Teenager discovers healing in music

Flute player works to raise awareness about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Posted: Sunday, September 02, 2007

Juneau-born teenager Morgan Fawcett couldn't concentrate in school, grew tired quickly and suffered from such severe short-term memory loss he often needed to be watched.

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But things turned around for the 15-year-old, now living with surrogate "grandparents" in Powers, Ore., when he learned earlier this year he had Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

Relieved to finally have a diagnosis, Fawcett started One Heart Creations, a nonprofit that raises awareness of FASD and money to share his true passion: the Native American flute.

Fawcett has shown a stunning natural ability on the instrument since picking it up two years ago and has been invited to perform around the country. It also helped him focus well enough to raise his grade-point average from 1.57 to 3.29.

Musical mission

• Who: Morgan Fawcett, 15-year-old Juneau-born Native American flute player.

• Why: Returning to town as part of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Day, Sept. 9.

• Concert: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium, with Arvel Bird.

He's coming back to Juneau for a little more than a week, starting Saturday, Sept. 8, and coinciding with International FASD Awareness Day on Sept. 9.

"This all started with me coming home after school saying, 'Well I want to do this,'" Fawcett said. "I didn't expect my grandparents to do anything. I expected them to say 'Yeah, OK,' and then it would blow over and I'd forget.

"Now I have a nonprofit," he said. "I get to go to Alaska and spend a week up there. And different people across the United States want me to talk."

Bells across the country will ring at 9:09 a.m. Sept. 9, to mark FASD Day and symbolize the ninth months of pregnancy.

Fawcett will attend services that morning at Northern Light Church, play a few songs and talk about the syndrome. Later, he will join the SEARHC Wellness Walk across the Douglas Bridge. At 1:30 p.m., he'll continue to the Tlingit and Haida Community Center for a potlatch to honor elders.

He will reunite with dozens of family members.

"I don't have an intelligible word for it," Fawcett said. "It's going to be great. I can't wait to be home."

Fawcett will be accompanied by Arvel Bird, one of the best-known contemporary Native American violinists in the world. Bird has released 10 CDs in the last five years. Four of them have been nominated for Native American Music Awards and Indian Summer Music Awards. Bird has toured with Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell, Tom T. Hall and others.

The two met at the Zion Canyon Art and Flute Festival in Zion, Utah., where Fawcett volunteered to serve as an assistant during one of Bird's workshops. They'll play a concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.

Fawcett hopes to bring as many as 60 flutes. So far, he's collected 43 with five more on the way. The instruments have been donated by flute makers and musicians across the country.

They'll be donated to kids with special needs and children who have shown musical acuity. Flute-receivers must attend Fawcett's workshops, 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 11-13.

Fawcett was 1½ years old when he left Juneau the first time. He returned from age 7 to 14, before moving to Oregon.

Sue Hempel has known Fawcett since he was 2. Sue worked in the same mill as Fawcett's father, who was engaged to her daughter for 3 years. The two broke up, but Fawcett decided to move in with Hempel, calling her his surrogate "grandmother."

"He was so angry when he got here and so sullen. I couldn't figure out what was going on," Hempel said.

"A friend of us said living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is like Groundhog Day," she said. "Every day it's, 'What do I have to relearn?'"

Although Fawcett has never consumed alcohol, he was born with FASD because his mother drank when she was pregnant, a family member said.

The syndrome often causes retardation, premature baldness, lack of coordination, poor mental skills and facial deformities.

In Fawcett's case, it causes fatigue or delayed functions in his muscles, hyperactivity, memory loss and an extreme susceptibility to addiction. The syndrome stretches four generations back in his family.

Fawcett first played a Native American flute while visiting the Trees of Mystery Museum in Klamath, Calif. He took to the instrument immediately, in a way he never had with the traditional silver flute. He's also dabbled in guitar, keyboard, clarinet and drums.

Unlike the silver flute, Native American flutes can be made out of a variety of natural materials, such as cherry wood, bamboo, bones, horn and clay. It's played in the same way as a clarinet or a recorder, with five or six holes varying in size and thickness. Fawcett is almost entirely self-taught.

"(The music is) not supposed to be written down," Fawcett said. "It's supposed to be played from the heart.

"It's not like the silver flute where you have a set of guidelines and a set of rules," he said. "You can be screeching and squealing the whole song, and that's considered a song. It's up to your own self-expression. I can sit down and play, express my feeling and let go of my stress that way."

Fawcett recorded his first CD, "Ancestral Memories," two weeks ago. He hopes to have copies in Juneau.

• Contact Korry Keeker at 523-2268 or korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.

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