Thursday, February 5, 2015

Oh, yes, this girl with Down syndrome can sing


A video of a 13-year-old Toronto girl singing All of Me has gone viral. This is because she's singing with real heart and because she's able to sing, period.

Madison Tevlin has Down syndrome. People with DS can have speech and language challenges; memorizing does not come easy. They also, as Madison's vocal coach Marla Joy noted, may have "low, monotone, gruffy voices." One study published in Down Syndrome Research and Practice noted that few people with Down syndrome can sing at all.

But Madison kills it. Here, watch:



The majority of comments on YouTube were complimentary, encouraging and supportive. Parents of kids with special needs found Madison inspiring. "My daughter also has Down syndrome, she just turned 1 last week," wrote one Stephen Ferguson. "When I see beautiful, talented young women like Madison, it gives me so much hope for the future!"

Inevitably, the ignorati critiqued Madison's singing. "I'm not going to cater to her because she has a disability," noted one commenter. "I understand it was hard for her to do, but that doesn't make it good." Mused another, "Why are we treating her differently just because she's got down syndrome?"

News flash: This isn't American Idol. It didn't seem like Madison or her family set out to snag a Grammy. And besides, it's entirely small-minded to judge a girl with Down syndrome by mainstream standards. Kids and teens with special needs do things in their own unique way. Madison put real feeling into the song and made it hers. She gave it personality. Her voice sounded sweet and pure. She sang in rhythm, clearly proud of herself. What kind of pitiful person would take this teen down? Forget whether or not she's totally in tune. Love her perfect imperfections or leave her alone. 

Then there's the fact that Madison's singing is remarkable considering her challenges, as the captions on the video make clear. Praising her doesn't mean giving her a special pass—it's recognizing achievement. Last summer, Max sang Let It Go in a session with his music therapist. He belted it out with enthusiasm, articulating words as best he could. It would be laughable for anyone to compare Max's version to the original. And yet, it was an amazing performance in its own right, as I'm sure Idina would agree. (I don't know about Madison, but Max is available for performances if you can pay in chocolate ice-cream.)

So, yes, Madison gets props because she is a person with Down syndrome singing like this—and also because she clearly has abilities. If people can't find the beauty in her singing or get what makes it so great, well, then, their mindset is off-key.

Image of Madison Tevlin: Screen grab, YouTube video

33 comments:

  1. I LOVE Madison. I also shared her story on my blog. Her determination really struck me.

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  2. I have a friend with Down syndrome. She is in the school choir like I'm in band. Judging her according to mainstream standards would be like judging me in a flute contest with Galway. I think people like the girl in the video and my friend (They have the same name!!!) exist to each the world that you don't have to be the strongest, fastest, smartest, or most famous to be happy.

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  3. With your hype of this video, I actually expected to hear a beautiful rendition of one of my favorite songs. Instead, I hear what sounds like a drunk frat girl singing karaoke on Wednesday night at her local bar. She is off key, unable to pronounce the words correctly, loses the time/beat of the song repeatedly, and is in general not even mediocre.

    There comes a time in one's life when one must realize that they are not able to do certain things. Some people excel at sports, others can barely walk across the floor without tripping over their own two feet. Some people can paint masterpieces with their feet, others cannot draw a stick figure with a template. Some people can sing beautifully, others cannot carry a tune in a bucket. This girl was saying the words to the best of her ability. Yes, she has surpassed what others of her infliction are capable of, but that does not mean that what she has produced is worthy of praise. Stop trying to throw PC cards on the table in a desperate attempt to normalize your mistakes. She did the best she could but she is not anything special (beyond the special olympics that is). Stop beating your "I'm SPECIAL needs" PC drum. The world is tired of hearing it.

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    1. This kind of negativity is unwarranted and unappreciated. If that's how you feel you shouldn't even be on this blog.

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    2. I am an autistic flutist in high school band, but I'm no Galway. That doesn't give people like you the right to disparage others simply for trying their best.

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    3. Why can't you just appreciate the effort she put in to get to this point...

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    4. Her "infliction"? Our children are "mistakes"? Wow. I can't imagine what it must be like to possess such an ignorant, backward viewpoint and have to live with yourself. And what a sad existence you must have to take time to comment in depth on a blog whose very purpose you clearly disdain. Who's the most in need person here? Who is most in need of help, and truly pitiful? Hmmmm….

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    5. FYI, your comments are going to be erased, going forward. They are offensive to people with disabilities and to those who love them, and offensive to people with human decency.

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  4. Anonymous, why are you even on this blog if that's how you feel? Take your negativity elsewhere.

