Leslie Lemke - An Inspirational Performance
Leslie Lemke in Concert - April 15, 2011
Leslie Lemke in Concert - April 15, 2011
Marion University, Fond du lac, WI
Leslie Lemke plays for his mother
Leslie Lemke's Last Concert for his Mom
Leslie Lemke in Concert - April 29, 1986
Leslie Lemke in Concert - October 13, 2003
Excerpts from Island of Genius, a 1989 documentary about Leslie Lemke.
Leslie Lemke in Pittsville
Dustin Hoffman watched the program and was "moved to tears" by Leslie
The story of Leslie Lemke
begins in Milwaukee in 1952.
mother gave him up for adoption at birth.
As a complication of his
premature birth, Leslie
developed retinal problems, then glaucoma, and his
eyes had to be surgically removed in the first months of life.
There was also brain damage, and Leslie
was extremely ill.
The county asked May Lemke, a nurse-governess who they knew and trusted, if she
would take Leslie
receiving home, ill as he
was and carrying such a dire prognosis.
That didn't deter May.
At age 52, and having raised five children of her
own, May Lemke said she
In a modest cottage on Lake Pewaukee where she
lived with her
husband, Joe, May loved and tended to Leslie like a frail little flower.
taught him how to swallow so he
could eat and how to make sounds so he
was able, May literally strapped his
fragile body to hers to teach him how, a step at a time, to walk.
hands over hers as she
played simple tunes on a piano she
got for him.
sang to him.
was intrigued with music and rhythm as a child.
was found under the bed strumming the springs in a wondrous tune.
also had a remarkable memory and would often repeat verbatim, intonations and all, a whole day's conversation he
had overheard from whomever he
might be visiting.
played and sang often, but mostly the simple tunes May sang or popular songs from the radio.
May wasn't into classical music.
But one evening when Leslie
was about age 14, Joe and May watched, and Leslie
listened, to a television Sunday Night Movie.
In the early morning hours May heard music.
thought Joe had left the television on.
went to turn it off and there was Leslie
, playing flawlessly from beginning to end, having heard it but once, tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, which was the theme song for that movie.
God's miracle, May said, came into full bloom that night.
As a way of sharing God's gift of Leslie
's music, May began having Leslie play some concerts at the county fair, in churches, and at schools.
In June 1980 Leslie
gave a concert in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Amazed by what they had seen - a young blind man, mentally handicapped, with cerebral palsy, and never having had a music lesson in his
life playing what seemed like a limitless repertoire and repeating flawlessly whatever was played to him after a single hearing - a local television station brought tapes to me, as the local mental health authority, to see if there was some explanation for this astonishing ability.
Other programs, including Donahue, That's Incredible, and Oprah hosted May and Leslie
The 60 Minutes program aired in October of 1983.
Morley Safer considers it one of his favorite 10 stories, and Leslie
was part of the 25th Anniversary edition of that show in 1993.
has given concerts throughout the United States.
In 1984 he
gave a command performance by invitation for the Crown Prince and Princess in Norway and also has been on tour in Japan.
continues to give concerts but, just as often, plays for free at a school, a nursing home, a prison, or a church.
In the 1980s, May's health began to fail with Alzheimer's disease.
May had vowed that Leslie
would never be institutionalized, and he
May's youngest daughter, Mary, took both May and Leslie
into her home in 1984 as May's Alzheimer's progressed.
But after Daddy Joe's death in 1987, May returned to Mary's home to be near Leslie
As May's memory faded, it was only Leslie
music that could bring those memories to life.
"That's my boy," May would say as they sang together.
Then when the music stopped, May would fade to silence once again.
Just as she
had brought Leslie
to life, Leslie
could bring her
to life - a touching payback of sorts.
May died at Mary's home on November 6, 1993.
now lives with May's daughter.
There was concern that Leslie
might stop his
music with May's death, as had happened with some savants in the past.
But it was not so with Leslie; he
continues to play and perform.
Music is Leslie's language, and it has been a conduit toward normalization for him.
is more animated, smiles more, talks more, and one can even see a sense of humor emerging.
not only repeats a song accurately after hearing it only once, he
improvises and, yes, even composes new songs with his
own words and effects.
repertoire seems bottomless, his
recall seams boundless.
Professional musicians marvel at his
innate knowledge of the rules of music.
has never had a music lesson in his
Savant syndrome is rare.
But even more rare are the so-called prodigious savants - handicapped persons who have skills that would be remarkable even if they were to occur in a normal person.
There are probably less than 100 prodigious savants described in this last century.
is one in a billion.
It is a gift Mary has chosen to share, rather than exploit, and it is in this spirit that Leslie
gives all of his concerts.
"Well, I think, because the brain was damaged, a part of the brain - the musical part - God left perfectly healthy and beautiful so Leslie
could have a talent.
certainly did, and we are it's beneficiaries.
An Update on Leslie Lemke (10-15-03)
Many people remember Leslie Lemke
from the very memorable 1983 60 Minutes program on savant syndrome, featuring him along with Alonzo the sculptor and George the calendar calculator.
Often inquires come asking "Whatever happened to Leslie Lemke?
A concert in Appleton, Wisconsin last night (10/13/03) answers that question convincingly, and inspirationally.
is as talented, as energetic, as marvelous and as touching as ever.
An inspired concert audience of 1200 persons will attest to that.
Leslie's concert was the culmination of a week-long event in Appleton, Wisconsin called Celebrating Abilities hosted by a wide group of local Fox Cities organizations spontaneously collaborating, and volunteering, to inspire the community to celebrate the ABILITIES of each person, regardless of their disabilities.
Celebrating Abilities included other presentations to school and community groups, as an opportunity for everyone to shine the spotlight on the many contributions disabled persons make throughout the area, and to make the Cities overall a better place to live for persons with special needs.
The concert began with Leslie
entering the lighted stage from the darkened wings singing Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound" a capella, and ended with the audience singing and waving goodbye, touched and affected, to the strains of Edelwiess.
Tapes of this concert can be purchased by sending two checks - one for $18 made out to Miracle of Love Ministries, (which will be forwarded to Mary and Leslie) and the other for $5 made out to Dr. Treffert for mailing costs.
That would make Leslie
On a personal level, during this remarkable concert experience, my scientific interest in synapses and circuits was overshadowed and superceded by the human interest that Leslie Lemke's
story generates in terms of his
unique person and potential, and in terms of how often families, like his
, unselfishly and proudly go forward filling the special needs of their loved one, relishing and focusing so zealously those talents, attributes and a-bilities that are present even if some other skills are absent or compromised.
As to the scientific question, May answered it this way: "Well, I think the brain was damaged.
But a part of the brain-the musical part-God left perfectly healthy and beautiful so Leslie
could have a talent.
certainly did, and we are its beneficiaries.
A 28-minute broadcast quality VHS videotape produced by the Weyerhaeuser Corporation
featuring Leslie Lemke
in a 1986 concert is available.
It contains the story and pictures of Leslie
's early life with his foster mother, May Lemke, as related by May'