Thursday, May 6, 2021

An American Academy That Teaches Music to the Blind

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Jessica Kneipp
Jessica writes about films, and occasionally gets to direct them. Music, photography, art, poetry, reading and travel are pretty good too. She has a love of silent films, they are the closest she will ever get to "time travel."

AMB is a music academy in California that is pretty unique when compared to other music schools — it is the only academy of music in the U.S. that is completely dedicated to teaching music to blind students. David Pinto, the founder of AMB, has even developed special software to help the students learn music efficiently.

Music for the blind

Pinto never actually thought of teaching blind students until a chance encounter in 1995. During one of his music classes in Los Angeles, a blind student unknowingly walked in. Pinto pondered whether the blind student could record and edit music with computers like other normal musicians do. When he looked at the resources available for such students, Pinto realized that they were lacking. So he began developing software that blind people could use to set up music just like their peers who have sight.

About 18 years ago, Pinto decided to establish AMB together with his wife. They started the academy from their home. Once the demand for classes grew, they moved into a bigger space. Every Saturday, Pinto and a dozen or so music teachers spend their time training blind students in the art of music. “Saturdays are a day of rigorous musical instruction during which they take lessons in piano, voice, ukulele, guitar, flute, percussion, music theory and composition. AMB students also learn specialized skills like how to read Braille musical notation and operate computer programs, developed by Pinto, that are blind-accessible versions of Garage Band and the musical notation software Sibelius,” according to LA Times.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)
Every Saturday, Pinto and a dozen or so music teachers spend their time training blind students in the art of music. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Pinto believes that everyone, blind or not, is actually born with the potential of having perfect pitch. However, most of us lose that ability over time since eyesight ends up becoming our dominant sense. In contrast, blind people have to rely on hearing as their primary sense, which means that they are much more likely to have perfect pitch. According to some estimates, only 1 percent of the world’s population possesses perfect pitch, a number that Pinto thinks could be higher among musicians who begin training early on. Language can also have a major effect. He points to China as an example where singers are more likely to have perfect pitch since their hearing is honed by constantly conversing in a tonal language.

Pinto and his group of teachers have to come up with unique methods when teaching blind students. Since the students cannot see, teaching methods that are used for people with eyesight are useless. Teachers often have to make the blind students physically aware of the correct arm, hand, finger, and torso positions as well as how to perfectly use the corresponding muscles. In addition to providing music lessons, AMB also offers remedial lessons for blind students who are not doing well in their academic studies.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)
Pinto and his group of teachers have to come up with unique methods when teaching blind students. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Famous blind musicians

Throughout history, many blind musicians have enthralled people with their gift of music. In modern America, two such people stand out — Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. Born in the 1930s, Charles was not blind at birth but lost his eyesight at the age of seven. He was orphaned at 15 years of age. Despite a tough life, Charles became the top black pianist of his time and is often called the “Father of Soul” music. Ray Charles also had close relations with AMB. Pinto even had the honor of working closely with him during the last two years of his life.

Stevie Wonder, inspired by Charles, is another major blind musician who has attained legendary status. He is known as someone who was quite gifted from a young age. When he was just 11 years old, Wonder signed numerous music deals. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. Stevie Wonder is one of the best-selling musicians worldwide, having sold over 100 million records internationally.

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