On National Brave Day, Sept. 29, Carol Hidalgo, 49, got ready to fulfill her dreams of being on stage for the eighth Music from the Heart showcase with Higher Octave Healing.
In front of a room full of music and ecstatic faces, Hidalgo was in her safe haven. Hidalgo and the band played Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” as they rehearsed.
After years of struggling to open up due to autism, she was excited to have her first ever showcase for the rock band she participates in at Higher Octave Healing. The ladies call themselves Sparkling Music.
Sparkling Music is one of 14 rock bands with the nonprofit hosts that will be performing at the showcase on Nov. 5. Based in Tempe, Higher Octave Healing is dedicated to increasing the quality of life for and empowering developmentally disabled people in the Valley.
“We hire a lighting design crew, a videographer, sound-tech, photographer, they have backstage passes they need to get backstage,” said Shelbe White, therapist and program manager with Higher Octave Healing. “They really get the rock-star treatment.”
Hidalgo’s mother Susana Acuna knew at 6 months old that her daughter was bound to have developmental issues that resulted in her autism diagnosis in the first grade after rarely speaking.
“They didn’t have programs like they do now,” said Acuna.
She said she struggled to find programs that would suit Hidalgo’s needs as a single mother. When first making the move from Los Angeles to Arizona, the school system put her down as severely mentally handicapped, which was shocking to Acuna.
Hidalgo’s disorder showed improvement in high school. Acuna was unsurprised; she knew her daughter just needed proper support. Acuna always had the confidence in her daughter’s abilities, which pushed her forward despite the lack of accessible resources at the time.
Hidalgo’s mother signed her up for ABC Phonics, which had her reading at a first grade level. She was later put into an adult group home where her confidence regressed due to clashing personalities in the home, according to her mother.
Acuna says her daughter is more confident due to her participation in the rock band.
“I play everything,” said Hidalgo. She primarily sings and plays guitar.
According to Acuna, Hidalgo has always had a fascination with being on stage and performing despite her naturally shy demeanor.
“She had said she wanted to get into acting, which surprised me a bit, but this seems to be fulfilling that fantasy,“ said Acuna.
Hidalgo also enjoys her job at the movie theater as it encompasses all her favorite mediums and pastimes: movies, music and popcorn.
“I had to revise her goals she started with because she just made progress so fast,” said Sarah Melton, Hidalgo’s music therapist at the nonprofit.
Hidalgo’s initial goals were as simple as answering questions and participating. After joining the Higher Octave Healing program, she became the band’s social butterfly.
As Sparkling Music prepares to hit the stage on Nov. 5 at Tempe Center for the Arts, Hidalgo said she is preparing to find the perfect sparkly blouse for her performance.
Editor's note: Celeste Iarita is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.