“beautiful small things” Shares the Words of Autistic Youth Through Song

The breadth of LYNX Project’s beautiful small things (out March 10, 2022 via ArtistShare) is imminently notable, with topics spanning the small to the expansive, the mundane to the existential, and the deeply specific to general. Throughout this eclectic collection of songs for voice and piano, the thread is kept personal by the powerful writings of its young poets, who are primarily nonspeaking individuals with autism.

As the sibling of someone who is non-verbal and autistic, this is a topic that is especially close to my heart and one of great importance. Our society very often marginalizes and dehumanizes the differently abled, reducing their experiences down and framing them as less than, when this is entirely not the reality. Their experiences and creations merit our attention just as much as any other, and perhaps even more so in this moment, when they’ve so long been silenced by oppressive systems.

Lynx Project Autism Advocacy Series composers, performers, writers taking a bow--Photo by Andrei Stoltz

LYNX Project Autism Advocacy Series composers, performers, writers taking a bow–Photo by Andrei Stoltz

The album — which includes 18 pieces that were part of the LYNX Project’s Amplify Series that ran from 2017-2020 — features several standout tracks. The opening and title track, Beautiful Small Things sets the tone for the album, with a stunningly concise text by Ryan Harris (“I want to see the world not by the whole, but by the all too beautiful small things”). Set in a musical language reminiscent of Ravel, composer Emily Cooley highlights the quiet specificity and power of the text. In The Dark Night, with text by Michael Zepf and music by Travis Reynolds is one of the most musically intriguing pieces on the album, with a sound-world featuring lush chords and blues-inspired licks and changes that brings the text to life in an extremely memorable fashion.

March 2017 – Lucky is perhaps the most distinct song on the album, featuring an incredibly effective opening based on noise, speech, and other techniques that realize one of the core themes of the album: the desire to speak and to be heard. The text by Luke Burke is heartbreaking in its directness, and the music, written by Joel Balzun, makes it all the more so. The Sixth Extinction acts as a nice contrast with showtune stylings by Tariq Al-Sabir and lyrics by Kenta Mignot that explore environmentalism and speciesism in a rather biting critique of humanity. My Light, with introspective text by Rithik Sinhasan, is also a musical standout, with an especially striking opening on the piano and haunting vocal part, also written by Joel Balzun.

Rap About Girls (text by Aarush Srivastava and music by Benjamin Krause) is a fun and catchy track that inspires empathy. In talking about attraction, it helps to deconstruct one of the dominant cultural narratives of neurodivergent people as sexless beings, which is a deeply harmful and dehumanizing stereotype. The premise is simple — it’s a song about girls — but the result is potent.

Young poet Nina Szabo greets performers at a 2020 LYNX Project concert--Photo by Kate Hursh

Young poet Nina Szabo greets performers at a 2020 LYNX Project concert–Photo by Kate Hursh

With text about asserting herself with a hint of sass, Nina Szabo’s I belong is a bright and hopeful emotional touchstone of the album. The text and music (by Rosśa Crean) weave together beautifully as the song reaches its cathartic peak with the declaration “I am the queen.” Maddie and Dakotah, meanwhile, is a heartwarming and personal song setting two poems, both by Emily Friend. The texts, odes to her sister and best friend, are achingly sweet and incredibly endearing.

Lake Erie, the album closer, turns inward as Darren Stella reflects on a scene, examining the things that stand out and pondering why others don’t see it the same way. It’s effective as an album closer, bringing the scope back to the minute and observable, us seeing now the “beautiful small things.” The music by Benjamin Krause is somber to match and makes the track a tonally effective blending of music and word.

Taken as a whole, beautiful small things is starkly powerful, with interesting music and moving texts throughout. The album can seem somewhat daunting and spread thin, owing to the long track-list of 18 songs. While it may have been more effective if each moment was given more space to shine, the content throughout is extremely strong, and the message and purpose of the project is admirable. At its core, beautiful small things is an album about existing, and it portrays the trials, pitfalls, triumphs of that exceedingly well.


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