Belgian Teen Shows Stunning Musical Ability

Lou Boland, who is blind and has de Morsier syndrome, has become a star in Belgium through his music and his father's films, videos, and blog centered on themes of disability. Host Scott Simon speaks with Lou, 15, and his parents.

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(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISED CONCERT)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Foreign language spoken)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

An unusual young artist in Belgium has become a sensation after a televised concert went viral.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Lou Boland.

(AUDIENCE APPLAUSE)

SIMON: Fifteen-year-old Lou Boland can't see or smell, but he sure can sing and play the piano. He played his song, "Je M'Appelle Lou," - "My name is Lou" - on Belgian TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JE M'APPELLE LOU")

LOU BOLAND: (Singing in foreign language)

SIMON: Lou Boland has a rare brain disorder called de Morsier syndrome, which is often associated with autism. He has been blind since birth and the two hemispheres of his brain don't communicate properly. Lou Boland and his parents, Luc Boland and Claire Bailly, spoke with us from the studios of the BBC in Brussels. Lou, thank you very much for being with us.

LOU BOLAND: Well, hello.

SIMON: Hi, there.

LOU BOLAND: What's your name?

SIMON: My name is Scott. How are you?

LOU BOLAND: I'm very good.

SIMON: Good to talk to you. Thank you very much. Monsieur Boland, Luc Boland.

LUC BOLAND: Yes?

SIMON: Thank you for joining us too, sir.

LUC BOLAND: Yes, hello.

SIMON: And Lou's mother, Claire Bailly, thank you for being with us also.

CLAIR BAILLY: Yes, hello.

SIMON: Lou, what do you - you like music, right?

LOU BOLAND: Yes, yes. Jacques Coullier(ph) and Kristoff Mailler(ph) in French; Charlie Wilson, Radiohead.

SIMON: Monsieur Boland, Luc Boland, and Claire Bailly, tell us about your son.

LUC BOLAND: Oh, it's a crazy adventure because this syndrome - in English, we say it's a scepter optic displeasure or our optic nerve hypoplasia. It's a really rare syndrome. There is not real adapted school for optic nerve hypoplasia in Belgium.

LOU BOLAND: I want to say...

SIMON: Sure.

LOU BOLAND: I don't like my school. I think the teacher has always a tendency to be disability...

LUC BOLAND: To see...

LOU BOLAND: ...to see the disability and...

BAILLY: ...not ability...

LOU BOLAND: ... not ability, and not capacity. It's a shame.

LUC BOLAND: That's right. And what's the most amazing things with this syndrome is that a lot of children have great talent for music.

SIMON: How did Lou find music, find the piano?

LUC BOLAND: When he was the age of 1, he was singing before speaking. We are not musician - the mother and me are not musician. We are just - we love music, and so we are listening to music all the time. So Lou listens a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of music. And so we discover his talent really quickly. We buy a small toy piano, and we saw that he was well playing. And so when he was in the age of 6, we buy a real synthesizer, keyboard; and in one year he was playing with his 10 fingers. It was really crazy.

SIMON: How did he learn how to play the piano?

LUC BOLAND: By himself - without any teachers.

SIMON: By himself?

BAILLY: He never needed to learn it.

SIMON: Wow.

BAILLY: He hear music in the radio, and just playing it after - it's not a problem for him.

SIMON: Yeah. Why do you think, Monsieur Boland, it's important to share your son's story?

LUC BOLAND: When we found some solution to educate Lou, for me it was important to share it for other parents and for the universal aspect of education.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

STROMAE: (Singing in foreign language)

SIMON: Lou, you're big fan of Stromae? He's a Belgian musician.

LOU BOLAND: Yes.

SIMON: Well, you recorded a version of Stromae's song "Formidable," right?

LOU BOLAND: Yes, "Formidable" in English.

SIMON: "Formidable" in English, exactly. Your English is outstanding. Let's hear a little of "Formidable," "Formidable."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FORMIDABLE")

LOU BOLAND: (Singing in foreign language)

SIMON: Boy, and that's you singing up a storm as well as playing the piano. That's a phrase we use in English - singing up a storm. It's a compliment.

LOU BOLAND: Yes. Very good. Thank you. You are the charmer - charming.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Jacques Brel was Belgian too, right? You know Jacques Brel?

LOU BOLAND: Oh. Yes, yes. He sing (Singing in foreign language). It's very good.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, you have a singing style that reminds me of Jacques Brel a bit. Monsieur Boland and Ms. Bailly, what are your hopes for Lou's future?

LUC BOLAND: Good question. (Laughter)

BAILLY: I think it will be in music. It's the thing that's good for him. But how - it's difficult to say it.

LUC BOLAND: The problem is that Louie needs all the time help because he have difficulties to concentrate himself and to be - I don't know to translate in English, autonom...

SIMON: Independently.

LUC BOLAND: Independent, yes.

BAILLY: Independent.

LUC BOLAND: Yes, that's right. So, we have to prepare his future because here in Belgium, there is not enough place in institution to receive people with disabilities. It's a great problem in Belgium. But for his future - yes, sure. I think that it's in music that he can - growing and be, perhaps, someone.

SIMON: Lou?

LOU BOLAND: Yeah?

SIMON: What would you like to do with your life? What are your hopes for the future?

LOU BOLAND: Singer.

SIMON: You want to be a singer.

LOU BOLAND: Singer, and composer.

SIMON: Well, you want music to be your life, then.

LOU BOLAND: Yes. For to be happy.

SIMON: Lou Boland joined us from Brussels, along with his father, Luc Boland, and his mother, Claire Bailly. Thank you all for being with us.

BAILLY: Thank you.

LUC BOLAND: Thank you.

LOU BOLAND: Thank you. Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JE M'APPELLE LOU")

LOU BOLAND: (Singing in foreign language)

SIMON: And to see that incredible video of Lou Boland playing and singing his song "Je M'Appelle Lou" as well as the song "Formidable," which you heard about earlier in our conversation - you can go to our Facebook page. You can follow this show, and me, on Twitter: @NPRWeekend and @NPRScottSimon - all one word.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JE M'APPELLE LOU")

LOU BOLAND: (Singing in foreign language)

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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