At age 17, Leif Bradshaw has already made quite a name for himself.
He’s won two prestigious community awards as a student at Oak Bay High school, scored a regional scholarship for top graduating musician in the Greater Victoria School district, befriended influential composers and directors in Victoria’s music scene, and, when he’s not performing for people like Prince Andrew, happens to be creating his own video blog and YouTube channel on one his deepest loves: the Beatles.
He has also overcome a lifetime of challenges living on the spectrum of the autism scale.
“Composing is what I’d like to do for my proper career, especially for film and TV,” says the recent Oak Bay grad. “I love performing and it’s where I feel most comfortable.”
Since Grade 3, Bradshaw’s face has popped up at benefit concerts, school plays and instrumental recitals.
He plays five instruments: piano, trumpet, viola, cello and percussion; has carved out an acting niche and has already completed a number of professional composing projects.
But what he is really known for is his voice. He’s a tenor in four of Oak Bay’s choirs and was just accepted to Camosun College’s diploma for jazz studies.
“Having autism makes it difficult to connect with people as opposed to logic or practicality,” Bradshaw says. “It’s not that I can’t do it; and, thanks to all my friends and teachers I’m pretty good at it now; but it just isn’t first nature for me.”
Bradshaw has what was formerly termed Asperger’s syndrome, a condition that, in his case, leaves him high-functioning. His childhood was “a challenge,” and he had to fight hard to overcome painful times with people who didn’t always understand him.
Still, with the support of his family, community, counselling and music therapy, people who meet him now would be hard-pressed to see Bradshaw as anything other than a talented young man.
“I am terrifically proud,” says his father, Tim Bradshaw. “Leif does have challenges for sure, but he’s an excellent student, he reads scores for fun and he’s been remarkably fortunate to have teachers who have given him so much. They’ve always focused on his abilities, not his disabilities.”
Those abilities have accumulated nods at school. Bradshaw was recently honoured with the Nell Howard Music Award for best choral achievement among Grade 11 and 12 students, and the Gene Clark Humanitarian Award for contribution to the community while overcoming a significant challenge.
“It’s really not just personal ability,” he says. “It’s the people who have encouraged me and have shown me things I did not expect I could achieve – which is the best thing anyone could hope for.”
Despite his humble nature, Bradshaw’s confidence wowed judges of the district-wide competition for top graduating musician in Victoria. His top marks were based on complexity, talent, his ability to achieve perfect pitch and his unique decision to showcase two very different classical works. Given the “healthy competition,” Bradshaw says he was shocked to walk away with the award.
That surprise may not be well-placed, though, considering the young composer performed earlier this year for Prince Andrew’s visit, has become close friends with such people as Victoria Symphony music director Tania Miller, and has been tutored by Dr. Stephen Brown and Allan Slade of the Victoria Conservatory of Music.
When he’s not reading Harry Potter books to his younger sister, mastering vocal impressions or playing with his “extremely social” cat, Bradshaw dedicates time to his video blog, “That Beatles Nerd,” which showcases everything about the lads from Liverpool.
“They have been and will likely continue to be my favourite band for as long as I live,” Bradshaw says, with an indulgent smile. “I have seven books about them already, just because I am determined to learn everything I can. Turns out, there are a lot of people like me, but not a lot have done any kind of blogging on the subject, so I will.”
As Bradshaw awaits his Camosun start this fall, he plans to spend his time on a few composition projects, one of which includes writing the score for a future TV show. And he is working with a friend to create an a capella singing group this summer. He also hopes to find work, which could fittingly include speaking for one of Victoria’s many tour companies.
“I love ending on an ambivalent note,” he says of his musical compositions. “It seems more true that way. Life is a rather mysterious thing, and none of us really have any idea how it will all turn out, but some of the best things are unexpected.”