Over the years, I have had the opportunity to play several different types of clarinets in the concert band programs at my various schools. Besides learning more about playing clarinet, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of classical and instrumental music, as well as many other benefits that I mention in my post about being in band here. Today, I will be sharing my tips for how musicians with vision impairments, including low vision and blindness, can participate in concert band, in honor of National Music in our Schools Month (MIOSM).
Talk to the band director
Before anything else, talk to your band director about what you will need from them to be successful. If you have one, make sure to bring a copy of your IEP or 504 plan to give them, as they might not have received a copy like your other teachers. I would tell my band directors that I had terrible eyesight and would need my music enlarged, and I might ask them for help with other things as needed. They were all very understanding and willing to work with me.
Reading digital music
All of the music was scanned into a shared Google Drive folder for anyone in the band to view or use. I would save these PDFs to my iPad for easy access during practice and zoom in as I played, flicking my fingers across my iPad screen. If you want to make the music even easier to see by drawing on it, I recommend importing the files into the iPad app Notability-read more about Notability here.
Creating accessible music with Publisher
Looking for an easy way to enlarge music? I wrote a post about how I make music accessible using Microsoft Publisher or PowerPoint, and the music can either be used as a digital copy or printed copy. Read more about making accessible music here.
Store instruments in an easy to locate area
At my second high school, woodwind instruments were stored in a small room, where there were multiple items on the floor. Often times I would accidentally run into these items or have trouble finding my instrument. Because of this, my band director gave me special permission to store my instrument behind their desk chair so that I didn’t have to worry about navigating the closet.
Tips for sightreading
Playing in concert band settings means that musicians will often have to practice sightreading, or playing an unfamiliar piece for the first time. If we were traveling to a band competition, my band director would call the host school ahead of time and ask for them to enlarge my part, and gave them the exact specifications- 250% enlarged and preferably on colored paper. They then would have another band director confirm the music was enlarged correctly before giving it to me. Worst case scenario, I would just sit out while everyone else played, and inform the judge my music was not in an inaccessible format, so that’s why I wasn’t playing.
Ask for your own stand
Students often share stands within their sections, but I would request that I have my own stand so that I could balance my music or iPad. Often times, my music cut off in different places than the normal sheet music, so it made more sense for me to have my own music and stand. Also, for one ensemble, there was only one stand that could accommodate my large print music.
A note on tuners
Many instrument tuners communicate information about the instrument sound by using either small letter displays or flashing lights, neither of which were useful for me. I would request that the person next to me cover the lights of the tuner with their thumbs and read me the small letters on the screen so I could know if I was sharp or flat. I talk about nine other items that can trigger photosensitivity in the classroom in my post here.
Have a guide
Often times, I would find it difficult to navigate the stage or even the classroom while carrying my music and/or instrument. As a result, I would request that I have a person help me with navigation or carrying things. Usually, this was whoever sat next to me or behind me, or another band staff member. This helped me avoid tripping over a bunch of chairs or breaking my instrument.
Avoid sitting directly under the light
The bright lights on stage can often be disorienting, so I would request that I sit away from the direct light, instead choosing to sit on the side of the stage. Because I am photosensitive, I would also wait until the last possible minute to go on stage, so I didn’t have to worry about flash photography. I talk about more tips for being on stage in my post on participating in theater with low vision here.
Playing in concert band is an amazing experience, and I am so glad that I was able to participate in various ensembles throughout the years. I highly recommend participating in school band programs and seeing firsthand how they can change your life.