WBU-AP(Junior Group) Fine work
“The Challenges And Aspirations Of A Blind Musician”
New Zealand Aine Kelly Costello(16/Female)
Being a Musician is a complex endeavour for anyone and it is impossible not to admit that being blind simply puts a few more stumbling blocks in one's path. Many of the challenges we as blind people face have to do with the learning, rehearsing and confident performing of the Music we endeavour to play. Speaking from the perspective of a young, versatile Musician, I know that each setting presents its own challenges. Yet there are also many ways of reducing almost all of these obstacles.
The first challenge a blind instrumentalist faces, when presented with the printed score of a new piece of Music, is how you will go about learning it. Ideally, the Music will arrive sufficiently far in advance that you are able to have it transcribed into Braille so you can see all the "instructions" in the Music for yourself, and you are also able to locate an audio recording of your part (even if there are other parts playing too). The use of Braille Music and a recording together is a very effective way to memorize. For instance, you could record your part from another source onto a BrailleNote, then listen to it and read the electronic copy of the Music on it at the same time. Helpful memorizing techniques include singing your part back to yourself (aloud or in your head), memorizing based on patterns such as sequencing, and tapping something (e.g. a toe) to keep the beat. Also, for ensemble and orchestral Music especially, it is very useful to play your part along with a recording, so you can learn how it fits with the other parts, in case they put you off or make you relearn a section. Being as prepared as you can will help to make you more confident and less stressed later.
Despite many polite reminder emails and requests however, unfortunately we as Blind Musicians are frequently presented with a printed piece and expected to be able to play it for a rehearsal, say, tomorrow. One option is to have an obliging friend sight-read the Music (slowly) into a recording device, preferably with a metronome playing at the same time to provide a clear and steady beat. It can also be helpful to have someone dictate sections which are rhythmically difficult or which contain many "instructions" to you, to write down in Braille Music on a notetaker. As a Blind Musician, being a fluent Braille Music reader and writer is an extremely valuable skill well worth developing. However, even if you are a competent memorizer and Braille music reader, if you only have a day to memorize a piece, chances are that there will be some aspect of the piece that will simply take too long to absorb fully. I believe that the best idea in this case is to memorize the parts of the piece which are most crucial to the character of the piece; if the articulation is a feature, learn it before the dynamics. These ideas should help you make the best of a bad situation.
Let's now jump to a rehearsal setting. Here, we as Blind Musicians must learn to accept that sometimes, blindness will make us a little bit slower than our sighted peers when it comes to locating a certain bar of Music for instance. Another tricky situation presents itself when it is hard to find the beat in the Music, and hence hard to count rests. Learning cues can be useful, although it is risky in orchestral settings, especially if learnt off of a recording, as the sound distribution may be different at the actual rehearsal, and different again in the performance venue. Another option involves asking someone to tap the beat with a finger on your leg for you, from a pre-arranged spot, for instance exactly two bars before a tricky solo entry. Finding inventive solutions to problems like these is a constant mission, but it is very rewarding when the end result is the ability to play your part in making the Music.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of being a solo Musician is being a competent and likeable performer. When getting dressed for a performance, it is worth having someone sighted check your clothing first to see that the style is definitely what you are after; a scruffy, out-of-date or informal appearance will give the audience an immediately negative first impression of you as a performer. It is crucial to note that the audience watch you as well as listen. Therefore, remembering to smile and bow before and after a performance, to face the audience and to hold yourself in a relaxed yet elegant posture will help the audience to better enjoy your performance. A degree of movement while performing is also common, although if this is something which does not come naturally to you even after several attempts, it would be safer to stay still than to move in a way that feels strange to you and is possibly distracting to the audience. Ask a trusted sighted person what they think. When cues are involved, it is often easiest to decide lengths of pauses, when to lift instruments, etc, before a performance, or, if possible, to have the blind person perform the cues. Before the performance, it is also advantageous to rehearse the logistics of where to stand and who will guide you on stage, so that you are more relaxed and confident about what will happen.
In short, being a Blind Musician is hard work, but rewarding. Sometimes you may have to do things differently, for instance, being a contract player for two orchestras rather than working full-time in one, so that you can keep up with the memorizing, but this is something we must accept if we want to succeed. However, if Music is something you are truly passionate about and committed to, and you are willing to be flexible, creative and self-advocating, you have every chance of success.