A year and a half ago, young Timmy Schmit joined the Irish Fest School of Music for bodhran lessons with our instructor Patrick Roe. Timmy is already well on his way to becoming a true bodhran master. Last year, Patrick began to give Timmy’s lessons at the Schmit home for scheduling reasons, and that is where a new adventure began.
Timmy’s older brother Jon took a huge interest in Timmy’s lessons, listening in often and continuously adding more and more Irish music to his iPod. From folk to ballads, his collection is now full of amazing artists like the Clancy Brothers, Makem and Clancy, and many others. “I strongly suspect our Jonny is the biggest fan of traditional Irish music there is,” says his mother. “For years he has watched our daughters dance, he has opened and closed Irish Fest with my parents and we won’t even discuss his adoration for the Clancy Brothers and Gaelic Storm!”
Jon and Timmy’s family is very involved with the Irish Fest School of Music, with three of the family’s four children taking lessons. Their mother, Michelle, is grateful for the “incredible array of instructors,” they have been able to meet through various sessions and events. “Their enthusiasm, care, patience and talent are unbelievable,” says Michelle. “It is at the root of our culture to be hospitable and to be family, and that is what we have experienced and then some.”
Coming from a multi-generational musical family, Jon had always hoped to learn to play and sing as well. His dad plays piano, his sister flute and whistle, his aunts fiddle and flute, and both of his sisters are Irish dancers, but Jon faced only disappointment when his would-be teacher could not teach him.
After Timmy’s at-home bodhran lessons had begun, Michelle asked Patrick Roe if he would be willing to teach Jon to play guitar and sing the way he had always hoped. She explained that it would take a special kind of patience to do so. You see, Jon has Down syndrome. “Without hesitation, I said I would be happy to teach Jon,” says Patrick. “From that day in September, we were off and running.”
In order to best serve Jon, Patrick researched how to best teach people with Down syndrome. He found some great resources online, but he found he learned most through simply spending time with Jon. “I learned as much from Jon as he has learned from me,” says Patrick. “At first we both struggled, but the thing about Jon is that he wants this!” Patrick couldn’t be more proud of the amount of effort he sees Jon put into their lessons. “Sometimes he has to work twice as hard to get half as far, but he is always positive and cheerful. He revels in his successes, large or small – a great lesson for all of us to learn.”
Since starting his lessons last September, Jon has made great progress toward his goal. His excitement remains strong, and he brings a great sense of humor and politeness to his lessons. “You never saw a young man so excited, so thrilled that he was going to get to learn the songs he loves,” says Patrick. “To say that Jon has enthusiasm is an understatement!”
Jon’s parents are just as enthusiastic about these lessons and the happiness they have brought to their son. Not only has his musical talent grown, but also his speech and his confidence. “If you could see his face as he practices and during his lessons, you could not help but be touched,” says Michelle. “To see joy – true joy – one someone’s face is a gift.”
Jon and Patrick’s journey continues as they work and learn together. If Jon feels ready, he may decide to sing and play a few songs at the Irish Fest School of Music presentation during Irish Fest this August. “If Jon does join in,” asks Patrick, “Please be especially kind to him and extend all the support you can. One thing I have learned from Jon is that he just wants what we all want – to be part of something, to have his place.”
By Chelsey Porth