Music Helps Siblings Connect

When 17-year-old violinist Chelsea Kim appeared on From the Top Show 267 taped in Boston in February, she told us an inspiring story about how she uses music to communicate with her brother Daniel, who was diagnosed at an early age with middle-intensity autism.

Listen to her perform and share her story.

"He has taught me so many things, and he's younger than me," Chelsea says of her close relationship with Daniel. "But he's the teacher in our relationship and I'm the learner. I would NOT be the same person without my brother."

Daniel was diagnosed with middle-intensity autism, which means that his brain operates on the level of that of a three-year-old. Chelsea explains that while he feels emotions, he has a difficult time expressing them; it is like he is locked in a secluded world of his own. 

Chelsea's family immigrated to Canada when she was 7 to provide a better education for her and her brother. After short stays in British Columbia, Mississippi, and Alabama the family finally settled in Boston. When Daniel was about 9, Chelsea remembers he was in the room next to hers when she was practicing violin. Suddenly, she heard her brother humming along – he had memorized the entire concerto! The family realized how much Daniel loved music. Now, the family will hang out together and sing songs for hours on end, teaching Daniel all the songs that they can.

When Chelsea received a scholarship to attend boarding school in Exeter, New Hampshire, the separation was very difficult for the pair. After a week of being apart, when they saw each other again, Chelsea was touched when Daniel began to sing the melody of "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music to her. She realized right away that her brother was using the tune to express the emotions that were locked inside of him. Chelsea remembers that her brother’s doctors had said he could never function in society because he lacks the social skills, but she says, "I don’t think that’s true. I see a bright future. Through music he is able to connect with me and with the teachers at his school. I see the possibilities."

Chelsea now has a budding interest in biology, inspired by witnessing how music can affect the brain. "I guess that experience taught me that music is, of course, a universal language, but it's more incredible that it's a language that can reach a completely different world – like the world of autism, like my brother." 

Chelsea is a recipient of From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award and will use the scholarship to purchase a new violin. She will attend Juilliard in the fall.