The performance is from students of a music school that teaches music to the blind.
The Southern California Conservatory of Music is the only place in the country that offers a braille music curriculum to teach musicianship of the highest caliber to blind and visually impaired students. It houses one of the largest braille music libraries in the world, and it also provides outreach programs to both blind and sighted children in the public schools who would otherwise receive no formal music education. After 37 years of steady service, this important community and national resource for the blind is facing severe financial difficulties, and has embarked on a fundraising campaign in an attempt to keep its doors open and continue its many programs.
I had an opportunity to talk to Dory Bavarsky, teacher over there and asked him about story behind the conservatory. Here is our conversation:
RS: Dory, what led you to get interested in this school?
DB: I was enrolled as a piano student at the conservatory at age 13. My teacher was Grant Horrocks, who along with Richard Taesch had founded the Braille Music Division of our school. I was studying classical piano quite intensively, and spent many of my weekends practicing at the conservatory. Since I was often there on Saturdays, I began to observe and then participate in the group classes for blind children. It was fascinating because the way these children were taught to engage in music was somewhat different than what I had been used to. Also, the range of abilities and disabilities presented in our group of students was quite vast and remarkable. I met children who had tremendous music gifts, including a few with incredible ears. Many of our blind students have perfect pitch, and some to such a degree that they can easily play back complicated music upon a single hearing. I was especially amazed by Rachel Flowers, who at age 4 was playing Beethoven sonatas by ear, though she could barely reach the keyboard. Eager to work with this special group of people, I continued volunteering as an assistant throughout my high school years. After graduating from UCSB, I was hired as a faculty member at the conservatory.
RS: Tell us more about the wonderful work the school is doing?
DB: Our school provides a variety of important services. We operate as a regular music conservatory, offering private lessons in all the major instruments, including voice, piano, violin, guitar, and flute. Our Braille Music Division offers the same level of intensive musical education to the blind community. We hold weekly group classes in Braille music notation, keyboard skills, and ear training, as well as private lessons for some students. In addition, the Braille Music Division has conducted numerous outreach programs at other schools for the disabled throughout Southern California. Last year, our teachers, including myself, visited three different schools on a weekly basis, and conducted music appreciation classes for their students. These classes involve playing all kinds of music, discussing it, and even giving the kids an opportunity to feel and play various instruments. These outreaches are an important aspect of our program, as they provided a wonderful musical experience for kids who richly deserve and enjoy it.
Over our many years of service, we have developed strong relationships with many other organizations working with the blind community, including Junior Blind of America, California State University Northridge, and California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped. We are also the headquarters for The Music Education Network For The Visually Impaired, which is an information network composed of musicians, specialists, students, parents, and music educators.
RS: What can you share about some of the success stories of the school?
DB: Our school has had so many successes, especially in our Braille Music Division. We’ve had several students who have gone on to study music at colleges and universities. In fact, some of them have come back and are now working as instructors! We have also had students who come to our program unable to read braille. In several instances these students’ school teachers had declared that they would never be literate. However, music brings out hidden abilities, and after a few years with us, not only were these students reading braille, they were reading braille music notation as well.
One of our most inspiring students is one I mentioned earlier, Rachel Flowers. Rachel started with us as a tiny, nearly silent little girl. Though she would hardly ever talk, her musical ears were astounding. Over the years, Rachel has developed into an extraordinary musician. Her participation in music has also aided her development into a cheerful, talkative young lady. She plays piano and flute, and during the last few years become an excellent Jazz player. Last year, Rachel impressed some of the biggest stars of Jazz, including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Hubert Laws, when she performed for them as part of an celebration honoring Herbie Hancock.
RS: What support are you looking for and how can people show their support?
DB: An important aspect of our Braille Music Division is that tuition for group classes is free for all our students. This policy ensures that no child is denied instruction based on financial circumstances. Thus, the conservatory has always relied on donations and grants to cover some of our operating costs. Unfortunately, because of the difficult economy, many of the annual grants we had been receiving did not come through this year. Simply stated, the conservatory needs immediate emergency funds in order to stay open for the next term. All donations help us keep our doors open and allow us to continue offering services from our current location. If we do manage to survive this challenging time, we will need continued support in order to continue and expand our programs. People can help us so much by donating to the school, and also by telling others about us.
Also, please visit http://www.sccm.us/index_files/Page1544.htm to view photos and performance videos of some of our Braille Music Division students. There is a terrific video of Rachel playing piano and flute, at the same time!