When Yael was about 5 years old, his music teacher told him he had perfect pitch—a rare hearing ability acute enough to identify individual notes, without reference to other notes.

Yael is now 18, and he recently graduated with honors as a jazz instrumentalist from the Conservatory of Music of the State of Mexico (COMEM). It’s a remarkable achievement.

The COMEM is an institution created in 1991 with the purpose of educating music professionals with a high degree of specialization in violin, cello, double bass, flute, instrumental jazz, music composition, and much more.

“I’m very thankful for the teachers I met at the conservatory,” Yael said. “We bonded over music, and they really helped me improve my musical skills.”

Yael (left) playing in a jazz club in Mexico City.

Yael (left) playing in a jazz club in Mexico City.

Crisel, Yael’s mom and a homeschool parent of three sons, has always tried to enhance her kids’ strengths.

“My husband and I know our kids' abilities, and we wanted to focus on them as much as we could,” she said. “We’ve been supporting our three kids and their passion for music since they found it.”

Yael was at the top of his class in grades since he started at COMEM.

“Homeschooling played a big part in this,” Yael said. “I’m a musician, and being taught at home helped me dedicate enough time to my passion for music.”

Being gentle

Crisel said Yael was homeschooled mainly because he has autism: “Since a very young age, he struggled to overcome small changes and would cry intensely when separated from us—as if his world was ending. Because of this, we thought it best to homeschool him.”

But her homeschooling journey didn’t have a smooth start.

“At first, I asked too much of him,” she said. “I wanted him to start reading at age 2, so when he wanted to play, I would keep him seated down and teach him the alphabet. This would always create conflict between us because he wouldn’t pay attention.”

Crisel and Yael.

Crisel and Yael. 

Then Crisel recognized she was focusing too much on social pressure. She didn’t want people to think Yael wasn’t smart because he had special needs.

“I heard God saying to me, ‘Be gentle, he’s 2 years old and has autism,’” she said. “I understood I needed to change my teaching method.”

Shortly after, Crisel used a more flexible educational approach, and homeschooling Yael became easier for both of them.

A same language

When Yael was 11 years old, he became a member of a Mexican orchestra made up of homeschool children and teens, called Orquesta de Niños y Jóvenes Educados en el Hogar (ONJEH). He started by playing clarinet, and then switched to playing second trumpet.

The orchestra was created in connection with homeschooling conferences in Mexico. Homeschool children and teens from different states of the country studying or playing a musical instrument put together a small orchestra and gave a concert at the end of each conference.

The ONJEH is now a formal orchestra for homeschool children and teens that not only plays at homeschooling conferences, but at other events as well.

Here’s how it works: The conductor notifies each member of an upcoming concert three or four months in advance. Each member practices the repertoire on their own, and the conductor evaluates each of them through a Zoom session. Then the orchestra meets and rehearses together for a couple of hours before the concert. 

“It is truly amazing…to see all of these homeschool children get together and play,” Crisel said.

Yael is very happy to be a part of this orchestra. He particularly enjoys meeting teens from other Mexican states and talking to them about music. 

“We’re all homeschooled, we’re all musicians, we’re all part of the same orchestra—we speak the same language,” Yael said happily.

The ONJEH playing for a homeschool conference in Tequisquiapan, Querétaro, in 2019.

The ONJEH playing for a homeschool conference in Tequisquiapan, Querétaro, in 2019.

As for Yael’s future dreams, he wishes to improve as a jazz instrumentalist and play at international music festivals, either in Europe or in the United States.

He’s also interested in business: “A while ago, my parents had a small empanada business, and one time I sold 50 empanadas in one hour at the conservatory,” Yael said. “On another occasion, I sold 40 empanadas in 40 minutes!”

Yael is starting an online college degree in sales administration in the following days. Apart from playing jazz, he also likes reading about history and geography, as well as playing football and soccer.