Written by Darian Liu, FCSN Voices Youth Reporter
Graphics by Amanda Loh, FCSN Voices Graphic Artist
FCSN’s Dream Achievers consists of three talented musicians with autism: lead vocalist Greg Hebert, Alice Jen on keyboard, and Lawrence Wang, who is a multi-instrumentalist. They have been performing for more than 10 years now, and even with the COVID-19 pandemic being a monumental setback for musicians across the world, the Dream Achievers continue to astonish the world with their wonderful performances, informing the public’s perceptions of the individual abilities of those with special needs.
To get where they are today, each of the musicians experienced very different journeys, both in terms of music and in their personal lives. Alice has limited verbal abilities and is severely impacted by autism. Despite being the youngest of the three, she has been playing music the longest. She became interested in it before she even turned four years old, and immediately began teaching herself to play by ear on the piano. This was a unique case, as Alice showed no interest in typical children’s toys when she was little. When she so much as showed any interest in anything, her mother, Jia, would immediately try to accommodate this interest. As such, when she noticed Alice intently watching an infomercial selling pianos, that was when they bought their first piano. By age six, she got a music teacher, but was unable to communicate well at the time. She was not receptive to regular teachers and their teaching methods. When her family moved to Fremont, she joined the FCSN Summer Music Camp, where she met her current piano teacher, who understood how to work with Alice. She entered her first competition at the age of nine and got third place. Since then, she has continued competing in competitions and has found great success. When she turned twelve, she was scouted for the Dream Achievers band by Anna Wang, Lawrence’s mom, leading to where she is today. While Alice has some trouble communicating through speech, she has the most successful portfolio among the three musicians in the group. She’s also extremely adept at playing different genres of music on the keyboard, an amazing skill that has helped the band a lot. “All three of them are super talented, but it’s the one who talks the least that got the most awards for their talent,” says Anna.
Greg, on the other hand, is friendly and talkative, always eager to interact with others. As the lead vocalist and the MC at concerts, he is always ready to be the first one to call out “hit it!” at the performances, providing a great source of energy for the band as a whole. He had always loved music growing up, often singing along to Disney songs on car rides, but what really started his musical journey was his visits to his grandmother’s house, where he would play the guitar. Seeing how much Greg loved it, even spending entire nights there, he finally got a small guitar of his own for Christmas; when he turned eighteen, his grandparents gifted him a guitar more suited to his size. He still uses that guitar to this day. Greg’s whole family was heavily involved in music and drama camps at FCSN. Greg, like Alice, was scouted for the Dream Achievers band by Anna. With perfect pitch, the ability to sing, and the instruments of both ukulele and guitar, Greg is an integral part of the team.
Lawrence prides himself on being the filler of the band, being able to fill in almost any role that is needed, whether it be drums, saxophone, etc. His musical journey was a surprise to everyone, including his parents who used to think that he hated music. Due to his over-sensitive hearing, he was not able to tolerate noise well – he covered his ears whenever he would hear music, and he would even run away when his sister would practice piano. His older sister later started the FCSN Music Camp and brought Lawrence to her class, but he refused to participate in any activities. A particular recorder teacher ended up just letting Lawrence do his own thing throughout the class, as Lawrence would often sit in a corner away from the group, facing a wall, during class. At the end of the day, the teacher asked if anyone wanted to play the tune that was being taught, but nobody responded. The teacher called out Lawrence’s name in the hopes of getting a response from him, and that was when Lawrence suddenly stood up and played the music being taught on the recorder. “It was as if he had eyes at the back of his head! Either that or he just learns by osmosis!” remarked Anna, Lawrence’s mother. The music teacher saw his potential at this moment, and offered to teach him for free. While Anna was delighted by the offer, Lawrence was indifferent, so Anna ended up having to pay him to attend class! Thus, Lawrence embarked on his musical journey. With his natural talent in learning instruments quickly and his ability to learn music by ear, he added many instruments to his arsenal. In 2011, the band was founded, with Lawrence being the first member.
All three of them have faced difficult challenges on the road to where they are today. Alice constantly suffered from anxiety and panic attacks over her performances. With the help of psychologists and therapists, she has been learning to manage this obstacle. . Most of all, however, she struggled from her inability to communicate with others. Lawrence is highly sensitive to environmental triggers, and Anna had to deal with Lawrence’s meltdowns on several occasions. Also, for all of them, they suffered a great deal of stress whenever they received a new song to practice, but they have grown to become more flexible over time. In spite of all these hardships, with their tightly-knit bonds and support of each other, this group has continued to thrive over the many years they’ve been active.
The past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the Dream Achievers, as all of their live gigs were shut down. However, they came up with ways to share their music virtually to counteract this obstacle, whether it be streaming on Facebook or making YouTube concerts. In 2020 alone, they had a whopping 22 virtual concerts. By 2021, they managed to do about 20 concerts, with a mix of both live and virtual ones. Besides their gigs getting canceled, it was also hard for them to adjust to virtual concerts. Greg in particular was affected by the virtual concerts, since he was used to feeding off of the crowd’s energy, but as a whole, the band has managed to adjust quite well.
The Dream Achievers have gotten through so much to get to where they are now, and they seek to achieve even more. With the goal of spreading their message of hope for children with disabilities, they’ve already been all over the world, performing in Toronto, Beijing, among other places. Overall, they just want to keep doing what they’re doing: performing, gaining exposure, and spreading their message. With such admirable goals and dedicated members, the Dream Achievers are sure to continue finding great success in the future!