Gifted autistic teenager breaking barriers through music

Young pianist’s project, supported by The Melita Foundation, shows that people with a disability can also occupy centre stage
Alessia Bonnici

Sitting in front of a piano, Alessia Bonnici is transported to a world of music where all communication barriers fade and she speaks through the powerful notes of the music she plays.

Born on the autism spectrum, the 17-year-old finds it challenging to use language and follow mainstream academic curricula but has found freedom in music and the arts after discovering a gift in playing the piano.

The young girl is still on a high after returning from the Access Tampere Next Generation Culture Festival 2023 in Finland this week, where she played alongside other performers from 15 countries supported by Arts Council Malta.

Alessia, who receives tremendous support from her mother Cynthia, is a student at the Malta School of Music, reading for a diploma in piano under the tutorship of pianist Gabi Sultana. She also attends Villabianca Centre for Music & the Arts, a project by The Malta Trust Foundation under the guidance of pianist and music therapist Rosetta Debattista.

The Melita Foundation has been following the progress of this gifted teenager and helped support Ale’s Project, an artistic production backed by Arts Council Malta that depicts a unique and non-traditional narrative often ignored and unheard by society − that of a successful performer with a disability.

Bonnici said that the funding received from The Melita Foundation helped in contributing to the realisation of this artistic production.

“The experience of most persons with disability is constrained by dominating narratives that centre around the able-bodied and normative standards. Through Ale’s Project, the audience can realise that people with disability can also occupy centre stage,” she said.

In the production, each person in contact with Alessia had to embrace a non-verbal method of communication, requiring them to push their creative output beyond their usual boundaries.

“Alessia was incredibly empowered by the whole process, from research to pre-production and production phase we could see her bloom… It was a joy for the team and for her family to see her changing and engaging in exchange with all the artists involved throughout the duration of the project,” the foundation said.

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