This year’s Music Camp will be led by our very own Masceo Williams and Lawrence Brown as co-directors. Students will learn the hallmarks of blind musicianship including individual performance practice, song writing, collaboration in an ensemble, and stage etiquette and performance in a house band. We’ll work with braille music and gain proficiency in accessible recording. Students will be coached on a range of instruments including vocals, guitar, drums/percussion, and piano, and gain valuable insight from guest speakers. We’ll finish off the weekend with a performance in our Redwood Grove Theater.
PHOTO: Music academy students jam on keyboards and guitar.
Blind Music Academy Offering Free Concerts in August
In its third year, LightHouse’s summer Music Academy grows and expands. With an emphasis on composition, performance and learning to read and write music in braille for musicians who are blind or have low vision and are ages 16 to 24, our talent pool and ambition continues to grow. This year we’re excited to host students from the United States, Mexico and Canada. And with the opening in May of the LightHouse’s state-of-the-art San Francisco facility, Blind Music Academy will now be held both in the city and the country.
This year we have fourteen dedicated blind musicians, all under the age of 25, who are spending a week honing their skills as musicians and composers. The students are from all over North America, and though some of these individuals are already quite formidable talents, they are spending this week focused on not only becoming better performers but achieving fluency in braille music and other accessible forms of musical notation.
Each year Blind Music Academy culminates with a performance by our blind students, and this time around the group has announced that they will perform not once but three times, with additional concerts in both downtown Napa and San Francisco. Our students include a virtuosic classical pianist from Vera Cruz, Mexico and a locally-known jazz radio DJ and percussionist from El Paso, Texas, and the shows are guaranteed to be musically diverse and exciting.
Experience the power of Music Academy by joining us at one of these three, free concerts:
Blind Music Academy Summer Tour Dates
Friday, August 5 – Covenant Presbyterian Church, 7:30 p.m.
1226 Salvador Ave, Napa, CA 94558
Saturday, August 6 – Enchanted Hills Camp, 4:00 p.m., with dinner following.
3410 Mt Veeder Rd, Napa, CA 94558
Tuesday, August 9 – LightHouse for the Blind, 5:30 p.m., with reception following.
1155 Market Street, 10th Floor, San Francisco 94103
The concerts are free. For those attending the concert at Enchanted Hills Camp, we are requesting a donation if you wish to join us for dinner after the show. Please RSVP for all concerts to Tony Fletcher at email@example.com.
Our students walk into the Music Academy session brimming with talent. Take a look for yourself. Watch these videos for two of our students, concert pianist Fernando Apan and percussionist Lawrence Brown:
About Blind Music Academy
Enchanted Hills Camp has paired up with Bill McCann, founder and president of Dancing Dots Braille Music Technology. Bill McCann pioneered this specialized music academy model both in Canada and in the United States. Music Academy is for musicians who are blind or have low vision between the ages of 16 to 24 years old who are serious about music or might be thinking of entering the profession. This academy introduces students to using non-visual techniques to compose music, read the works of others, learn performance skills and gain the capacity to compete for and win employment in the music field.
This year’s Music Academy session is full. If you have questions about next year’s session, please contact Taccarra Burrell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-694-7318.
In 2016, the LightHouse is branching out in lots of new directions, not just with our new SF headquarters but in taking our contributions to parts of the world that may have not heard of the LightHouse. One of the most important parts of our expansion is an emphasis on current and cutting edge technology. As such, we have been asked to program a dedicated event at the mecca of all things tech, art, and media: South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. SXSW is where every industry leader wants to premiere films, perform music, and get people excited about the next big tech advancement. Finally, due to our efforts this year with the help of the good folks at SXgood and SXSW Eco, the blindness community will have a strong and exciting presence.
That’s right — next week, we’re coming to Texas for SXSW. We’ve worked hard over the past few months to assemble a dynamic group of speakers and innovators who are thinking about accessibility from a new perspective — a mainstream perspective that includes rather than excludes. At our event, there will be something for everyone: Professional recording studios and audio engineers, film buffs and producers alike, and of course the passionate advocates for accessibility who want to see both personalized and mainstream technology merge into one seamless integration.
