Autistic teen wins dream place at top music school in America

Ciaran Roberts-Osterberg has to raise £44,000 each year to study at Berklee College of Music.

Ciaran dreams of becoming a jazz musician. <strong>STV</strong>
Ciaran dreams of becoming a jazz musician. STV

By Clare McNeill

An autistic teenager who was bullied at school has been accepted to study at a prestigious music school in America – but needs to raise hefty tuition fees if he’s to follow his dream.

Ciaran Roberts-Osterberg says that being accepted to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, the musical equivalent of Oxbridge, is ‘the greatest achievement of my life.’

However, he needs to raise $70,000 dollars, or £44,000, for each of his four years of study and is doing everything he can to raise the money.

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Ciaran realised his love of music as a teenager, finding his place in a world in which he felt like he never fitted in.

“I never really had a group of friends. I was bullied mercilessly when I was a child,” he says.

“If I didn’t have music in my life I would probably be a very nervous, shy kid who couldn’t really speak to anyone or do anything that most neurotypical people would be able to do.

“Music has really helped bring me out of my shell and helped me develop as a person.”

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His mother Christina says that she knew her son loved music from a young age and connected with soulful music.

“Ciaran was like a little old man in a boy’s body, he loved Ella Fitzgerald growing up, he loved older classic music. He wasn’t really into the kids poppy-bop stuff,” Christina says.

The teenager from Broughty Ferry now dreams of becoming a jazz musician and was shocked when one of the most famous performing arts schools responded to his application – especially after being rejected by other insitutions in the UK.

“I looked at the letter and I read ‘dear Ciaran you’ve been accepted to Berklee’ and I was just shaking in my desk chair, tears running down my face, I was a sobbing mess,” he says.

“Getting into Berklee was the greatest achievement of my life.”

Christina says she sought help when her son was 12 after he confided that people thought he was ‘weird’.

Following a diagnosis of autism, his school suggested music classes which completely changed his life.

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“The school’s answer was to take him away from [the classroom] so he wasn’t feeling alone or bullied and they popped him into music classes and encouraged him to join a couple of groups and he just came alive, he had finally found his people.

“He just felt understood and not out of place anymore.”

Ciaran is now appealing to people on social media to help him achieve his dream of attending Berklee, with his mother admitting she has tweeted Oprah Winfrey ‘about a hundred times’, adding that the television star ‘must hate me’.

Yet the teenager has won endorsements from famous musicians such as Antonio Sanchez, who composed the score for the Oscar-winning film Birdman, who offered his support.

“He messaged us directly on twitter and donated to Ciaran, and gave his advice which was incredible,” Christina says.

“He’s been lucky, he’s been given a £9000 scholarship from the school which is the most they can afford for an international student and he’s applied for every fund and grant and scholarship he can think of.

“People have been giving private donations and using his Go Fund Me page and people have been really supportive.

“We’re just very grateful that people are seeing the potential in him and want him to do well.

“People dream of attending a place like that and for my little boy from Dundee to get to a place like that is just amazing.”

Ciaran’s music teacher Gordon McNeill says he always knew he had the passion to succeed.

“I managed to unlock the drive in Ciaran and if you can unlock that in someone his age he can be phenomenal,” he says.

“He’s a triple threat because he can play the drums, he’s a fine keyboard player, and a vocalist.

“He can pick other instruments like bass guitars and things too.

“He said ‘I want to go to Berklee’ and I said ‘why not?’ The musicians he’s going to be rubbing shoulders with are the best in the world.”

Ciaran hopes to attend Berklee in August 2019 if he can raise the attendance fees in time.

He hopes to put on various gigs and fundraisers over the next few months to help raise the money he needs to achieve his dream.


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