Joshua Weiser playing keyboard

Music genius a man with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

By Justice Ender

Joshua Weiser makes a notable contribution

He isn’t ready to play. The keyboard isn’t set up right. It isn’t tuned. He presses some buttons, taps a key. It still isn’t right. He presses more buttons. Suddenly he’s set, and with focused intensity he turns the little classroom into a world class concert hall. The people who know him expect nothing less.

Sixteen-year-old Joshua Weiser music genius from Ronan, Mont., who could play music on a keyboard before he could button his shirt. He plays pieces by Beethoven, Bach, Chopin and Mozart. He’s working on memorizing Tchaikovsky’s, “The Nutcracker.” Josh does all this without knowing how to read musical notes. Each song he learns must be listened to, over and over, and committed to memory. Once he knows a song though, he can play using only his mind to recall the correct notes.

His talent isn’t limited to electronic keyboards.

“He can play songs on a xylophone, same as a piano.  Anything with a keyboard he can play,” says his father John.

Josh Weiser quoteJosh learned his first songs from a toy keyboard he’d gotten from a neighbor girl when his family lived in Tucson. His father heard tunes coming from Josh’s room, and thought Josh was just playing back recordings of the Christmas songs stored on the piano. Josh was the one making the music, though, at just six years old.

Their family has since moved back to Montana, where Josh keeps learning new songs at his home and school in Missoula. Still, despite Josh’s natural talent, it isn’t easy. His father says the songs are coming slower now and that Josh has to spend longer memorizing each new song.

Perhaps it is because the songs now are more complex, or that Josh has competing interests. While Josh says music is his favorite thing, he also dreams of being a chess master. This difficult task is something that Josh is already preparing for — he’s never lost a chess match, and he hopes to get involved with the local university’s chess team, so he can face tougher competition.

It might be too that life has put up barriers for Josh, which limit his time to practice. He has health challenges brought on by complications from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and 22q11 deletion syndrome, which has caused damage to his 22nd chromosome. Hospital visits, school work, friends and even other hobbies like wanting to be a game designer split Josh’s attention. Still, he sets even more challenging goals for himself, including designing his own song, “Stars Fall.”

Unlike the other songs Josh can play, “Stars Fall” is his own creation. It means that his only reference points are the notes in his head and his memory of previous attempts at playing it. So far, this has meant the song changes every time, and that Josh’s newest “made-up,” as he calls it, is constantly fresh. Yet the version he does now, dark and haunting with each note building on the last as Josh’s fingers find each key in perfect sequence, sounds like it could have been a piece from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera.”  Of course, it isn’t. The only person who has ever played the eerie melodies of “Stars Fall” is Joshua Weiser.

Justice Ender is a freelance writer in Missoula, Mont.

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