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Last on

Sat 21 Nov 2009 15:30 BBC Radio 4

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 17 November 2009

Composer Matthew King discovers how the extraordinary abilities of musical savant Derek Paravicini are unlocking the secret of how we all makes sense of music.

Pianist Derek Paravicini is a phenomenon, possessor of a truly extraordinary musical mind. His abilities are renowned: he can play virtually any piece, in any style you wish, in any key, and identify complex chords of more than a dozen notes in split seconds. He has wowed crowds from London to Las Vegas, performed at Ronnie Scott's and Queen Elizabeth Hall, and been the subject of media attention across the world.

Yet Derek was born totally blind, with severe developmental and learning disabilities. He finds everyday tasks difficult, and requires 24-hour support. Derek is a musical 'savant' - owner of a talent that far transcends his disability, like the autistic artist Stephen Wiltshire or Dustin Hoffman's character Raymond Babbitt in the film Rain Man. Over the last three decades Derek has stunned experts with his seemingly effortless musical understanding, an innate ability to know what 'fits' in any musical context, from classical to jazz to rock.

Prof Adam Ockelford has been Derek's friend and mentor since he was a small child. Now one of the UK's leading experts in music psychology, Prof Ockelford believes that Derek's remarkable abilities may hold the key to understanding how humans make sense of music, and the unique effect it has on us all.

Matthew King explores the world of the musical savant, meeting Derek Paravicini to try and find out how his brain processes, understands and remembers music. The programme features contributions from Dr Darold Treffert, adviser on Rain Man and the world's most renowned expert on savant syndrome, and the parents of a young autistic girl with remarkable musical gifts.

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