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A Special Story About A Special Man Doing Special Work

Occupational Octaves
“Occupational Octaves” A method developed by Lee Stockner that enables Autistic children to read music and successfully play the piano culminating in giving recitals. Photo Courtesy of Max Watkins.

I wonder if I could take your mind off COVID-19 for a few minutes to tell you about Lee Stockner, a very special young man in New York who teaches piano primarily to Autistic children.

Understanding the limited attention span, Lee developed a system using colors as a teaching tool.  His system is called “Occupational Octaves” and was the subject of a recent 10-minute, 8 seconds documentary that was in the top 100 of over 5,000 worldwide submissions.  This short film was scheduled to screen at Pasadena Film Festival, which was cancelled due to the CoronaVirus.  We do need to see something that uplifts the human spirit so below is a link to the documentary and I invite you to take a few minutes and watch the this joyful film.

This is the story in Lee’s own words:

“Ten years into my piano teaching career, I met a young man with Autism. Although I had no experience in special education, his mom asked me to give him piano lessons and we began working together. That student had comprehension skills strong enough to learn to read traditional music notation.  However, once I began working with K-12 students with Autism, many lacked those skills and could never learn to read music.”

Occupational Octaves students Gabe and Annie
Left: Gabe, one of Lee’s students, wears the color-coded rings around his fingers, aiding him in learning how to effectively read music for the piano. Right: Despite limited attention spans, students like Annie concentrate on learning the color-coded music. Photos courtesy of Max Watkins.
Lee giving a lesson to Ruby
Lee giving a lesson to Ruby, a slightly older student who also does well with his method of teaching music. Photos courtesy of Max Watkins.

“I let necessity be the mother of innovation and created a new language of music where the students wear color-coded finger bands with matching colors on the keyboard. Although the teaching approach is different, my students learn and perform the same pieces of music you’d learn in traditional piano lessons, ranging from Bach to Beethoven.”

Jason and Jacob receiving instructions from Lee
Jason and Jacob receiving instructions from Lee. Photo courtesy of Max Watkins.

Please note:  Although I have a strong policy of not reviewing material from family or friends, I made an exception in this case as Lee Stockner is my nephew, but I decided to not hold that against him as his work is pioneering and deserves attention.

Lee Stockner, San Lu, student Brendan Lu, and Max Watkins
L-R: Lee Stockner, San Lu, student Brendan Lu, and Max Watkins, producer and director of “Occupational Octaves,” are in a celebratory mood following the successful filming of Brendan’s recital.

Watch the video

Visit the Occupational Octaves Piano site for further information

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