In Dwight Hall on Saturday morning, the music was everywhere.
Chimes from a handbell choir poured out of the chapel and blended with a chorus harmonizing in the auditorium. Down the hall, African-style drums pounded relentlessly, the percussion intermittently pierced by a guitarist elsewhere belting lyrics about love.
But the dozens of musicians soundtracking the day weren’t there as individual groups. They were rehearsing, getting ready to join sonic forces a few hours later to put on the 13th “Music Is Our Vision” festival.
The music festival, which is hosted by one of seven schools for the blind every two years, showcases young musicians with vision impairment from up and down the east coast while also demonstrating the power of music as both an educational and social tool.
“We understand the value of what our music program contributes to our students’ education,” said Ed Bosso, Executive Director of Educational Programs and Superintendent at Perkins. “To have seven schools, all together, bringing all their talents and gifts here, it’s a rare opportunity.”
The 2018 concert – emceed by Perkins alumni Ashley Bernard and Kate Condo – brought together more than 100 students from Perkins and six visiting schools for the blind. While each organization had an opportunity to shine, the bulk of the program was built around collaboration, encouraging students to work with and learn from one another.
After Perkins’ own handbell choir kicked off the night with a concerto from Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” ensembles from Perkins, Governor Morehead School for the Blind (North Carolina) and St. Joseph School for the Blind (New Jersey) formed a drum circle to perform a Kuku African rhythm. Later, all seven schools combined choruses to perform eight songs in a variety of styles and genres, from Broadway to classical.
When students weren’t performing or rehearsing, they had a chance to mingle on campus, making new friends and, in some cases, reconnecting with old ones.
“One of our students, he remembered meeting one of the girls who played the flute four years ago,” said Arnie Harris, Perkins Music Teacher and Director. “So he was thrilled to find out she was here again.”
That type of social interaction is as important to the festival as the music itself, said Jim Palmer, Director of Music at Overbrook School for the Blind. It gives students, most of whom are part of smaller school communities, a chance to practice a crucial life skill – building relationships.
“Getting to meet and socialize with kids from other schools, the kids love it,” said Palmer. “Even at dinner, most of the kids were scattered with students from other schools, they weren’t all just sitting with their friends.”
After a long day of rehearsal and a successful concert – which also featured the New York Institute of Special Education, Maryland School for the Blind and W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind of Ontario, Canada – the student performers had the chance to unwind and let loose at a dance.
There, they were enjoying music not as performers, but socially, finding joy in a form of art that doesn’t need to be seen at all to be understood.