’s been Mr. Boardman’s piano teacher at East End Arts for five years, said Mr. Boardman enjoys those types of songs “because it’s like an achievement.”

“You work really hard on your goal and you achieve it,” he said. “With music, it’s a spontaneous thing. You don’t have to wait a few years for your goals to come around — you can create more and of more it. You’ll see when he plays there’s a smile on his face when it happens.”

Mr. Johnson said although there is a wide range of different notes, the average person can only hear a small portion of them. Mr. Boardman possibly hears all of them, his teacher believes.

Matthew Lerner, Ph.D, an assistant professor of psychology, psychiatry and pediatrics with Stony Brook University’s department of psychology, said recent studies show some people with autism — Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder — can identify more details in music than others. He said his department has been conducting studies to learn more about those on the autism spectrum and to use those insights to learn how to improve their quality of life.

Although people with autism are able to pick up on emotions relayed in music, it’s sometimes harder for them to differentiate between “happy and sad voices” and they might have issues with dexterity, he said.

Dr. Lerner also said it’s important not to “token people with autism” and presume they are all musical prodigies.

“Nonetheless,” he said, “there’s good evidence that people with autism are extra good with identifying little details the rest of us miss.”

Mr. Boardman said he remembers developing a passion for the piano at age 2, when he first learned he “has perfect pitch.”

His mother, who’s worked as a special education teacher aide for 12 years and currently works with students individually at Aquebogue Elementary School, said she’s “really proud he was able to accomplish what others said he couldn’t do.”

“The secret is to just provide whatever he needs that will help him along the way,” she said.

All of the guidance Mr. Boardman has received — from his mother and family to the musicians he’s worked with — has taught him about perseverance and becoming independent.

He also credits East End Arts, where he has studied piano for 15 years, with developing his love of teaching and performing.

“It’s a great experience because this is a place where I can develop my techniques and experience playing in different styles,” he said. “Especially with Mr. Johnson, because he taught me a lot about improvisational style and how to experiment with it.”

As Mr. Boardman prepares to live on his own next year at Five Towns College in Dix Hills, where he plans to major in music performance and music education, Mr. Johnson said he’s helping his student develop another skill called “player’s chops,” which can only be obtained through performing regularly in front of an audience.

“He has everything else,” Mr. Johnson said. “Once he gets his player’s chops, there’s nothing on this planet that’s going to stop him.”

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Click on the next tab for more photos of Brandon Boardman at the Long Island Music Hall of Fame Gala.