This is a major first for SXSW — a forum on disability hosted, moderated, and programmed solely by blind individuals and joined by others who think daily about mainstream accessibility — diving deep into nuanced discussions of a mainstream future for accessible tech. We’ll have a hands-on lab session where conference-goers can actually touch and experience the great stuff we’re building. When we’re not at our event, we won’t just melt into the crowd, either: We’ll be roaming the streets of Austin and hosting gatherings at our very own Access House, a hub we’ve built specifically for those with similar interests to meet, get to know each other, and exchange ideas.
Join us at Palm Door on Sixth this Tuesday, March 15 for one of the most diverse and unusual panels SXSW has to offer. As part of the SXgood Hub (or ‘social good hub’) our event is open to anyone with festival credentials of any kind (Music, Film, Interactive, wristbands), and we promise a grip of engaging, never-before-told stories about what goes into truly great design. What’s more — after the panel we have an hour-long dedicated lab portion where you can get hands on with the tech we’re talking about.
Here’s a bit more about each speaker:
Jonas Rivera and Paul Cichocki and the Academy Award-winning production staff at Disney•Pixar have been working tirelessly for years now to make audio description for blind moviegoers better — not just in quality, but in the tech that delivers this important audio track for those who can’t see the screen. They’ll tell us the origin story of their brand new feature from Disney Movies Anywhere, and why it’s so important.
Ed Gray has been working at Avid for more than twenty years, and never imagined he’d be an accessibility leader until he became blind later on as an adult. Now, he has helped take ProTools, the industry standard for recording, to a peak of accessibility, making sure that once again, blind people can be audio engineers.
Christian Erfurt is the CEO of Be My Eyes, the video assistant app that first launched just sixteen months ago out of Denmark. Now living in San Francisco and pushing Be My Eyes’ technology to the next level, Christian and founder Hans Jørgen Wiberg will share how their technology helps not only blind people, but everyone else, too.
Rupal Patel is the founder and CEO of VocaliD, Inc., an east coast based company with a big goal: To create a million voices, literally. If Be My Eyes crowdsources eyesight for those who need it, VocaliD does the same for those with speech disorders. The winner of an innovation award at SXSW Interactive last year, Rupal is back again this year to share how VocaliD can make custom voices to fit any human, and why that’s important to society.
Will Butler is the Media and Communications Officer at LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, and has worked with all of these companies in some capacity over the past few years, whether it’s as a journalist, critic, or collaborator. He will be moderating the panel discussion.
Do you sing or play an instrument? Train with some of our nation’s best teachers at our summer Music Academy at Enchanted Hills Camp.
“I had a lot of fun this year meeting new people and my experience at EHC was camp was great. Really awesome to meet all of you and to rock out and jam with all of you guys. Everyone who came this year must come next year. We need to get more people in our jam sessions. We killed it up there on stage, we absolutely killed it! EHC is the place to be!”
-Participant Ben Blatchford
The LightHouse will partner for a third year with Dancing Dots, the world’s leading provider of accessible music technology for the blind, to bring our summertime Music Academy back to the redwoods. The Academy is open to young, motivated musicians who are blind or low vision who are 16 to 24 years old.
Music Academy is open to young musicians from all over the world.
New This Year – Music Academy has Expanded to a 10-Day Session
Feedback for our first two sessions has been overwhelmingly positive and our students want more. So we’ve expanded the session from seven to ten days.
The first seven days of the session will take place at Enchanted Hills Camp and include two opportunities to perform for Napa residents. Then students will be transported to the new LightHouse Building at 1155 Market Street for continued training plus the chance to see professional musical performances in various genres such as jazz, classical and rock. Students will meet local musicians and mentors while enjoying the vibrant music scene found in San Francisco. They’ll also train on our multi-media, state-of-the-art technology. All students will get the chance to perform at a showcase concert in the LightHouse Building on Tuesday, August 9.
Where: Enchanted Hills Camp, Napa and the LightHouse Building, San Francisco
When: August 1 through August 10, 2016
Cost for the week, all-inclusive: $300
(If the registration fee is a barrier, let us know; some scholarships will be available.)
Bill McCann, President and Founder of Dancing Dots, will spend the entire session with the aspiring musicians. McCann, blind himself, will lead a team of four blind instructors and technicians to teach the latest and greatest techniques for blind and low vision students.
