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Concert band and low vision

Tips for musicians participating in concert band programs with visual impairments.

I joined my school’s concert band program when I was in fifth grade, and played in several different concert band settings as part of school band and extracurricular music programs, including symphonic band, honors band, wind ensembles, and other concert band programs. I’ve been grateful to have a lot of amazing and inclusive band directors who worked with me to implement disability accommodations in the school band classroom and on the stage so that I could participate fully, and in honor of Music in Our Schools Month, today I will be sharing my favorite tips for participating in concert band with low vision and visual impairment, based on my own experiences.

Talking to my directors about my disability

My IEP accommodations are written with the traditional classroom environment in mind, so I would talk to my band directors before the beginning of the school year about how to implement my disability accommodations in the band classroom, including how to print large print music and other strategies for participating in band with low vision that I had learned over the years, such as how I would navigate auditions and performances. When I transferred high schools, I was amazingly fortunate that my new band director was actually a former student of my previous director and the two were able to talk about different strategies for enlarging music and avoiding flashing lights in the classroom- more on that in another section.

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How I read music with low vision

I’ve used a few different strategies for reading music with low vision in various ensembles, including:

When attending assessments or auditions that involved sightreading, my band director would request my music to be scaled 250% and printed on larger paper sizes. If the host school didn’t provide this, I would sit with my instrument in my lap and the director would inform the juror that my music was not given to me in an accessible format- in the instances where this happened, I was the only person who played a given instrument, so it was noticeable to others I was not playing.

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Asking for my own stand

Students often share stands in sections, but I always requested my own stand because the large print music required page turns at different times than the traditional printed music, and sometimes I needed to use a stand that could accommodate the heavier music binder or other tools. When I was the only one in my section, this was not an issue, though when setting up for concerts and assessments I would ask my directors or the stage manager to ensure that an extra stand was available.

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Storing instruments in the band closet

At my first high school, the band closet was a large, well-lit and spacious area that was filled with lots of identical instruments. One of the strategies that made it easier for me to locate my clarinet was to add unique keychains and decorations to my case along with a colorful name label, so it was easier for me to identify my soprano clarinet.

The band closet at my second high school was smaller, didn’t have very good lighting, and was difficult for me to navigate, especially when I had a broken ankle or leg brace. Instead of having me store my instrument in the closet, my director gave me permission to store my bass clarinet case behind the piano so that it wouldn’t be a tripping hazard, but was still easy for me to retrieve.

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Accommodating for sensitivity to strobe/flashing lights

I have a neurological condition that is triggered by strobe and flashing lights, and seeing these types for a prolonged period of time was once a seizure trigger for me, and is now a migraine trigger. If I have a migraine or seizure, I am often disoriented and unable to play my instrument, and this unfortunately caused me to miss many band classes and performances over the years.

One unexpected source of flashing lights in the band classroom is instrument tuners. Instrument tuners often use lights to indicate whether an instrument is sharp or flat, and these lights often flicker rapidly as the musician plays a tuning note. Since students often tuned their instruments with the help of another student anyway, I would have the person assisting me cover the lights of the tuner with their finger or turn the display away from me so that I wouldn’t see the lights.

For performances, I would sit in the hallway instead of the audience when waiting to get on stage, and my directors would make an announcement reminding people not to use flash photography before I got on stage. I would use a guide to get on the stage, usually another staff member or student, so that I wouldn’t trip over any equipment.

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Other tips for participating in concert band with low vision

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Updated August 2023; original post published March 2018

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