Derek's Triumph

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By Melanie Peterson
Gilroy, CA

I always buy the sheet music for the plays I buy. Derek (name changed for confidentiality) was a mainstreamed and intelligent student with autism that I had in my class one year. Although he was friendly and eager to play and have friends, his black-and-white way of seeing the world was difficult for the other students to appreciate. Derek was quick to tattle because rules should not be broken, ever. Receiving acknowledgment and praise from his peers was rare. 

We were practicing the play California Missions—and More! to perform for fellow students and parents at the end of that year. Derek was eager to participate, so with lines memorized and ready, he played his part and played it well. But what he really loved was music. 

Unbeknownst to me, his mother had gone online and purchased not only the play but the sheet music as well. Derek learned to play every song on the piano even though we had only agreed to have him play one or two songs along with the CD. 

The day of the performance, everything started well, and then the CD player just died. With no accompanying music, many of the students showed the beginnings of panic on their faces. That was when Derek came to the rescue. With just the smallest of promptings, Derek ran to the piano and accompanied every song for the entire play. He left the piano only once, to say his lines. 

At the end of the performance, every child was brought to the front to be announced and take a bow for the audience (giving each parent a photo opportunity). In the nerves and relief of the performance being over, I managed to forget to acknowledge Derek’s last-minute contribution as pianist. The students interrupted and announced him themselves and all applauded as he took center stage for an additional bow. The audience was not alone in their applause as every student cheered for Derek that day. As each child gathered their things and left with their parent who had attended, I could see tears in Derek’s mom's eyes. 

It is now my policy to buy the sheet music with every play purchase (I have nine now). You never know when the next Derek will show up!


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