“It’s rather bittersweet to be back home after an amazing week of Music Academy at EHC. Met so many awesome people and had an overall great experience. Definitely going back next summer. Yesterday’s concert went very well and everyone performed really good and were at the top of they’re game. Shout out to the kitchen crew as well for delivering great meals throughout camp. Bummed that it all ended so quickly, but stoked to see everyone again next year.”
-Participant Daniel Cavazos
If you get lost in Golden Gate Park this weekend, try asking a blind person for directions. In anticipation of one of San Francisco’s greatest community events, our team at LightHouse has created something brand new: a Hardly Strictly Bluegrass map that you don’t need eyes to read.
Over the last fifteen years, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has grown to become one of San Francisco’s greatest attractions, bringing hundreds of thousands of music fans to Golden Gate Park each October to enjoy not just bluegrass, but country, folk, rock, pop, and other legendary musical acts — all for free. Established by Warren Hellman in 2001 and carried on after his passing in 2011, HSB was founded as a non-commercial music festival, and as such, one that was open to all members of the community.
Today we’re proud to be pushing that ideal just a little bit further with our first ever map for blind and low vision people of this Golden Gate Park event. Complete with up-to-date stage locations, street names, trails, restrooms, accessible seating, and a number of other dynamically embossed elements, our HSB map is a dependable way for blind individuals to get to know the festival, navigate independently, and plan their weekend with confidence. What’s more, we’ve printed the full set times for all acts throughout the weekend. It’s all here!
Last month, we made some similar maps for Burning Man — a fun way to encourage blind folks to consider making a trek like the one to Black Rock City — but with the Hardly Strictly map, we’re creating something truly for the San Francisco community. The festival is free, and as such, so are the maps. More than anything, we want you to go out and have a beautiful weekend.
HSB tactile maps will be available for all blind and low vision persons at Information Booth 1, located at the Main (East) Entrance to to the park (JFK Drive and Transverse Drive). This is also the stop for the ADA transport. If you’d like to receive a map in advance of the festival, please contact us ASAP at 415-694-7349 or email email@example.com.
As a blind/low vision person who makes music, wrote about it for a living, and has attended dozens of music festivals, I was eager to compare my own experience of concert-going with the author of the piece. As it turns out, she is a good enough writer, with optimism for an inclusive future, but the overall tone of the piece (most notably the title) greatly misrepresents the reality of the situation, and discredits how far musical events have come in the 25 years since the passage of the ADA.
The last several years in particular have seen tons of progress in the accessibility of music festivals, and if you read further, you may be convinced that, even if you’re completely blind, there is a place for you on the polo fields of Coachella, the ferris wheel of Treasure Island, or the foggy enclaves of Outside Lands.
First, it’s important to dispel the misattributions that support the Salon.com article. In the story, the author details several circumstances in which she was discriminated against as a disabled concert-goer: a parking attendant refused her a handicapped spot, an usher scowled and denied her an elevator, and so on. These instances are certainly regrettable, but to be bluntly honest, the problem does not actually seem to be with the venues themselves — which were equipped with said facilities — but are in fact caused by a lack of communication between humans.
If you have a so-called “invisible” disability, such problems will plague you not just at concerts and music festivals but literally everywhere you go — unless you come prepared with a communication device. Even if it’s just a little 10-second speech, well-rehearsed and easy to understand, you need to have a believable way of informing people of your situation. As blind and visually impaired individuals, we are fortunate to have the white cane, which accomplishes all of this crucial communication in a single sighted glance. And in all my experience at music festivals around the country, I have not only never been treated poorly with the cane, but I’d even argue that my experience was even better than most.
But it’s not just about blind people having a particular advantage. Austin Whitney, a law student at UC Berkeley and paraplegic since 2007, founded Accessible Festivals in 2014 specifically to ensure that people with disabilities — any disability you can imagine — are accommodated appropriately at music festivals in America and all over the world. Whitney first worked as a consultant, starting with Goldenvoice (who put on events such as Coachella and Hangout Fest), and eventually realized that his skills were not only useful, but in high demand. Now he works year-round in addition to attending law school, and employs dozens of people at individual events across the country, particularly in summer months.
