3 Blind Grands Concert, Vancouver WA3 Blind Grands Concert, Vancouver WAOver 300 people listened to a flurry of sound from three grand pianos and a few “ay yi yi’s” at a recent benefit concert for the Pacific Foundation for Blind Children (formerly Washington School for the Blind Foundation) and the School of Piano Technology for the Blind. The performance and accompanying auction raised approximately $30,000 for the 501(c)3 charities, said Blind School Superintendent Dean Stenehjem.
Most folks were blown away, but not everyone, though, could see the flying fingers.
“We have gotten some good feedback as to what we should do differently if we do this again,” said Stenehjem.
The three pianists are former students of Stenehjem at the Washington State School for the Blind. Jazz choir director with the Battle Ground School District and guest vocalist Darcy Schmitt kept the trio together with juicy vocals and toe-tapping. She worked closely with Brent Gjerve, a pianist blind from birth and autistic. It was a good match as she also serves as his care provider. Gjerve’s love of playing the piano began at age four.
Mac Potts began playing piano a little sooner – age two, and a couple of years later he started lessons. Although he was born blind, he was performing widely at age eight and recording music at age 11. Potts is known in Portland for his appearances at the Waterfront Blues Festival and his 2011 “Ten Grands” appearance with Michael Allen Harrison, and in New Orleans and Cincinnati at jazz and blues festivals. He studied with Janice Scroggins and has played with Henry Butler, Charmaine Neville, Tom Grant and Harry Connick Jr.
Perfect pitch man Nick Baker has honors in both classical voice and classic piano juries and earned a degree in musical performance. In June 2001 he released his first CD, Think Positive. His latest release, This One’s for You, is a collection of jazz standards.
Volunteers and school staff worked tirelessly to put the event together and to offer ongoing educational opportunities to the blind students. The payback for those who attended was watching the former students perform. The payback for Dean Stenejhem, besides the dollars raised, was networking with the community for future jobs for his graduates. He understands the hurdles and knows they can be overcome.
“I would say that a person who is blind probably has to be a better sales person when it comes to convincing a business to give them a chance,” says Stenejhem, and adds “Just about any type of job can be done by a person who is blind.”
He may even include driving in that statement.
“This past summer I watched a man who is blind giving blind and sighted people rides around a designated course in a parking lot in Orlando, Florida. As this blind driver said, ‘we are not as interested in the driving part as much as we are figuring out all the computer interfaces that will open up new opportunities in the future.’”
Stenejhem said there are agencies that can help companies make modifications to help a blind person have access. For more information, call Washington State School for the Blind, 360-696-6321.