Brazilian maestro’s career changed after his daughter was diagnosed with autism

February 23, 2013 12:59 pm

Zali LeiteBrazilian conductor Zeli Leite’s life was completely changed after his daughter was diagnosed with autism. Nowadays, he travels the world raising money for the cause and helping other parents through his experience.

When I received an email confirming the date of our interview one point on it grabbed my attention when Zeli Leite, a Brazilian maestro of classical music, mention his biggest inspiration: his daughter Rafaela. I couldn’t stop thinking what made her so special. Anyway, there I was standing on his brother–in-law front door waiting to someone to open the door. Then, a beautiful lady on her 40s opened it and let me in. It was Therezinha, Zeli’s wife. She offered me a glass of water and then Mr Leite stepped into the living room bringing Rafaela with him. I understood immediately all the inspiration came from.

Rafaela is one of the 110 children born with autism that according to The National Autistic Society “is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them”. “Before Rafaela I had a different conception of life and my goals were other. But now everything has changed”, said Leite later. Especially his music and his career have been severe affected by it, however in good way despite all.

First years and awards

Leite first contact with music was at aged 4. His parents were musician – mother teaches guitar, violin and piano and his father used to be a classical guitar tutor. “I remember look at them and wish I could play as they played so I asked if they could teach me. Even though I was far young to learn, my mom decide to taught me the notes in a fun way so I wouldn’t get bored”, recalls Leite while looking at his hands. “And then, I fell in love and couldn’t stop playing it since”.

At aged 16 he already had 13 awards won against teenagers all over Brazil. The musician was 9 years old when he conquered his first premium. He also ended up at first place at the competition organized by the Republic of Austria, in Brazil, in tribute to Mozart on the anniversary of his death. “I used to study between 4 and 5 hours a day without my parents even asking me. I was passionate about my music”. Such dedication was worth it. In 2010, the conductor was awarded with the Carlos Gomes medal, the most prestigious honour that an artist can receive. “Although it’s a music award there is a list of things that they take on consideration like what that person has done for the community, whether that person is a good citizen, and then the awards gained. But first of all they look at your character”, stressed Leite.

Little changes

A musician’s life in Brazil wasn’t easy. “It was very complicated work in this field in Brazil. We didn’t have any support. That’s why I decided to become a lawyer”. And for more than 8 years he left his passion for music aside. However, knowledge in Law would be very  helpful in the long run for Rafaela, even knowing that there wasn’t a cure. It was then that they decided to move to United States.
Nowadays, Leite lives in Richmond, Virginia, USA. The couple decided to move to a place where their special daughter could get better treatment. However, Leite was determinate to help parents in Brazil who didn’t have the opportunity and sources to leave the country. Then, along with his friend and also musician Matheus Souza, he recorded a CD called “Apple Blue: Summer Feelings” and they travelled the world raising funds. “We choose a blue apple because is the colour of the autism campaign all over the world. And we also finished on the top ten of the best CD covers in the USA”.

For two years they travelled the world in concerts raising money for this cause and a major part of the money raised was  for a particular Brazilian organization called AMA (Association of Autism’s Friends) where Leite is the main sponsor. “It is an entity of serious-minded professionals who work with limited funds to help kids like Rafaela and my audience is mostly parents who want to help and hear a little of my experience as a special dad”, emphasized Leite.

Besides  that, he teaches music to kids with autism. “We do not expect them to learn how to play the instrument but if they can at least identify the notes, one single note, even if it takes 5 or 6 months, it doesn’t matter, as long they do it, I’m happy”. Science has proven that expending time in contact with music can provide a better quality life. The music therapy can improve the lives of people with special needs and it also builds up motor co-ordination. “It’s step-by-step but is so beautiful”, said Leite.

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