Talking to Whitney, he says that the range of disability that he and his team can accommodate is only expanding. “It’s everything from 18 year olds with a temporary disability like a broken leg to 90 year olds with an air tank,” he said. Other disabilities also include dietary considerations, physical and mental differences, as well as deafness and visual disabilities. “90% of my work is just problem solving,” Whitney says, “It’s just talking to people one-on-one. What are the problems, how can we mitigate them, how can we make this work for you?”
By all measures, Whitney’s work has been a success. In the years since he’s started attending festivals, things have changed dramatically. In 2008, for instance, he and his wheelchair had to be carried, by his friends, separately down the bleachers of an entire football stadium in order to make it into the general admission area for the Electric Daisy Carnival Festival. Last year, Whitney went back to EDC and employed seventeen people to serve 200 attendees with disabilities — almost double the previous year’s number. Word, he says, spreads fast.
Accessible Festivals is not only trying to make sure festivals meet basic legal requirements, but ensure that the events are actually comfortable and enjoyable for disabled patrons in new and creative ways. “You can have an ADA compliant festival, but it doesn’t mean it’s very welcoming to people with disabilities,” he points out.
For people with visual disabilities or blindness, Whitney admits he’s still learning what the best accommodations are, but has come up with some great new solutions as of late to improve the blind experience of festivals to a great degree. The first of these is braille set times — because even though much of that info is available on smartphones, large music festivals tend to be black holes for cell reception, and nothing beats a hard copy when your iPhone battery is dead.
Whitney and his team have also started to offer blind and low vision festival-goers personal orientation tours of the festival grounds, in order to get them familiar and comfortable as the venue fills up and the lights get low. As soon as the gates open, Whitney or another employee will happily take a blind patron around the area, show them where everything is, and even go so far as to explore all the food options and talk about menus, maybe even meeting certain vendors, before the herds of people arrive later in the day. In the crashing din of a festival environment, often our usual methods of listening and talking can reak down, which could make an advance orientation particularly valuable. This, in my own opinion, is a great accommodation; It’s something that even your sighted friends might not think to do for you.
Whitney says it’s all about being a creative problem solver and not being intimidated by new situations. Recently, when a low vision girl and her boyfriend could not get close enough for her to appreciate any of Taylor Swift’s dance moves, Whitney recruited two of his staff and two more festival security employees equipped with flashlights to escort the two, VIP-style, to the front row. It’s not a typical accommodation, but as someone who’s toughed it out at lots of inaccessible festivals — riding on peoples backs and all — Whitney says it was a service he was happy to provide.
In all, Accessible Festivals will have a presence at 35 music festivals in 2015, and odds are there’s one near you. Whitney doesn’t want anyone with a disability to be scared anymore, even if things prove to be more difficult than they should be. “Festivals are making an effort,” he says, “Go out to them — I’ve been to a lot of festivals where my disability wasn’t accommodated but I still had a good time. Sometimes you just have to go with a good attitude. Some bull—- might happen, but I don’t look back on any of them as negative experiences.”
One of the biggest myths about Braille is that it’s hard to read or that it’s somehow another language. Neither is true. Braille is just simple, straightforward code. In a cover story this month for Mass Appeal magazine, hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar admitted that he was now using Braille, a somewhat curious announcement that piqued our interest here at the LightHouse. Turns out he had stashed a Braille message in the liner notes of his new, Billboard-topping album, To Pimp A Butterfly [listen on Spotify]. “Nobody has caught [it] yet,” he toldMass Appeal, blowing his own cover and explaining that the message, when decoded, would reveal the album’s full title.
But there were some problems. Kendrick hadn’t really created very useful Braille. For starters, there were no bumps. The dots were printed, not embossed, ironically obscuring their whole raison d’être. This wasn’t lost on Lamar, in fact maybe it was intentional: “You can’t [sic] actually feel the bump lines. But if you can see it, which is the irony of it, you can break down the actual full title of the album.” So — it was Braille, yes — but Braille for the sighted. Kendrick is counting on the fact that no one really knows Braille, which is not far off. After all, getting someone with good vision to learn Braille is kind of like getting Winnie the Pooh to start wearing pants — it might happen, but don’t hold your breath. So why should you care about this Braille message, or any Braille at all for that matter?
