Blind student learns to "feel the music" |

Blind student learns to "feel the music"

by Joyce Hollister, staff writer

There is more than one way to “feel the music,” says music teacher Jackie Maye.

Tommy Lake, a blind 6th grade student in Maye’s North Valley Band at Jacks Valley Elementary School, will soon be learning how to read music in Braille through his left hand as he plays a specially altered sousaphone with his right hand.

The instrument was chosen, Maye said, because it can be played with one hand, freeing Tommy’s other hand for “reading” music.

This way, he can participate in a band where all the other students are reading music as they play.

John Phillip Sousa invented the sousaphone because he wanted deep, low tones for his marches, Maye said. The tuba has the right sound but is too heavy to march with, so “the march king” created a marching tuba and named it after himself.

Locating a usable sousaphone to rent was challenging, Maye said. Coming to the rescue was Chuck Wayne of Wayne’s Family Music in Gardnerville, who found and modified a sousaphone using plumbing parts. Tommy now can play it and read the Braille music at the same time.

The student and teacher will be learning to read Brailled music together when their music book arrives from the Music Library for the Blind.

“All I need now,” she said, ” is a sousaphone chair. Does anyone have one we can borrow?”

Maye spent a lot of time on the Internet and talking with other music teachers as she tried to help Tommy, and it was a former band teacher who told her how to obtain music in Braille.

“Also,” she said, “Mr. Z is looking forward to Tommy playing sousaphone in the Fighting Tiger Marching Band.”

“Mr. Z” is Bill Zabelsky, Douglas High School’s band director. Maye said she is sure that will a lot of hard work and practice, Tommy will succeed.

Tommy’s great-grandmother married Sousa’s brother, so in a way, Maye said, the 6th grader is “related” to his chosen instrument.

Tommy already plays piano, she said, and enjoys Beethoven, Mozart and Eminem.