Blind Keyboarding after a childhood of classical piano training.

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It was New Year’s Eve 2015 and my son had come up for a few days of skiing. I booked us a table at Powder Hounds restaurant at Sun Peaks. When we entered he mentioned there was a band set up on the stage and a keyboard. “Neat” I commented and we sat and had our supper. Then Peter Ernst went on stage and asked for the keyboard player. I told my son that was me. He could not believe it. He knew I played piano but also knew I had not played for years and definitely no experience in a band setting. He guided me up to the stage and I played my first few songs in a band. I made him promise that if I looked like I was going to faint or pass out he would come get me.

Three years later, a table of eight friends and family including my daughter and her boyfriend sat right in front of the keyboards for a New Year’s celebration.  It turned out over half the restaurant were friends who had come to listen to us play and dance the night away into the New Year. Earlier that evening, we watched and listened to the echoes up and down the valley of a great fireworks display, then headed to Powder Hounds and took off layers of warm clothes to settle in for an evening of great food, friendship and music.

My journey into music began with my friend Peter. Peter is a talented musician songwriter and was looking for a keyboardist to add to his performance. My girlfriend let him know one evening that I played. Really, I played 30 years ago and I played classical. But thanks to my curiosity and driven nature I listened through hours of YouTube to see what playing in a band meant from a keyboard point of view. Peter and I had a rhythm and energy together on stage that kept me moving forward and wanting to learn and improve.

Well three years later and I am still enjoying performing. It is funny because I am not a stage type person. I am serious, an academic thinker and I cannot believe I actually have this alter ego of ‘performer’, being in the moment of the energy of a full dance floor.

Last year we played a house concert. It was Peter, his wife Tina and myself. There were 70 tickets sold and I played a grand piano in an outstanding home that sits on top of Look Out Ridge and looks down the valley. What was extra special was this home was our friends’ Richard and Ali. It was their son Jono Floyd who produced the song I wrote for my son’s wedding last summer. (previous post Dionne and Connor)  It was a  magical evening of Peter’s  original songs. I will never forget some of those moments.

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Blindness has its challenges, definitely. For me the challenge is that I can play. I have good hands but I cannot read a Fakebook or a lead sheet. So I play by memory and theoretical knowledge of music and varying styles. This stressed me out because I was so frustrated that I could not just glance down at the notes. Peter called out changes on stage and this worked well. However the more musicians I meet and work with, I have learned that my method is actually the method of many. The goal is to jam and play as much as we can and to communicate through the tones and ebb and flow of the music. Last week in an open mike session I played and I sang. The challenge was that I stand when I play and sing, and I move up and down the keyboard. So I had no idea where the microphone was at times unless I took one hand off the keyboard and swept the air for it. This is something to research for a solution.  I am certainly not the first blind person on stage having to manage a microphone.

I learned that there is a Braille music language. A library of whole scores of classical music in Braille. National Library Services has a wealth of resources. But I am not at a point in my life to learn an entire different language. So I am now developing a little short hand Braille code of my own to refer to on stage.  At home I use the phone and the computer with a screen reading program. But the ambient noise of a night out precludes the ability to use this method.  There are links all over the World Wide Web about music and Braille tablatures. Technology advances all the time. I find Google and my iPhone have changed my life. I can ask SIRI “search the web for chords [name of song and performer]” and if you add “tutorial” to the search string, up come several links to teaching tutorials. Many are guitar-focussed but this works fine for piano to get the basics. Then it’s up to us to fancy it up for performance.

I also use a site called HDpiano which is an audible way of teaching songs. No sheet music required. They rate their songs by level of difficulty so you can pick and choose. They also sort their songs by genre. Another go-to resource for me is PWJ (Piano with Johnny) and he is a talented keyboardist and a descriptive teacher of genres and techniques. Piano Man Steve is another go-to for great video lessons. All these sites do a great job of describing the notes and chords they are teaching. I have found them accessible with JAWS and my PC; as well as my iPhone and voice over. There are so many other sites I cannot remember the names of but do recognize the voices when YouTube loads. If you are interested in exploring music, be curious and persistent: what you need is most likely in some form out there and at some level accessible with a few computer and phone skills.

If you thought music had left your life as an adult, be open to it returning in some shape or form. It has brought me much joy in my retirement from work. If someone had told me 5 years ago I would be getting help to haul a heavy keyboard back and forth to play in gigs I would have thought they needed their heads read.

Enjoy listening or playing. Music is a language of love and connection all its own. Thanks to all who support me in my journey of music. For everything from getting me to the gig with my equipment, guiding me on and off stage, getting me beers in the breaks, guiding me outside for a moment of fresh air, teasing me on Halloween gigs with a bright light sabre stick from behind the bar and the list goes on when you are blind and in a noisy environment. And many thanks to the patient audiences, especially those who return!

Special thanks to my friend Jim Alix who is always there as my roadie and problem solve in creatively working out ways to do things. Whether it is editing a post, taking video and pics, an extra extension cord, doing sound check or problem solving a method of Lead Sheet access. He is always there and amazing. Thank you +++++

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