The answer is literacy. It’s estimated that only about 10% of blind people know Braille, which means 90% of blind people are missing out on millions of the world’s accessible texts. As a newly blind (low-vision) person myself, I don’t read Braille, either. So I couldn’t translate the secret message from Kendrick Lamar myself, either. Luckily we have a whole team of people here to do just that. The folks in our access to information services (AIS) department specialize in this exact stuff — translating and elucidating information — not only here at LightHouse, but for the public. They Braille business cards, restaurant menus, maps, and all other kinds of tactile documents. All I had to do was walk across the hall and ask “Have you guys ever heard of Kendrick Lamar?”
Within minutes, I had a big piece of paper — much bigger than a CD booklet — right in front of me, fully Brailled, courtesy of AIS. The reason they had to blow it up was because the CD-booklet-sized Braille code was actually way too small for a real blind person to read, even if it was raised on the page. This is directly related to the size of human fingertips. In order to differentiate between dots, you need Braille to be a certain size. This is also why converting from small print to to Braille often takes more paper. (If you want to see how many pages a document would take up as Braille, resize the font to 29 pt). Because the original Braille on To Pimp a Butterfly was done in ink, now not only was the Braille message tactile but it was also visual. This is somewhat rare — to have Braille with ink on top of it, that a sighted person can look at and, if not read, at least organize in their mind.
If you’re sighted, look at the photo above; Kind of takes some of the mystery out of what all those blind people are running their fingers across, doesn’t it? If you look at the photo above, you’ll see one simple dot on the first line — that’s the letter “a.” And for those who are interested in Braille learning that’s similarly visual and tactile, we actually offer books like this in our store, along with some other goodies. I still wanted to know exactly what Kendrick’s message meant, though, and I wanted to hear it from an expert.
I brought the Kendrick-Braille to Frank Welte, one of our Braille experts, who coincidentally was munching on one of our dark chocolate, Braille-studded candy bars. His dog Jeep came and said hi first, then I handed Frank the sheet to tell me what it said. He came at it with his left hand — perhaps counterintuitively — peoples fingers are, for some reason, often more sensitive on the left. It only took him a split second before he started translating:
”A Kendrick By Letter Blank Lamar.”
What the hell does that mean? It didn’t make sense. The Braille is actually formatted quite well — the cell spacing was just right, which is something that beginning Braillers don’t often consider. And yet, the words were completely mixed up. Upon further Googling, I found that other Braille experts reached the same conclusion when consulted about the album art. The Braille was actually pretty good, but the sentence was incoherent. Complex magazine figured it must be a mistake. But our expert disagrees.
“People could take a Braille alphabet card and figure it out. But it’s still weird that they didn’t get it in order. There’s no obvious reason why it wouldn’t be in order… They might have intentionally scrambled it just for the fun of it.”
The Braille was in its simplest form, sure — lower case and uncontracted — but there was no reason the words should be shuffled around, unless through human error or intention. We can only conclude that Kendrick wanted to obscure the meaning even further — or just thought that the dots looked cool that way and that no real blind people would actually bother decoding it.
But decode it we did, and diehard fans of the Compton rapper already know where this is going: the words, rearranged, are meant to say “A Blank Letter By Kendrick Lamar.” That’s the real, extended title to To Pimp A Butterfly. We know this because Lamar’s last album, Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, had a similar subtitle: “A Short Film By Kendrick Lamar.” So there you go. To be honest, it kind of seemed too easy. And our experts agree:
“A lot of people think learning Braille must be terrible, like learning a whole foreign language,” Frank told me later on,”but it’s really much easier than that. The best analogy I can think of is like when you’re a kid, and you learn your printed letters, then you’re introduced to handwriting. It’s the same language, just different-shaped characters. That’s what learning Braille is like, it’s like learning cursive. It’s actually even easier than cursive, because everyone’s handwriting is different, but with Braille, every letter is the same.”
There’s a lot more to say about Braille, but we’ll save that for another day. Most importantly, next time you want Braille done right, whether you’re a famous rapper or not, do yourself a favor and email an expert — hint hint (that’s us).