DENVER (CBS4)– A bang to the head changed a Colorado man’s life by revealing a hidden talent. Doctors say pianist Derek Amato is one of the few people in the world to have experienced the rare phenomena called Acquired Savant Syndrome.

(credit: CBS)

He says the music is in his mind. He sees it in his head, and his fingers do the rest. Amato has a gift that came about in an unexpected way.

Twelve years ago he had an accident in the swimming pool.

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger interviews Derek Amato (credit: CBS)

“I miscalculated diving in the shallow end and hit the bottom of the shallow end on this side of my head and damaged the back end,” said Amato.

(credit: CBS)

After recovering from the accident, he was at a friend’s house and walked over to the keyboard and suddenly, without ever playing the piano before, he began playing … and playing.

The trauma to the head unlocked something unique inside Amato’s brain.

(credit: CBS)

Acquired Savant Syndrome has been described in articles and studies “as when a tragedy turns you into a genius.” At Classic Pianos on South Broadway in Denver, Amato told CBS4’s Rick Sallinger that black and white squares appear in his mind when he’s at the piano.

(credit: CBS)

“I just follow what the blocks tell me to do. I do my best to take those notes and put them into playing,” said Amato.

Derek Amato (credit: CBS)

His talented arms are tattooed with musical notes which he cannot comprehend, “Reading music seems confusing for me. I tried to learn a couple different times.”

(credit: CBS)

He says despite not being able to read music, he’s aware that he has been given a precious gift and he tries to give back to those who have spent hard times on the streets of Denver, as he once did.

(credit: CBS)

“You were homeless here in Denver?” Sallinger asked.

“Yes, I had three months on the streets,” Amato replied.

He says he got by with a small backpack and a blanket a lot like the people that can be seen on a daily basis along Lawrence street at Park Avenue West. When he was doing his interview with CBS4, Amato stopped to chat with one apparently homeless woman.

“I have some time on the streets, I had my time with homelessness.”

“What do you think about homelessness?” she asked.

“It hurts my heart. I’m going to do everything I can,” Amato replied.

(credit: CBS)

One way he does that is through supporting The Voice newspaper which benefits the homeless. He plans to set up shop with some of the vendors who sell the paper throughout the city and play his music in an effort to draw attention to their mission.

Amato has written a book about it his experience called “My Beautiful Disaster.”

“It’s the best thing that happened to me. My whole being has changed and I think it’s been an incredible experience,” Amato said.

Comments (11)
  1. That’s awesome! Way to make excellent use of your gift and giving back to your community. It doesn’t surprise me that we are still learning about the complexities and abilities of the human brain.
    Psalms 139:14 “I will give thanks to You (Lord), for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.” Even our accidents can have great rewards if we look to our Creator for them – some are more obvious than others as in this gentleman’s case.

  2. Michael Grimler says:

    Read the “Brainrush Trilogy” by Richard Bard – it centers on this type of ability.

  3. Nathan Smith says:

    One word. Rappel.

  4. Robert Grise says:

    Interesting guy but so much is missing from this story. What song is he playing? Is he composing while he is playing? Is he playing requests? Can he play requests? Does he know a lot of songs or is he just winging it every time he sits down to a keyboard? He has a nice touch, but what is he playing!!!???

    1. Robin McMeeking says:

      My take on what was said is that it’s original music — just comes to him while he’s playing. That would be pretty far out and certainly should be part of the story. It sounds classical, sort of like Rachmaninoff, but I listen to classical regularly and it doesn’t sound familiar.

  5. Gerald Brennan says:

    Badly done. We needed to actually hear him for ourselves rather than blab blab blab.

  6. Christopher Perrien says:

    Has been known to make serial killers too.

  7. hey, there’s this woman who served a few drinks to people and miraculously she was turned into a climate scientist and world statesman……..

  8. Dan Klein says:

    A few years back there was a story I think from England where a guy had a brain injury or something, and he came out of a coma as a gay hairdresser. I’m not even kidding.

  9. Ernie Wilson says:

    Call BS I’ve met liars like this saying they could NEVER play anything until tragedy then bam they’re masters, with those guys I knew them as closet loners who lived beside me & I could hear 10+ yrs of music practice lol

  10. Eugene Roberts says:

    How does a homeless person afford a piano? And how would he have known he could play if he was homeless and didn’t have a piano? Sounds quite odd of a story but whatever.

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