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  5. Being accommodated = good. Being treated differently = bad. Overcoming the odds = good. Inspiration porn = bad. Having media include everybody as a matter of course = good. Applying the same standards to everybody = bad. While the tone on most of the comments so far is nasty (doesn't help credibility much) it can get confusing to sort everything out. As I think about it, I think part of the reason for this is common to the human experience for all of us. Some days us typical folks want the sympathy or the gold star, other days we just want to blend in and not stand out. So unfortunately, the rules will change from person to person and day to day no matter who you are interacting with. We're too dynamic to get it right every time, so we just do the best we can. But at ALL times, we want to be respected.

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    1. Well said. I saw a lot of positive comments on the YouTube video!

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  6. I'd be sad to face a world where it's not a good thing to just celebrate and encourage others. I'm pretty sure we could all use a little more of that in our lives. Well done Madison and well said Ellen.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Everyone has ablities. The ablities of people with disablities should not be compared to their nondisabled peers but instead recognized for their greatness and extrodinary determination and effort. Great Job Madison!

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  8. Anonymous you are an ignoramus

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  9. I think the problem is that we are not sure what you want out of the regular people. We are expected to know what each disabled person wants at all times then when we don't live up to the disabled persons standards you jump all over us. We're supposed to know who wants the parade for doing nothing and the one who doesn't want any attention even when they do something that would be amazing for a regular person. If we treat you like equals then we get yelled at for not making sure you stand out. If we praise you and make you stand out from the crowd then we get yelled at for not making you equals. It gets really old having to be careful not to set off the keg of dynamite and we get tired of it. You're giving anyonymous a hard time because you don't like what hes saying but if you read it froma neutral side it makes sense. Go ahead and flog me now.

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    1. Sophie, thanks for jumping in. The comment left was derogatory and offensive–it goes beyond agreeing or disagreeing. As for how we treat people with disability, it's like I said in this post: I think kids with special needs should not be held to typical standards. To that effect, yes, I and many do think Madison is worthy of praise. It's not kid-glove treatment. It's about leveling the playing field. And yes, me and many other parents of kids with special needs would like our kids included in activities and elsewhere and generally treated equally. These are not contradictory goals.

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    2. You say its about leveling the playing field and general equality but how are we supposed to do that unless we treat you differently with different standards? We get that you want your kids put on the soccer team and be allowed to score the winning goal but that is not possible if your kids are not physically able to do it. If your kids cant keep up with the other players while theyre running down the field are we supposed to tell our kids to slow down so your kids can catch up? Are we supposed to not beat the team with the disabled kid on it so that the disabled kid can feel special? That was why the special olympics and special needs classes where created so that the disabled kids would be able to play on that leveled playing field but then after awhile that wasn't enough to keep the disabled crowd happy so then there was a fight to be placed on the regular skill level teams. When your kids were put on the regular skill level teams there were alot that cant keep up so that was a problem. Parents of disabled kids wanted their kids in regular school classes but that creates problems because there was already overburdened teachers that were barely making it every day trying to help the regular kids from falling behind. Now they are having to ignore the regular kids to give every minute of time to the disabled kids so all the kids are suffering. It just seems that no matter what we do it is just never enough. You keep moving the cheese as the old expression goes then get mad when we cant keep up with whats expected out of the regular people. And it seems that theres been alot of time in your blog here where you really overboard attack people. I understand that when you go through life with a hammer that everything looks like a nail but sometimes it seems you are using a sledgehammer to smash a paper clip.

      I know this isnt goingt o come across right but Im really not trying to be snotty or mean or make anybody mad. I just dont know how else to say it.

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    3. I am a flutist. I cannot play clarinet music because it's too hard, but because it's too low and therefore out of my range. A clarinetist can say the same about flute music being too high. I am unable to play chords on my instrument unless it's harmonics, in which case I have to overblow a LOT to achieve such a thing. A string musician may not have the breath support of a wind musician. Flute is small, but it requires more than a tuba. A bassoon is in the same key as a flute, but it is significantly larger and has a lower range than a flute. Oboists have to release air out of the corners of their mouths to play well. Trumpets are very loud and often have the melody. However, all instrumentalists have a part to play, even in the most diverse of ensembles.

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    4. I totally agree with you Anna that everyone has a part to play. My question is should everyone be allowed to play with the London Philharmonic just because they can play an instrument? Should they be placed on stage even if they can only play at basic level while everyone else is expert? And ty for cluing me in on SLP :) What do you suggest we do because it seems like the world is at a standstill with neither side giving in and a few of us in the middle ducking for cover and scared to move.

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    5. I think, if you make the audition, you should play. Not everyone can or wants to be in a group like that, regardless of any disability or the lack thereof. I don't think I'll ever advance to the professional level as it looks to be too cutthroat for my tastes. What you said about getting a parade for doing nothing is hurtful. An inch in your eyes might be light years in someone else's, so, unless you know the person well, do not judge the extent of their achievements.

