Inspired by Tom’s story — and his music — strangers pledge guitars to help share the ‘gift of music’


A Canberra student’s inspiring connection with classical guitar has seen him and his music teacher inundated with offers of help.

Diagnosed with autism and ADHD at a young age, Tom Dunlop suffered anger and concentration issues until he found the classical guitar could help keep him calm.

Now, after working with music teacher Steve Allen, the 16-year-old is a guitar prodigy, able to handle intricate classical pieces with aplomb.

And since their story went public, the pair have been overwhelmed with generosity.

Tom’s talent caught the attention of a Canberra guitar maker, who decided to gift one of his handmade instruments to the teenager.

The Tasmanian blackwood and Huon pine detailed guitar was handed over to a stunned Tom this week.

“This is not what I expected today to be like,” Tom said, before immediately breaking into a rendition of Waltzing Matilda.

“It sounds so good.

“I don’t think thanks is enough.”

Tom Dunlop was given a new guitar after an outpouring of generosity.(ABC News: Craig Allen)

Tom was first introduced to the guitar after the charity St Vincent de Paul offered him free guitar lessons with Mr Allen six years ago.

Mr Allen, a music teacher at Canberra Grammar School, is dedicated to giving the “gift of music” to all children — regardless of their socio-economic status.

And his work hasn’t gone unnoticed, with offers of guitars flooding in this week.

“So that should last us a little while.”

Mr Allen now hopes to work with St Vincent de Paul to expand his program of offering free music lessons to more children.

He said he had also been contacted by a piano teacher interested in giving music lessons to kids who otherwise could not afford them.

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Watch Tom play classical guitar(Craig Allen)

Playing with the pros

Tom’s classical guitar talent also resonated with some on Canberra’s professional music scene.

Local blues and roots musician Jack Biilmann reached out to Tom after watching him play online.

“I was on social media scrolling through, and [Tom’s] story and video popped up … and I was just blown away,” Biilmann said.

“I said I want to jam with this guy.”

Jack Biilmann poses with a guitar on his lap.
Canberra musician Jack Biilmann heard Tom play and instantly wanted to jam.(Facebook: Jack Biilmann)

Outside the professional music scene, Biilmann is a teacher assistant, working with children with special needs.

“I work with a lot of kids with autism and all sorts of intellectual disabilities, and to see someone who’s found their thing and their calling like Tom has, is awesome,” he said.

“Concentration and controlling your emotions is a big challenge for the autistic community, and playing the guitar is something that is very challenging, it’s such a finicky process.

“For [Tom] to have harnessed all that and concentrate like he has, he’s obviously got lots of talent.”

Tom’s newfound fame could see him on stage soon.

Mr Biilmann has offered him the chance for his first public gig: the opening act of his national tour planned for next year.



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