May 24, 2012 in Washington Voices

U-Hi teen has the music in him

Valerie Putnam
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

Andrew Croneberger, a U-Hi senior, practices at school during a portrait session May 2. Andrew was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at a very young age. He finds solace in his music and can replicate any song just by listening.
(Full-size photo)

Wearing his signature pink tie, University High School senior Andrew Croneberger performed an improvisation of 12 movie songs at the Mr. University talent show in March.

Using only a small piece of paper listing the movie titles as his score, he was rated the most talented during the school’s annual show.

“I compose on the spot,” said Croneberger, who enjoys performing in front of an audience. “I just sit down and let my hands go. That is how I play.”

At 18, Croneberger is a gifted musician, performer and composer, accomplished debater, varsity tennis player, 4.0 grade-point average honor student and class valedictorian.

Croneberger also has Asperger’s syndrome.

“Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder,” said his mother, Bobbie Croneberger. “He was very intent on particular things, almost stuck on them.”

Symptoms of Asperger’s include significant difficulties in social interaction, repetitive patterns of behavior, communication difficulties, coordination problems, and being exceptionally talented in an area.

Diagnosed at age 6, Croneberger exhibited advanced abilities at an early age. He could read at age 3, play the piano at 4, and had an extended vocabulary as a toddler.

When he started school, his advanced vocabulary and academic ability made it hard for him to relate to other children.

Finding solace in music, Croneberger found he could replicate any song just by listening.

He began formal lessons when he was 8. After three years he found the structure too confining and decided to stop.

“I’m not a fan of rigid classical tunes,” Croneberger said. “I’m more free-spirited.”

While playing violin at Bowdish Middle School in fifth grade, his teacher discovered, Croneberger could identify notes played on the piano.

“I can tell the key, chords being played and, within a reasonable approximation, what frequency it is,” said Croneberger, who tested positive for absolute pitch, the ability to identify any given tone without any reference.

Croneberger attributes maturity and getting involved in debate as two catalysts that helped him begin to overcome the isolationist tendency of Asperger’s.

“I started working on coming out of my bubble,” Croneberger said about getting involved in extracurricular activities. “Debate was the medium for me to do that.”

The past two years he earned the right to compete at state. This year, he won first place in extemporaneous speaking and will compete in June’s national competition in Indianapolis.

In addition to taking seven Advanced Placement classes his junior and senior years, Croneberger spends hours each week composing music, editing and producing video projects as part of his involvement in the school’s media production program. He also participates in Viable Vision, University’s video club.

“I like being involved,” Croneberger said. “It’s a good way to keep the year going.”

Croneberger plans to attend the University of Washington to major in either chemistry or physics and would like to get a minor in music.

“It is something that can be overcome,” Croneberger offers as advice for others with Asperger’s. “It’s really something to have exceptional gifts in things. It’s not something (you) should be ashamed of, it’s something to be proud of.”

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