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    6. I don't think we are on the same page Anna. Are you saying that as long as someone shows up then they should be allowed to participate even if they don't have the skills?

      I want to be perfectly clear here so I am going to try again. I absolutely believe that if someone with any disability performs at the same level of as someone without a disability then of course they should be allowed to do so. I absolutely do NOT believe that someone should be placed into a regular mainstream team or band or whatever just because they have a disability but they want to feel included. Leveling the playing field means overlooking the persons lack of ability to perform at the same skill level as everyone else just because they have a disability. To be perfectly clear, this would be like you showing up at the London Philharmonic and demanding to be allowed to play even though you only possess a school band skill level then throwing a fit because they don't let you play. Does that make sense? And when I said that about getting a parade for doing nothing I was referring to the many disabled people who feel they should get extra treatment just because they are disabled.

      I am guessing by your comments that you are probably very young. I was NOT judging the extent of anyone's achievements in my HYPOTHETICAL comment but that is part of the problem I was referring to so in a way you have helped prove my point. I have used a musical reference here because you seem to relate to that but just to be perfectly clear, I am not literally referring to you walking into the LP to play then being mad when they tell you no.

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    7. I am 6th chair of 15 in an audition-based symphonic band and 4th of 10 in a high school band. I have played for two years. On top of that, I am in three honors classes. The professional level is cutthroat and reserved for the best of the best, so I currently have no plans to move to that level. Some musicians with disabilities can meet or exceed professional standards. Evelyn Glennie is a deaf percussionist and she is one of, if not the best today. To add, I am not a citizen of England and joining that group would be logistically impossible for me.

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    8. I don't know why my last comment was removed because I didn't say anything bad at all so will try again. I will keep this as direct as possible so tha tyou understand.

      Do you believe that you should be allowed to walk into any audition and be allowed to join just because you have a disability? No tryouts. You are not able to play more than a few scales or a simply tune like Happy Birthday. You don't have to be able to play beyond a basic level. All you have to do is show up and be put on stage with everyone else who is extremely talented and at levels far more advanced than you just because you have a disability.

      I do not think that anyone should be allowed on any team, band, event, job, whatever if they cannot perform to the same level as everyone else just because they say Im disabled and I want to play on this team with everyone else. If you have the skills to match or surpass everyone else then of course you should be allowed to play but that is very different than demanding people level the playing field by holding back their own skills just so you can play on that team. Surely you would never expect that your fellow bandmembers only play songs that you can perform even though they are capable to playing far more intricate works just because you are disabled?

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  10. Hi. First, thank you Sophie for using your name and speaking your piece. I have never commented on this blog, but feel the need to do so today. Hi Ellen. I read your blog regularly. But now is not the time to share why. That will come.

    Sophie, I get it. I really do. From your words I hope I assume correctly that you do not live with a disability, at least not in the sense that mainstream society considers a disabling condition.

    I, however, do live with a disability. CP as a matter of fact. A reoccurring topic of a little boy and his family on this blog reminds me very much of my own life as a child. :)

    A am a power wheelchair user and speak quite well, but tend to squeak when I am excited or mad. I prefer the world of the internet where I can communicate without judgement of my differences, only my words.

    However, your words spoke to me. And no, I won't flog you and I write here to ask others not to either.

    What you are asking for is respect. It is what we all ask for disabled or not. You want the disabled community to tell you how to treat us. Yet, from your perspective you are confused. Should you stand with us in pride of our smaller, yet no less meaningful accomplishments? Yet, we wish to blend in, so don't praise us. God bless you for being confused and yet for speaking your piece here. You understand. The difference is your words were said with respect. The previous unnamed commenter was very disrespectful and lacked understanding.

    On another note, I am an SLP with CP and worked with folks just like Madison. What she has done is truly remarkable from a vocal and communicative standpoint, but she too was speaking her piece as you and I and all here have done.

    Madison spoke her piece through song, and she should not be flogged either.

    Lauren

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    1. Lauren, thank you for speaking up and clarifying.

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    2. What are we supposed to do then Music? When everything we do is wrong we feel like giving up on trying to make people happy. I dont know what a SLP is but I dont think people are trying to flog Madison personally but I think theres alot of people out here who are just burned out.

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    3. SLP=Speech Language Pathologist

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  11. I think criticism is OK when the person is looking for it. I've seen too many music competitions, for example, when a well-meaning judge over-praises a musician because they have a disability, which annoys the musician because they want to be judged on the music (regardless of whether the music was more difficult for them). Since she's on YouTube she IS putting herself out for feedback, and informed, honest feedback is a good thing. The comments above don't seem that way, though. So do it constructively, I guess is all I'm saying.

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  12. Beautiful voice! Keep on singing, girlfriend!

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  13. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post and video. Madison is such an inspiration and an amazing girl!

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Thanks for sharing!