Each year we push ourselves to deliver more and better programs for our campers. 2014 was no exception. One of the biggest things to happen this summer was the launch of our Music Academy, answering a call from campers to increase musical education at camp. “The individual and collective talent of the staff and campers this summer was unmatched in terms of musical ability,” said Camp Director Tony Fletcher.
Special guest musical director Bill McCann, president and founder of Dancing Dot which sells GOODFEEL, Lime Lighter, and CakeTalking – ground breaking hardware and software programs specially designed to help blind musicians excel – attended camp and taught eighteen eager students how to play music beyond any visual hindrances. Those who already knew of him through his software were thrilled to find that that Bill, who is blind, would be their “personal” teacher and mentor for a few days.
The following article, written by Bill McCann, contains Bill’s eloquent description of Music Academy 2014. It was originally created for publication in Richard Taesch’s “MUSIC IN EDUCATION” column in the CTEBVI Journal – Fall 2014. Used with permission of the author.
What if you could find a place where you could focus on learning to read music better, learning to write your musical ideas down, and how to record your songs using a computer? That’s just what a group of young blind and low vision students found this August during our first-ever Music Academy at the Enchanted Hills Camp near Napa, California. What a pleasure it was for me to work with a group of young people who were so eager to learn and so focused on acquiring new skills. During the course of a week that seemed to fly by with almost lightning speed, all of them progressed in both their music literacy and music technology skills.
Each day was so full with classes in reading music in braille or magnified print music, using software to notate or record music, listening sessions after dinner, time to practice, jam or just hang out with others, plus opportunities to go for a swim, a nature hike, or even try your hand at archery. We shared a few memorable special events: a performance and instrument demonstrations from a local folk music group, the Pickle Creek String Band, Mr. Greg Kehret’s excellent tutorial on Palmas and bass demo/jam, and an impromptu guest performance and lecture on the bagpipes by Joe Retherford. Bryan Bashin, Director of the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, sponsor of our Academy, visited and introduced us to Mary Bianco, who led an engaging group discussion on the prevalence and forms of perfect pitch.
Our closing performance and presentation was great fun. All of my students proved to be naturals at putting on a good show. I especially enjoyed their original compositions and arrangements. Live performances were interspersed with digital performances of student compositions created with Lime and SONAR under the guidance of my talented Assistant Director, Roberto Gonzalez. Closing the show, our EHC Music Academy Chorus under the able direction of Shane Dittmar demonstrated just how much our Academy participants improved their skills in reading music whether in braille or magnified notation. The singers read their braille or large print scores as they sang.
It was deeply gratifying for me, on both a professional and personal level, to serve as the Music Academy’s Director. Although Dancing Dots has customers all over the world I don’t get to meet them in person often enough. It was a genuine gift to me to observe these talented and energetic young people, who came from around the United States, Mexico, and Taiwan, learning and applying our accessible music technology.
I’m really looking forward to next year’s Music Academy. Remember to inform anyone who might enjoy being part of it all to apply next year.
Remember, if you or the students you are pursuing the study of music or even working already as a part-time professional, it is most appropriate to request support from your school or local rehabilitation agency to help you to acquire this specialized technology. For details about the technology that the students learned, you can go to www.DancingDots.com and click on the links for “GOODFEEL®”, “Lime Lighter”, and “CakeTalking.” Dancing Dots does offer evaluation versions of our notation software. Note that there is a mainstream version of the Lime notation software available online but it does not come with the accessibility features our students learned to use during the Music Academy.
If you want to try evaluation versions of GoodFeel, Lime Aloud or Lime Lighter, send an E-mail to info@DancingDots.com and I will make arrangements for you to get started.