Musical savant Tony DeBlois knows how to play 8,000 songs, but the first song he played at his performance Sunday was one everyone knew — “Happy Birthday.”
“Tuesday is my birthday, sing along everybody!” said DeBlois as he played the birthday song at the start of his piano concert held at Immaculate Conception Church as a fundraiser for Special Connections of Grundy County.
DeBlois, of Randolph, Mass., is a 39-year-old blind and autistic man who has Savant Syndrome, which is a “rare condition” in which someone who has an emotional disorder or subnormal intelligence has an extraordinary gift. Savants have been known for their math, music, art and mechanical abilities.
DeBlois’ extraordinary gift is in music. He can play 23 instruments and can sing in 11 languages.
This weekend he performed multiple times, including at several Masses at the catholic church, including singing in Spanish at the Spanish Mass; a dueling piano show Saturday night; and an evening performance Sunday.
At Saturday’s performance, held at Chapin’s North Banquets inside the Quality Inn, more than 200 people watched DeBlois and local celebrity Tony Kidonakis do a dueling piano show, said Jennifer Price, president of Special Connections.
It was DeBlois’ first time doing a dueling piano show and it was such a hit they are already planning to do it again next year at a bigger venue, she said.
At Sunday’s performance, more than 400 attended.
Special Connections of Grundy County is an organization with the goal of providing information and resources, as well as social, recreational and leisure opportunities, for the developmentally disabled community, from children to adults.
Last year, DeBlois helped raise more than $5,000 with one show for Special Connections. Totals have not been counted yet for this year’s shows.
“It’s definitely a significant amount, which is amazing, but more important even, and the reason we do this concert, is to inspire people,” said Price.
The goal in bringing DeBlois to Morris originally, and why the organization continues to, is to show people what the special-needs community has to offer, she said, and how great their abilities are.
Noemi Noscal of Morris brought her son, Nathen, to DeBlois’ Sunday night solo performance to show her son the strengths of someone who is different.
“It’s good for him to have inspiration and to not be scared,” she said.
THE SUNDAY SHOW
DeBlois performances are always different, said Price, and attract both new and repeat observers.
“Last year, we saw him for the first time and then we went last night and at the Sunday Masses too. It’s a blessing to see him. You can go your whole life and not see a savant and what they’re capable of. It’s fantastic,” said Doug Cotter of Morris.
At Sunday’s performance, DeBlois spent the first half playing pieces he enjoys most, and ones that were written just for him. The second half was all requested songs.
Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz,” The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and some Liberace hits were some of the crowd favorites.
During “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” he sang some of it in German.
DeBlois’ mother, Janice, shared stories with the audience as she introduced the next song he was performing.
In the first half of his Sunday concert, DeBlois sang a few songs from his “Thank God for Life” Christian CD. Prior to him singing the title song, Janice told the story of her son’s birth.
DeBlois was born blind and at 1 pound and 3/4 of an ounce. The doctors told her she should let her son die.
“Oh what the world would be missing,” said Janice to the audience as her son started playing “Thank God for Life.”
DeBlois ended his concert with what he called a “special message.”
“It’s OK to be different. Believe in yourself. Don’t give up on your dreams. Always have high hopes,” he said.
And the three most important words, he said, are: “Practice, practice, practice.”
For more information, to purchase DeBlois’ CDs or donate toward his next recording visit www.tonydeblois.com.
For additional information about Special Connections visit specialconnections.org.