As It Happens

Boy who delighted orchestra with 'wow' has a deep love of music, says grandmother

After a single "wow" sent a Boston orchestra searching for Ronan Mattin, the nine-year-old boy's grandmother says she's overwhelmed with what his proclamation of wonder has meant for the world.

Ronan Mattin, 9, is on the autism spectrum and rarely expresses himself verbally

This summer 2018 photo provided by Al Mattin shows his father, Stephen, and son, Ronan, at Stephen's home in Kensington, N.H. The Handel & Haydn Society had just finished a rendition of Mozart's Masonic Funeral at Boston's Symphony Hall on Sunday when a youngster blurted out: 'WOW!' (Al Mattin via Associated Press)

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It was the "wow" heard around the world. And now, the little voice behind that powerful moment has a name: Ronan Mattin. 

The Handel & Haydn Society orchestra had just finished a rendition of Mozart's Masonic Funeral at the Boston Symphony Hall on Sunday when Mattin exclaimed, "wow!"

Mattin, 9, was attending the concert with his grandfather, Stephen. Now, his grandmother Claire says she's overwhelmed by how many hearts he's captured.

Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

People all over the place have been going crazy about that captivating "wow." What was your reaction when you first heard the recording?

Oh, it just sent a chill down my spine. And it was kind of funny, because the day of the concert Stephen came home and he told the story about how Ronan gave out this big "wow!" in the middle of all the silence. And it was just a funny story. It was another Ronan story … but when I heard the recording, oh my. It's very emotional.

Take us back to Sunday. Was Ronan pretty excited about going to the concert?

Oh yes. Ronan was very excited. He loves music, all kinds of music, and Stephen especially makes it a point to take him to anything that's musical. So he was very excited.

This wasn't like the 1812 Overture or something. It's not something [with] a lot of bangs and bells and whistles and stuff. It wasn't sombre, but it was a pretty sophisticated piece of music. What do you think it was about it that I guess touched him so much?

I think that he picks up on the emotional tone of the music.

When he's listening to music at home, he's dancing around and making hand motions and pretending to conduct. It just moves him.

It gets to him more than a lot of other things that we do with him to try to bring him out.

The Handel & Haydn Society performs its rendition of Mozart's Masonic Funeral at Symphony Hall on May 5 in Boston. (Chris Petre-Baumer/Handel & Haydn Society/Associated Press)

When you say try to bring him out, what are you referring to?

Well, he is on the autism spectrum and we all do as much as we can to help him experience new things and to try to express himself.

He's mostly non-verbal. So for him to emotionally express his feelings with the word was amazing.

It's all the more touching and wonderful about this story that that's the case. So how often does he express himself in this way?

We've maybe heard it four or five times. Usually, if he's excited, he will kind of jump up and down and wave his hands around. But for him to say something is really unique.

How did you come to learn that the orchestra was actually looking for him?

My sister saw an article in one of the local newspapers, she lives in Massachusetts, and she called me right away because I had told her the story and she said, "That's got to be Ronan."

And she sent me the link to the article with the little sound clip and I was like, "Yeah I'd recognize his voice anywhere. That's him."

And then there was an email address for David Snead who is the CEO, I guess, of [The Handel & Haydn Society]. And I sent him an email, told him it was my grandson and he got right back to me.

Exhibition designer Linda Ziemba, background left, and acoustical consultant Matthew Azevedo, right, help set up the Handel & Haydn Society bicentennial exhibit at the Boston Public Library in Boston in 2015. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)

He wants to bring Ronan to the [symphony] and to reward him. What's going to happen?

Well, what he told me was that the conductor that night has gone back to England, which is his home, but he will be back in October. And at that time they're going to invite Ronan and the family to go back to Symphony Hall, and for Ronan to meet the conductor and some of the musicians and then give the family a front row seat to the show.

What will that mean for Ronan?

We can tell him ahead of time that we're going back to the symphony and he will be very excited. But to tell him he's going to meet the conductor, I don't think that'll really click with him until he's there and actually meeting him and maybe touching his baton, his wand. That's what will thrill him.

Well, Ronan sounds like a very special boy, and I have to say his grandparents sound pretty special too.

Oh, thank you. You know, we love both of them. He has a sister and we just love both of them to death.

Interview with Claire Mattin produced by Sarah Jackson