[Menvi-discuss] Questions re. Blind Accompanists

Karen Gearreald karen118 at cox.net
Tue Apr 10 14:26:25 EDT 2012

	As a totally blind accompanist participating in church services
every week, I appreciate the fact that my director is very understanding and
empathetic.  Often he or another singer will introduce the hymn or special
music which I am to accompany; thus I readily know when to start.  The
director and I confer several times a week before the service.  A "monitor
speaker" near me makes it easier for me to hear all cues during rehearsals
and during the actual service.  If the director senses that I am unaware of
the singers' readiness to begin, he will simply say "Karen" as a cue for me.
Since our services tend to be informal, nobody seems to mind; but even in a
very formal setting, I would see no problem with such an audible cue.  

I am convinced that although lack of sight may seem to be a huge obstacle,
it can be overcome, especially if the blind accompanist finds ways to be
exceptionally helpful to the singers.  As a singer and pianist, I was
fortunate to study privately for many years with a fabulously empathetic
sighted teacher who has a graduate degree in accompanying.  By osmosis and
by specific instruction, I learned his secrets of accompaniment--helpful
little maneuvers which are unknown to most keyboard players.  I have become
skillful and comfortable in making all sorts of adaptations, modifications,
and transpositions--sometimes at the last minute or even during a
performance--to please the director and the singers.  In addition, prior to
performance I speak as many comforting and reassuring words as I can to any
singers who may be fretful or nervous.  I also am constantly working to
improve my skills and expand my repertoire so that even on very short
notice, I can accompany pieces which a sighted accompanist might be afraid
to try without adequate rehearsal.

I have found that in accepting the musical challenges which come to me, I
need the grace and patience and sense of humor which only our Lord can give.
Once, as I recall, I was asked to play for a wedding after three other
keyboardists had declared themselves unavailable.  In accepting the
opportunity, I decided that I must not be offended by the fact that I was
fourth choice.  I just said to myself:  "I'll play so well that these people
will wish they had asked me first."

When pieces are complicated and there Is sufficient lead time, I obtain
braille transcriptions if possible.  The value of this strategy was recently
clear to me as I, in the position of vocal soloist, worked with two sighted
accompanists who were trying to play the ink-print score of Rossini's
"Inflammatus," a very challenging piece.  The transcriber, a dear and
understanding friend, had numbered my measures with her usual extraordinary
accuracy.  Thus when the sighted accompanists got lost, I was able to talk
about where they were and what I thought we should be doing.  

In summary, I'm delighted that Mr. Lay is assisting his blind friend.  More
power to such a determined effort!  In a word, my advice is that the blind
accompanist should develop so many assets that nobody even thinks of his
blindness as a liability or hindrance.
					Karen Gearreald 

-----Original Message-----
From: menvi-discuss-bounces at menvi.org
[mailto:menvi-discuss-bounces at menvi.org] On Behalf Of
richardtaesch at menvi.org
Sent: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 1:38 PM
To: menvi-discuss at menvi.org
Cc: layhank at yahoo.com
Subject: [Menvi-discuss] Questions re. Blind Accompanists


Hello all,

Kindly read this very interesting question (below my signature). I am sure
many of you will be very willing to offer suggestions for Mr. Lay, as we
have seen several discussions on this subject over time.

Please write him directly, but do copy the list. I have suggested that Mr.
Lay join us and the network, as well. His address is: <layhank at yahoo.com>

Richard Taesch
MENVI Headquarters - www.menvi.org

comments: I'm a sighted person, trying to help a blind pianist get a job as
a church accompanist.

I'm trying to find out if any devices or methods have been developed to help
the music director communicate performance cues to the accompanist, such as
starts, stops, tempo changes, fermatti, etc.  Ways to identify measures
(normally numbered in printed scores) would also help.  I'm an amateur
singer myself, and have no experience with braille music, so links to
sources for such would also be helpful.

Hank Lay

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