Autism, music bring The Kingsmen together
Their namesakes are known for recording one of the most popular party songs of all time.
Now, San Diego County’s version of The Kingsmen might never record a song as memorable as “Louie, Louie,” but it could be argued that music is more important to them than it is to more successful bands.
You see, the four young men of The Kingsmen are autistic. And music brought them together.
The band is made up of Charlie Poole, 16, Rancho Santa Fe, vocals and keyboards; Reid Moriarty, 15, Solana Beach, vocals and keyboards; Kent Makings, 10, Encinitas, vocals and keyboards; and Conor Dawson, 15, Point Loma, drums. Also a valuable member of the group is Rachel Gant, a music therapist at the Music Therapy Center of California. She keeps things running smoothly, organizes rehearsals, helps with song choices and plays guitar.
The band has been together for about a year. But in that year, they’ve performed around the county, recorded a CD and will be one of three bands featured in a documentary about autistic musicians.
It was at the Music Therapy Center in San Diego where the band members met and got together, thanks to Angela Neve, the center’s founder and director.
Neve said young autistic people need a lot of work on social skills, and music offers an outlet for them to do that. After working on basic skills and choosing a specific instrument, Neve said putting the young musicians in a band environment is a positive step for them in several ways.
“They learn to present themselves in a public setting, overcome nervousness and then get the satisfaction of hearing applause,” she said. “It’s incredible to see the steps they’ve taken.”
Andrea Moriarty, Reid’s mother, agrees.
“It takes them beyond learning the basic social and language skills and teaches them social skills such as speaking publicly at concerts and other life skills,” she said. “Playing live takes it out of the therapy realm into a more natural setting. And the therapist is there as a bridge to interpret and help out in other ways.”
Andrea Moriarty also serves on the board of Banding Together, a nonprofit that provides music therapy scholarships, mentorships and instruments for youths with special needs. Donations received from the group’s CD go to the organization.
“It’s a way for the boys to give back to the kids what they’ve been given,” she said.
Another thing that band members have been given is the opportunity to play with several San Diego-area musicians, including jazz musician Steph Johnson and, just recently, John Cooper of the Howls.
“When we bring in musicians, it’s great because they have a different way of interacting. It creates a whole different energy when you bring in a musician,” Andrea Moriarty said. “Guest musicians are often surprised at the talent of the guys. The music becomes a link, and it takes the communication to a whole different level.”
Steph Johnson had nothing but good things to say about her experience with the band.
“I had a great time playing with The Kingsmen. They were super enthusiastic and welcoming to me. I am always down to play with The Kingsmen,” she said.
The band has also caught the eye of NYU film student Michelle Delateur, who found the band on MySpace. Her documentary, “Rockism,” will explore the development of The Kingsmen and two similar bands, one from Pittsburgh and one from Chico.
Andrea Moriarty calls the whole experience amazing.
“This has been such a motivator for him (her son). He’s a ham, and a lot of his behavior is attention-getting, so this is perfect. He really steps up to the plate.”
Neve also thinks the attention is positive.
“They have a lot to offer, and it’s good for the community, too, to see that these kids have something to offer.”
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