By RACHEL LOVROVICH ’18
She sits in a quiet room, bobbing her head to a song unheard. With her headphones on, she creates her own world as her hands dart back and forth from the piano to the keyboard. Each new note builds, and the music swells into her ears. She hums along as she composes a sweet melody.
She is Melody Coleman, a senior music major with a focus in composition. While she escapes into her music, she’s wearing a light blue sweatshirt with an image of a puzzle piece on the back shoulder. April is National Autism Awareness Month, and her Autism Speaks sweatshirt serves to promote the cause that is very near to her.
Coleman is living with Autism.
Coleman has had Asperger’s syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder, her whole life. She said that she was born without a sense of nonverbal communication, which made it hard to socialize growing up. She had to learn social cues and other abilities that most people are born with.
Since she was 4 years old, music has helped her to overcome that.
“I see things a little different,” Coleman said. “Music is one of the main things that my brain can focus in on and do really well.”
Being at PLU has given Coleman the opportunity to face new challenges, but her Autism has proven useful when working with other composers and musicians.
Gregory Youtz, Professor of Music, has been her adviser the past four years and said that she is a very unique student.
“Maybe one of the things that attracts her to music is that it’s a way to deal with and express who she is and what her experiences are,” Youtz said. “I mean, what a wonderful thing for somebody to discover that they can be most uniquely their self through music.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 44 percent of children identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder have average to above average intellectual ability, and with this ability, most have a special talent or area of interest that they excel in.
Coleman said that music gives her meaning and purpose.
“It’s just seeing the world differently, and I think that actually gives me an edge to my music,” Coleman said.
On top of being a female composer in a male dominated profession, Coleman said her autism has helped her to build a portfolio for her future.
“Melody is one of those students that I will have a great deal of fun following in her career. I have great faith in Melody’s creativity,” Youtz said.
Youtz approached Coleman about composing for various PLU MediaLab projects, a task that she has taken on with great success, completing work for local organizations such as the Russell Family Foundation and rescoring parts of MediaLab’s latest documentary, “These Four Years.”
Coleman plans to continue composing and writing songs.
“I don’t feel like either the autism or the competitive market is a deterrent at all from doing what I love. Everybody should do what they love regardless of how scary,” Coleman said.
Find Melody and her music on Twitter at @azureanarchy.
To learn more about Autism, please visit autismspeaks.org.