Malibu Musical Prodigy to Launch New Foundation

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Piano savant Rex Lewis-Clack, who was born blind and autistic, will graduate from Malibu High School next week with the class of 2013. His musical accomplishments include performing a concert for Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill (far left), accompanied by mom Cathleen Lewis (second from left), at a home concert in Washington, D.C.

For Rex Lewis-Clack, who graduated from Malibu High School in June, music has been a life-changing gift. Born blind and diagnosed as autistic as a child, doctors believed Rex would never walk or talk. But at age two, his father’s gift of a tiny keyboard proved providential; within six years, his skills were so advanced that the television program “60 Minutes” did the first of three features on his remarkable life. 

“It’s like music opened him up completely,” said his mother, Cathleen Lewis. “He has gone so far beyond what his doctors told me he would be able to do.”

Now, Rex and his mother are launching a new foundation, in his name, to bring music education to help others like him. 

The Rex and Friends Foundation will launch on Sunday, Dec. 15 with a 6 p.m. concert at the Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Rex will perform with Grammy-nominated composer/pianist Gabriela Montero, as well as talented students from the school he now attends, Performing Arts Studio West (PASW) in Inglewood. PASW trains and represents young performers with developmental disabilities. 

The foundation is designed to raise awareness and funding for music therapy and education.

“I have seen it over and over,” Lewis said. “Music is effective as a means of educating people with intellectual disabilities, but there’s never enough money to provide that opportunity for autistic children. Working with Performing Arts Studio West, we want to change that. God knows where Rex would be without music.” 

The lineup should make for an entertaining evening. 

Montero played for President Obama’s inauguration in 2009, alongside the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman. She is known in the classical world for fielding suggestions from the audience and spontaneously playing entire recitals of classical music, tailoring them to a specific composer’s style, such as Bach or Beethoven. Since improvising is one of Rex’s specialties as well, their duets together should provide completely new material that has never been performed before. 

The concert will also feature the talents of other students from PASW with their own unique challenges. 

Rex is going to sing several duets with Patrick Storey, a young man with autism who had no verbal language skills at all until he was a teen, when he began singing opera. 

Storey’s father, Jim, said that his son was pretty much nonverbal as a child. 

“But we would notice him mimicking radio jingles or commercials and he was dead-on,” Jim said. “Eventually, he got involved with this musical version of ‘Toy Story’ and his director told me that he had the best voice of anyone in the program.” 

Storey’s perfect pitch and strong baritone help in his large repertoire of classical selections, though he also sings vocal jazz and has worked with the Mira Costa Choir. 

“Patrick can hear anything and tell you what key it’s in,” his father said. “Neither my wife nor I are musical, but Patrick can hear an electric toothbrush and tell you what key it is.” 

Once the foundation kicks off, Lewis and her talented son hope to provide other young people with developmental disabilities the chance to grow. They want to offer music therapy and education in personalized development programs created by working with individuals and families directly. 

“People who are blind and autistic need help navigating everything,” Lewis said. “We hope to eventually build a foundation that provides music teachers and logistics for schools that serve these students.” 

As for Sunday’s performance, Rex himself says there won’t be any jitters playing in a big concert hall. 

“I never get nervous,” Rex, who is planning on playing a varied program, including Rachmaninoff, said. “It’s very exciting to be working with Gabriela.” 

Hopefully, one day there will be more success stories. 

“The ongoing theme for Rex and Friends is that music is a bridge to life,” Lewis said. “Music helped Rex cross that bridge from complete dysfunction to communication and self-esteem. With music, Rex is someone.” 

For more information on Rex and Friends, and to purchase tickets, visit the website: http://www. rexandfriends.org/.