Westmont Magazine Finding a Voice for Autism
Will Breman’s singing/songwriting career reached new heights when he became a contestant in season 17 of NBC’s “The Voice.” His opening act on the show’s blind audition turned into an impromptu duet with John Legend, singing “Ordinary People” before nearly 9 million television viewers. Before he was voted out in the semifinals, Will opened up about having Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. “My friends and some professors at Westmont knew I had autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but I never considered it much of a hardship because I knew other people with more noticeable forms of ASD who have it far rougher than I ever will,” he says.
After much prayer and discussion with his family, Will decided to use his platform for the cause. “Talking about ASD on the show was an opportunity to give kids with my disorder hope and help break down stigmas,” he says. “My goal was to be the cool guy on TV that I wish I could have looked up to when I was younger.”
Will, who graduated from Westmont in 2015, appreciates the education and support he received from many Westmont faculty, including Jesse Covington, professor of political science. “He changed the way I think about and see the world,” Will says. “He helped me cultivate a broader understanding of what it means to be a Christian in this day and age. Having ASD, I suffered from extreme social anxiety, and it was hard to contribute to discussions in class. Dr. Covington helped get me to overcome that anxiety, which made it possible for me to be on the show.”
At Westmont, Will studied with voice instructor Robert Rockabrand, who challenged him to achieve new heights in his music and singing. “Dr. Rockabrand is a world-class vocal teacher and professor,” Will says. “He completely changed the way I sing and instilled in me a love for choral music and art songs. He also became one of my biggest mentors, a best friend and a sounding board.”
Following “The Voice,” Will toured California and Colorado, selling out nearly all his shows. “I’m able to have a band play with me for some shows now, and I made sure most of them are former Westmont students/staff,” he says. “I think the coolest part of all of this is that people all over the nation actively want to come see me play.”
Last year, Will released his first EP, “Santa Barbara Soul Music,” and continues to write music and record songs while attending graduate school at California State University Northridge.
“I was so happy to get in, but literally the next day I got a call from the producers of “The Voice” about auditioning for the show,” Will says. “I never expected that I’d have to defer a semester, but I guess God has a weird sense of humor.”
Will is thankful for the support of his Westmont family and Anthem Chapel in Goleta. “There were incredibly stressful days and weeks that had me questioning whether or not being a musician was the right career path for me,” he says. “Ultimately I had to simply rely on the fact that God is and was working through that experience, and through all things. I prayed throughout the process for humility, discernment and peace of mind. Looking back, I think God granted all those things.
“Lately I’ve been using my platform to provide resources to my audience that encourage honest conversation and self-education on racism. I think it’s incredibly important to address racism when it happens and educate others as to how deeply rooted it is in our society. I believe that education and conversation lead to empathy, and empathy leads to solidarity.”