Supporting blind children to perform and have their achievements recognised
One of the joys of being a musician is playing and singing for others, and blind children can relish performing in the same way as their fully sighted peers.
However, in the absence of vision, there are a number of factors to consider above and beyond the usual preparation for a concert or other event. There is the question of navigating what is likely to be an unfamiliar space such as a stage, which often have trip hazards, steps, obstacles and may well have a drop at the front. Hence, it is important for those supporting blind children to perform to allow plenty of time before a concert for the child to get to know the space and, if they wish to manage independently, to practise moving to their performing position, being aware of the direction they need to face and locating a stool or chair if they are sitting down to play. Others may prefer to have help getting on and off stage, and, again, this should be rehearsed to ensure all goes smoothly before and after the performance.
If other musicians are involved, extra time may be needed to rehearse with them too, particularly in relation to starting pieces and ending them together, and of changes of tempo. Discreet auditory cues may help coordinate simultaneous entries. Speeding up and slowing down may require extra practice as an ensemble.
Some children may need to practise bowing and acknowledging the audience’s applause in an apparently natural way, but using gestures that have been taught rather than copied unthinkingly from seeing other performers in action.
In Ashleigh’s story, we see her teacher Adam telling her about the importance of the way she looks when playing (not removing her hands too quickly from the keys at the end of Rachmaninoff’s C sharp minor prelude, for example, and helping her to bow). Ashleigh's Story @ 11:19
At the end of Nafis’s story, three blind musicians perform ‘Coming Home Baby’ together. Their teacher Adam facilitates the ensemble using minimal language and light taps on the shoulder. Nafis's Story @ 07:57
For some blind children, particularly those with special social, emotional or mental health needs, the prospect of performing can be especially intimidating. In Hazel’s story, her teacher Glenn introduces the idea of performing in a way that she will understand, and she responds positively to the notion of playing in public for the first time. Hazel's Story @ 07:20 A well-prepared performance can boost children’s confidence and self-esteem, and, just like their fully sighted peers, young people with visual impairments should be given every opportunity to play or sing for others if they wish. Often it can be the case, particularly for children on the autism spectrum, that while one-to-one interactions can be problematic, performing for a large audience does not appear to be an issue. Surprisingly, they seem to have no nerves at all.
The equality duty on public bodies in the UK and many other countries means that music examinations should be made accessible to blind candidates, through reasonable adjustments being made that ensure a lack of vision does not disadvantage those wishing to enter. It is important to inform the examination board concerned, in plenty of time, the requirements that a blind student (including those with additional disabilities) may have, so the necessary preparations and adjustments can be made. These may include preparing materials in braille, having assistive technology available on the day and, having suitable alternatives to tests such as sight-reading where a child learns by ear.
There is a long tradition of blind candidates succeeding in music examinations at the highest level. There are no obstacles that cannot be overcome to allow a child or young person to enter an examination on equal terms with their sighted counterparts.
In Nafis’s story, we see his teacher Dave preparing him for a Trinity rock and pop grade exam. Nafis's Story @ 01:30
In Zoe’s story, we hear her tutor Robert recalling her entrance interview at the University of Oxford, in which he played a chorale to her that others had in print, and was prepared to repeat it as necessary to enable her to take the test on equal terms with sighted candidates. However, her excellent ear and memory meant that, in the event, this was unnecessary! Zoe's Story @ 08:18