By CHAZ PLAGER
Diagnosed with severe autism when he was three, Jacob Rock only knows how to say two words – ”food” and “yes” – he has also written a symphony, which debuted September 30 in Alex Theatre in Glendale.
Rock’s journey as a music composer was atypical and unexpected. Diagnosed with non-oral autism, he was home schooled. His dad Paul is a successful music producer, so there were always musical instruments in the home.
Rock underwent sensory and music therapy, which helped him control himself, but he was not able to speak. He liked to watch game shows on television.
After six years of grueling therapy, which started when he was 10, he became able to slowly, painstakingly type out sentences on an iPad.
When Jacob was sixteen, he used his new mode of communication to reveal that while he hadn’t been speaking his whole life, he had been listening. He had used what he’d learned about music watching his father’s work to create an outline for a six-phase, seventy-minute symphony titled “Unforgettable Sunrise”.
“It’s the sunrise on me learning to communicate,” Jacob wrote.
Paul Rock, Jacob’s father, is a successful music producer who has produced for The Lovin Spoonful, John Sebastian, The Band, and many more Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.
By watching his father and having instruments to play with since he was a toddler, Jacob, now 19, learned the fundamentals of music.
“I never taught him directly. He had years of music therapy, and we gave him instruments to play with as a kid, but composing a symphony was something I guess he absorbed by watching me,” Paul said.
Once Jacob had revealed the symphony, Rob Laufer, Paul’s friend and an accomplished producer in his own right, workshopped the symphony alongside Paul and Jacob.
Before they knew it, what was initially planned to be a ten or so musician affair had transformed into a tour de force requiring 54 musicians to produce. And with the new press attention surrounding Jacob, they were able to procure those 54 from the USC Thornton School of Music.
Jacob regularly sat in on their practice sessions to offer feedback.
“It’s kind of awe-inspiring. It’s wonderful to see him get excited over his own music being played,” Paul said. “Before, we just had a computer and a mock-up of everything and how it would sound, and now we have a real orchestra being able to play it. It’s awesome, but it was also really surprising at the time. I just decided to go with it at the time, and I’m very glad I did.”
Outside of music, Jacob also loves Jeopardy, going for walks: he does a two-mile walk every day, and driving with his dad, which helps him come up with ideas for symphonies. His greatest inspirations are Frank Zappa, Paul McCartney, and Mozart.
Paul graciously allowed me to attend the concert with a center row seat. Those who know me know I’m not the type to sugarcoat my opinion on something just because I was shown generosity, which is why I’m especially happy to say that the show was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped it would be, and even more so in some respects.
Conducted by Daniel Newman-Lesler, the symphony leads listeners on a journey through Jacob’s mind, illustrating his anxiety, fear, happiness, and sadness as it progresses through his life.
There are many parts in the symphony where it feels like the instruments are fighting one another, with each side struggling to drown out the other before one side eventually wins.
I can’t overstate how much talent Jacob has to create something like this, especially without formal training. My thanks also go out to Rob and Paul for helping bring this performance to life.
When asked about his future in music, Jacob wrote “I want to be damn famous for my own work and I’m excited about my opera.” Jacob’s opera is still untitled but is apparently in progress. For now, he seems to be planning on taking a rest to bask in his accomplishments—which, as one can see, is a bit hard to blame him for.