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Spectrum band a unique outlet for members affected by autism

Patrick Varine
| Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, 3:57 p.m.

Music is a sanctuary for Justin Laus of Penn Hills.

"It calms me down," said Laus, 23. "If I'm frustrated or angry, it really helps me relax and focus."

Laus is affected by autism, as are two of the other three members of Spectrum, the band in which he plays.

On an unseasonably cool August evening, the sounds of The Romantics' "What I Like About You" and the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" emanated from the basement door at the Penn Hills house where Spectrum rehearses.

Laus also plays with the Pittsburgh Emperors. It's not a band, but rather a special-needs hockey team, which is where he met the group's bass player, Erin Mullins of Baldwin.

Mullins is not on the autism spectrum, but her younger sister plays on the Emperors team.

"We're good influences because we can share our music with people and show them that we all can get along," said Mullins, 15.

While drummer Chris Brozek, 25, has difficulty with typical social interactions, as soon as he settles in behind his drum kit and counts off a tune, it's clear he is in his element.

"It's just wonderful," said Brozek's mother Lisa, of North Huntingdon. "It's hard for him to make friends and fit in somewhere. But when he's doing music, things really come together."

The band caught the attention of Pittsburgh-area bandleader John Vento, a Penn Hills native. Spectrum has opened for Vento's Nied's Hotel Band at concerts and fundraisers, and last month they played at the Murrysville Concert in the Park.

Keyboardist Bobby McGrath, 18, of New Kensington, got his start in music while listening to his father practice guitar.

"He noticed that I was humming along with perfect pitch," McGrath said.

From there is was on to his grandfather's Hammond organ at 10 years old, "and I just started fooling around with notes," he said. "I noticed more and more that I listened to music, I could identify the notes, and I just put the two together: listen to the notes, then figure out how to play it."

The band's next show is a Sept. 15 gig at the Barber National Institute , an Erie organization that provides services for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Mullins' mother Beverly Hartman said she loves seeing Erin having so much fun.

"It's so neat to see how happy they are," Hartman said. "I have no musical ability whatsoever, so I give them all the credit in the world for getting up there to play."

Brozek, when asked about the band, made one thing very clear.

"It makes me feel very happy," he said with a smile. "I like rock'n'roll."

The band's next scheduled show will be as part of the bill for "Band Together Pittsburgh," which will be Dec. 3 at Moondog's in Blawnox.

For more, visit .

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

Bobby McGrath, Justin Laus and Erin Mullins, members of Spectrum, rehearse on Aug. 30, 2017, in Penn Hills.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Bobby McGrath, Justin Laus and Erin Mullins, members of Spectrum, rehearse on Aug. 30, 2017, in Penn Hills.
Spectrum drummer Chris Brozek of North Huntingdon sits behind his drum kit during rehearsal on Aug. 30, 2017.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Spectrum drummer Chris Brozek of North Huntingdon sits behind his drum kit during rehearsal on Aug. 30, 2017.
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