Sax player credits autism for musical gift

At 21, Sarnia’s Chris Molyneaux is a rising musical star. Cheryl Hughes Photo

Tara Jeffrey

Chris Molyneaux remembers well the day he discovered his gift for music.

“I was about nine years old, riding in the truck with my dad, and Tom Petty’s ‘Free Fallin’ came on the radio,” said the 21-year-old Sarnia musician.

“I went home, sat down at the piano, and just started playing that song. It just happened.

“I always had an interest in music. But that’s when I realized I could just play by ear.”

From there, it didn’t take long for Molyneaux to pick up the saxophone, humming along with his dad’s old John Coltrane and Charlie Parker albums.

By the time he was in high school, he joined the choir, the school band, and quickly realized music was his calling — a creative outlet, of sorts, for a young man living with autism.

“Every kid has their challenges, but autism presents its own set of challenges,” said Molyneaux, noting he relates most to Asperger syndrome (AS), though he never received an official diagnosis.

AS is an autism spectrum disorder with symptoms that include problems with social skills, communication difficulties and eccentric or repetitive behaviours.

Molyneaux says his family plays a big role in keeping him focused and organized. And over the years, he’s been able to get a better grasp on how he handles social anxiety.

“I actually love talking to people,” he said. “But it can be really mentally draining for me, especially with large crowds. So I take the time I need to step back and recharge.”

Many people with AS display intense interests and exceptional talents in areas like music.

Molyneaux tends to focus on the gifts, rather than the challenges.

“Autism doesn’t go away — it sticks with you. But you learn how to live with it,” said Molyneaux. “It’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world. Without my autism, I wouldn’t be me, you know?”

Today, Molyneaux has earned a reputation as one of the area’s most sought-after musicians — fielding requests to play at concerts and events across the region, including an upcoming Christmas concert at the Imperial Theatre Dec. 20. All this, while pursuing a Bachelor’s degree at Humber College’s School of Creative and Performing Arts.

He most recently joined well-known local blues band Lit’l Chicago — a group he’s idolized for some time. His first gigs with the band were at London Music Hall, and Sarnia’s successful Jazz & Blues in the Village.

“It’s just been amazing — those guys are so talented it’s unreal,” he said.

But for Lit’l Chicago frontman Robb Sharp, the feeling is more than mutual.

“We had him come rehearse with us, and he fit in like he’d been there forever,” said the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist.

“I’m going to bet that everybody’s going to hear a lot more from Chris in the future.

“He’s a marvelous talent.”