Entertainment Music ‘I have a lot to say’: Non-verbal teenager Tyler Hartfield writes music inspired by Nick Cave

‘I have a lot to say’: Non-verbal teenager Tyler Hartfield writes music inspired by Nick Cave

Tyler's education assistant Jayne Taylor helps him communicate. Photo: ABC Great Southern/Ellie Honeybone
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“I have no voice. But I have a lot to say.” Those are the words of Tyler Hartfield, a 16-year-old high school student who relies on a digital voice coming out of a computer app to speak.

He was born with cerebral palsy and is a non-verbal communicator.

Despite the enormous challenges in Tyler’s life, he is an inclusive member of his music class at Denmark Senior High School on WA’s south coast.

This term, Tyler has collaborated with his classmates to write and produce a powerful song titled The One You Feed.

Tyler types his words onto a tablet screen, which reads them out loud. Photo: ABC Great Southern/Tom Edwards

It’s about – as Tyler puts it – “the battle inside my brain” and his friendship with education assistant Jayne Taylor, with whom he spends his days at school.

Ms Taylor said the beginning of her partnership with Tyler was very different to how it was now.

“I understand him better, and he understands me better,” she said.

“It turns out that Tyler is a very smart student. He’s very creative, very funny, and he has a very wicked sense of humour.”

It all began with poetry

Tyler’s journey into music began with writing poems in English class.

“He’s so eloquent and has a massive vocabulary,” Ms Taylor said.

“It just turned into songs.

“He was very clear that he wanted to do music and he met the music teacher, they talked and immediately hit it off.

“It was something we couldn’t dissuade him from, even if we wanted to.”

Ben Power is the music teacher at Denmark Senior High School and said teaching a student with such specific needs was a steep learning curve.

“Now he’s just part of the class,” he said.

“He came out with this poetry, which was just the most gorgeous, deeply thoughtful stuff I have read in ages.

“One day he says he’s been listening to this bloke called Nick Cave … I thought right, we’re on here!”

Tyler shared his lyrics with the rest of the class at the start of term and from there a full ensemble piece of music inspired by Nick Cave was created.

“[Tyler] is the composer and music director – he’s the conductor essentially and the other students are his instrument, his orchestra,” Mr Power said.

Tyler shared his lyrics with the rest of the class. Photo: ABC Great Southern/Ellie Honeybone

Composer, music director and conductor

Hannah Walker is a year 12 student and plays guitar in the music class band.

She said the whole class was able to relate to Tyler’s lyrics and they really liked the story he was trying to convey.

“We all got a feel for the song, all came into this room and started coming up with chords and collaborating,” she said.

“We would play to Tyler what we thought would be appropriate for the song and then he gave us feedback about what he liked and didn’t like.”

Hannah said the experience of creating music with Tyler had been an eye-opener.

“Anyone can write music, anyone can write a song, and we can all come together and play,” she said.

“We all wanted to tell everyone how Tyler felt and communicate for him.”

Hannah Walker says the whole music class wanted to tell everyone how Tyler felt.

Exactly what Tyler hoped for

Communicating through his app, Tyler said the song was about how, for him, Ms Taylor had been like a prayer answered.

“Jayne helps me be an inclusive member of the school,” he said.

“The song is about how Jayne brings me into the light when I am feeling low and depressed.

“My life is difficult but I can see a future.”

Ms Taylor said they spent weeks and weeks trying to format an idea of the song and how Tyler wanted it to be produced.

“It’s exactly how he anticipated it to be,” she said.

“I’m very proud, I’ve cried a lot.

“It’s not all good, but mostly it’s good. I love working with Tyler, he’s a fabulous person.”