For six semesters, Wayne Pearcy, a Berklee College student was just trying to get by. He would rely on friends to write out music and go to professors’ office hours to recite concepts that he couldn’t get down on paper.
Pearcy, who is blind, did not have access to the same software as his sighted classmates did. He came up short on exercises such as reharmonizing tunes and writing them out on the computer. Pearcy came to Berklee without knowing Braille Music. This is unfortunate because the college could have made this accessible to him.
It’s been a struggle for him just to keep up with his classes–a serious source of frustration for him. As a result, a piece of his musicality suffered. “The creative side of my brain sort of turned off,” said Pearcy, who plays trumpet and is majoring in performance.
This is all beginning to change, though, for Pearcy and other blind & visually impaired students who go to Berklee because of a new class that was added. The class is called Assisted Music Technology for Visually Impaired Students.
Recently in one class, students imported recorded tracks for a mixing exercise using CakeTalking. This software lets the student’s access Sonar software. Their professor producer/composer, Chi Kim, was teaching them how to use this accessible program as well as Sibelius Access for Sibelius. These Windows-based programs require PCs, while the rest of the Berklee students use Macs with software such as Finale for notation and Logic for MIDI sequencing and audio recording–software that’s not accessible for visually impaired students.
Kim’s class provides instruction in hardware and software for blind and visually impaired students as well as Braille notation. In addition to giving students access to technology that until now has been beyond their reach, the class also gives them the skills to sight-read, which is similar to arranging, harmony and ear training.
Students are finding the class challenging and some hope to take it twice. “I feel like I just ran a computer marathon,” said Pearcy after one class session, with his characteristic hearty laugh.
The class has really benefitted Pearcy and he has since written his first composition–a score for a jazz combo. He submitted it to Jazz Revelation Records and hopes they will consider it on the labels next album. “It’s been great,” he said. “I feel like I have a much better grasp at using programs that are accessible to me.”
“The doors have opened for me,” he continued. “I felt like I was not learning enough in class or able to express myself the way I wanted to. Because of the tools Berklee gave me, it’s been really life-changing. I’m so grateful I can sit down at a computer and do it.”
“It changes everything,” said Kim. “It opens up more career choices, other than just being a performer. It opens up a lot of possibilities as a writer. Students will have a more full experience like sighted students. They’ll get more out of classes, more education.”
The class that Berklee has is great for its blind & visually impaired students. It gives them the confidence to make it in the music world and it can make Berklee a role model for other schools to follow.
Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind