Savant abilities are part of the experience of a small proportion of people with autism, Asperger’s syndrome or other developmental disability. But extraordinary talents are also present in more or less “normal” or neurotypical people without learning differences or deficits.
The movie “Rain Man” was based in part on Kim Peek who was not autistic, but had congenital brain abnormalities. And Daniel Tammet, who is autistic, can recite more than 22,000 digits of pi from memory.
[Read more about him in my post Developing multiple talents: what about savant abilities?
In his upcoming book Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired, and Sudden Savant, Darold A. Treffert, MD writes about “another group of individuals where advanced musical ability, blindness and massive memory are intertwined” – singers of the Coptic religion.
he site coptic-cairo.com explains: “The main characteristics of Coptic music have been adopted from the music of the ancient Egyptians. Coptic music was handed down verbally for nearly twenty centuries by the blind cantors who sang the hymns in the churches.”
The photo is Cantor Mikhail Girgis El Batanouny (1873-1957).
Dr. Treffert quotes scholar Ernest Newlandsmith: “This music has never until now been committed to paper, but has been handed down orally through the centuries.
“The memory of the blind musicians who sing it is so astounding that vast as the range of the music the slightest error in its performance is at once detected.
“Such a feat of memory is little less than a miracle for although purely melodic some of the hymns are often so extremely complicated that they would completely baffle a first rate opera singer.
“Several of the larger hymns take as much as twenty minutes to sing, and frequently there are pages of music to a single syllable of a word.”
From The Ancient Music of the Coptic Church – A lecture delivered at the University of Oxford, on May 21, 1931.
Dr. Treffert continues, “Later in the book I write about “normal” savants, neurotypical persons who have some savant-like skills and capacities.
“As such persons, these blind cantors, with their advanced musical and memory capacities, without disabilities, add an interesting dimension to the complex interrelationship between diminished vision and musical genius.”
> You can hear samples of this beautiful music from the album Coptic Liturgies.
> Also see articles by Darold Treffert.
autistic savant, gifted savant, savant book, savant syndrome
Article publié pour la première fois le 09/04/2010