Music from the soul

Wesley Chapel teen uses piano to battle autism

By Kyle LoJacono

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Today James Williams’ fingers move swiftly along piano keys with the effortless grace of a master musician, but the Wesley Chapel High freshman wasn’t instantly drawn to the classical instrument.

Williams first gave the ivories a try around age 7, but he did not respond well to the teaching methods. They were not designed for someone with autism — like Williams.

James Williams

He put music on hold for several years before rediscovering his skill in 2010 during a talent show at Weightman Middle, where he earned the president’s award for achievement. Something clicked the second time around and now Williams is happiest while playing.

“It feels like I’m successful when I play,” Williams said.

For Williams’ mother, Stephanie Dawson, seeing her son perform is like a dream.

“For me it is a great encouragement to watch him play — gives hope for others that having autism is no bar to success or achieving goals,” Dawson said. “He is determined and it spurs me on to strive to promote organizations established to help children with autism.”

Rewind 11 years to when Williams was 3. That’s when he was diagnosed with autism, which caused delayed speech and other stunted developments. He didn’t say his first word until after his third birthday.

Dawson said his speech caused bullying early during Williams’ education. He went through many therapy sessions and today has a high level of functioning autism, but things really got better when he found his way back in front of a piano.

“He is completely immersed in his music (which) has a calming effect and helps him to concentrate,” Dawson said.

Williams has played for many sizable audiences, which does not faze him one bit.

“I like to play in front of large crowds,” Williams said. “My dream is to play at a grand concert hall or massive stadium on a grand piano, and if Beethoven was still alive I would have loved to play for him.”

Williams sticks mainly to classical music, such as pieces written by Mozart and Beethoven, but plays by ear instead of reading the music. Dawson said he taught himself many well-known pieces with this method.

Williams may soon grace television sets across the country, as he auditioned for America’s Got Talent and is waiting to hear if he made the final cut.

Williams will also be performing a little closer to home with another local talent — Lutz 13-year-old opera singer Maria Zoller. The pair will be at the Organic Life Coffeehouse and Bakery, 1900 Oak Grove Blvd. in Lutz, on Saturday, March 17 at 7 p.m.

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