Sofie Hartwick, a Lake Country pianist with autism plays beautifully spontaneous pieces in her debut 10-song album titled Journeys. (Contributed)

Sofie Hartwick, a Lake Country pianist with autism plays beautifully spontaneous pieces in her debut 10-song album titled Journeys. (Contributed)

TAYLOR: It just wells up inside

Autistic pianist in Lake Country records 10-song album

Sofie Hartwick is an anomaly – a gifted pianist who doesn’t read music, doesn’t know what she’s going to play before she starts, and never repeats herself.

And plays beautiful music just the same.

Sofie – I’m using her first name because I think of her as part of my church family – is somewhere on the autism spectrum. Where doesn’t matter.

Typically, she plays a totally spontaneous piece for about three minutes at the conclusion of our church’s sermon/reflection/homily.

Something in the minister’s words sets up a musical thought pattern for her. Perhaps it defines the tempo she’ll play at, or the key she’ll play in. And then she starts playing.

And the rest of us listen in awe.

Recently, Sofie recorded a CD of 10 pieces. Her recording engineer and producer, Mike Schwartzentruber, said this: “Sofie does not rehearse her pieces or memorize them so that she can repeat them in later performances.

“These are true improvisations – transient, occasionally imperfect, yet oh so beautiful, like so many things in nature.”

It’s an apt analogy. Every living thing is unique. Trees do not grow with pre-determined branches. Kittens do not replicate their parents. Even coronaviruses mutate into new variants.

A rehearsed performance is an oddity in nature. Only humans rely on memorized performances.

Mike goes on: “When she sits down at the keyboard, she says, the music – at times tentative, meditative, lyrical, dramatic – wells up within her…”

Sofie’s improvisations make me think of the biblical prophets. And perhaps of other prophets, down through the ages.

They didn’t have a script to follow. They spoke from the heart to a unique situation and context. Commonly, they declared, “Thus saith the Lord…” acknowledging that the words welled up from within them, almost unbidden.

Much like the way that God, or something, inspires the music in Sofie’s fingers. She doesn’t know where it comes from; it just comes.

And the prophets each responded in different ways.

Isaiah created metaphors about deserts and fountains, about shepherds and suffering servants, that inspired the music of Handel some 25 centuries later.

Jeremiah felt impelled to go into the markets and act out silly skits with figs and pottery, trusting that someone would get the point.

Ezekiel had visions of flaming chariots and valleys full of dry bones.

Hosea took a hooker as his wife, knowing his marriage would fail, just like Israel’s marriage to God.

Amos denounced hypocritical feasts and fasts.

None of those were carefully scripted performances. None of them went through extended rehearsals to iron out all the details. They just heard something that they identified as the voice of God throbbing inside them. And they had to pass it on.

Just like Sofie.

I don’t know what Sofie’s message is. Except, perhaps, that she herself is a message. To me, to all of us. To listen to that still small voice somewhere deep inside, and to find our own vehicle for passing it on to others.

If perchance you would like to sample Sofie’s playing, you can listen to 30 seconds of each piece at winfieldunitedchurch.ca. Or Google “Journeys – Sofie Hartwick.” If you then want to download the full CD for $15, there’s a link at the top of that page. No shipping charges for downloads!

Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.

rewrite@shaw.ca