Inspiring Dundee teen drummer with autism accepted into American music college

An inspiring teenage drummer from Dundee has been accepted into Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States. Ciaran Roberts-Osterberg has autism and has had a love for drumming from a young age and I wanted to write an article on him about his inspirational story. 

Ciaran Roberts-Osterberg was born with autism at a young age and had almost died from post urethral valves which went undiagnosed by doctors. Urine had built up in his bladder which ruptured and turned septic and as he grew up, he started to get bullied and to get him away from the people that teased him, his teachers had sent him into the music room in school and that is where his love for music began.

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Ciaran had found a passion for drumming back in high school

After asking him how he started his passion for drumming, Ciaran said:

“I found my love for drumming from hearing drums being played in my old high school’s music department. I loved the sound the drums made and how drums sound in music, and I decided it was something I wanted to learn. I don’t know if it is because of the fact that I am Autistic, but there is something extremely comfortable to me about percussion and rhythm.”

“I then started listening to jazz and I realised how melodic the drums can be, I become even more fascinated with the drums and I wanted to devote myself to learning everything I could about them, as well as everything I could about jazz..”

Being born with autism, it can also sometimes be associated with sensory issues as well which Ciaran had, I wanted to ask him how his sensory issues impacted on his drumming as well as asking if playing drums had a positive effect on his autism:

“Oh yes definitely. Being autistic, something commonly associated with this condition is sensory issues (reactions to loud noises) and although I wear ear defenders whenever I play drums, this has never put me off playing them. Drumming has helped me get almost a “handle” on aspects of my autism. I have become practiced enough to not get overwhelmed, as much as I may have done before. I am able to multitask a lot more confidently and I am much more emotionally aware of how I feel/how I make others feel, and communicate those feelings more through music. As well as this, I am a lot more confident in myself and I’m not afraid to express who I am when I play music.”

During the process of applying for Berklee College of Music, he had to go to London and audition on his own and after performing a specific music piece for drums and had also performed alongside one of the Berklee faculty members and afterwards demonstrate different grooves like rock, fund, jazz and reggae to name a few.

I had to travel down to London, to partake in a live audition, which I did at the Premises Studios in East London. Adele, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones have all stood in the same room I auditioned in. That was thrilling and helped calm my nerves.

I had to perform a piece written specifically for drums, then do “ear-tests” (This was so they knew I could sing back melodies and short phrases), but they gave me much harder tests because I have developed perfect pitch through “ear-training”, which my mentor Gordon McNeil showed me is the best way to train your ears musically.

After this, I got to jam with one of the Berklee faculty members who was on my audition panel. She played piano alongside me on a 12-Bar Blues, where she and I improvised between one another. Finally, my panel asked me to demonstrate different grooves like rock, fund, jazz and reggae to name a few.

I finished my audition with an informal interview with them and a formal interview shortly afterwards with another member of staff. My panel told me I was the best audition they had had all day, which made me feel amazing!

I am just a boy from a normal school in Dundee, that started playing at 12. Some of the other people auditioning were from amazing backgrounds with great musical access (like international boarding schools and private schools in London), people that had musical expertise they started working on from age 3! Yet, they said I was the best audition!”

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Ciaran has been accepted into Berklee College of Music in Boston

Afterwards, he had been accepted in the college and his reaction was incredible!

“I was shaking and crying, I just couldn’t believe it was actually real. I felt I was dreaming! But it was a dream come true!”

I asked him what he aspires to do in the future and what advice he would give to others who were interested in music – especially drumming:

“I hope that after I graduate I can move to New York City for a while, before eventually returning to my home – I love Dundee – so I can try and make a name for myself in the centre of the music world and be as successful as possible. I will also return home, during my holidays whilst studying so I can continue teaching young musicians in Dundee and teach classes on what I have learnt at Berklee, in a master-class sort of style. I want to be able to pass on what I have learned to younger Dundonians and inspire them to pursue their musical dreams like I have. You have to follow your dreams and take risks, and if you are helped along the way – you should pass that on. Pay it forward and Keep on, Keepin’ on!”

“My advice would be as far as playing goes, the most important thing in music is your ears. Listen to music as much as you can and play along to records. Try to copy what’s going on in the music and that way you’ll pick up what the masters are playing. Above all, always play to have fun. Do it always for enjoyment first.

Don’t play like a robot, play from your soul. Play what you feel in your heart and always be open to learning more about your instrument and experimenting. Be creative, improvise! In my book, if you do this, you’ll become not only an amazing player, but a beautiful person too. Most importantly though, CHASE YOUR DREAMS!! Don’t listen to anyone that tells you to “get real’ or to give up. The only person who can stand in your way, is you! I had a dream and if an Autistic young lad fae Dundee can get invited to Berklee, to study from people like Pharell and Quincy Jones – then just think what else is possible!”

‘Looking to raise funds’

As Ciaran has been accepted into a $13,000-a-year scholarship, he now has to raise funds to pay for the rest of his tuition by September — which stands at $70,000 a year.

Ciaran and his mother Christina are set to hold events in the next few weeks to raise money for his tuition and have also set up an online donation page on GoFundMe to help him reach his goal to achieve his dream.

People who are eager to help Ciaran reach Berklee can visit his GoFundMe page here:

‘Anything is possible’

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Ciaran’s classmates and teachers said it wasn’t possible for him to become a drummer

Lastly, I found out when Ciaran dreamed to become a drummer, his classmates and teachers said to him that his aspirations to become one, they said it was just a fantasy and that it wouldn’t be possible to get to a professional drumming level:

“At school there were so many people, and even a few teachers, who told me they didn’t think it was possible. They said I would never be able to do it — I should get real and try to get a proper job.”

What it came across to me was that Ciaran’s classmates and teachers were completely wrong. Ciaran and any person with autism can aspire to become anything, don’t let others tell you that you can’t, you can – anything is possible.

Ciaran’s story is an inspiring one and if you are wanting to help Ciaran achieve his dream, you can donate to his fundraising page.

Dundee’s Young People is a series of features showcasing and celebrating the talents of Dundee’s young people during the Year of Young People in 2018 launched by the Scottish Government. A project designed by Dundee Culture to let audiences know about the impact young people have in Dundee. 


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