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I am a pianist – who occurs to be blind

I’ve performed in locations I by no means would’ve even dreamed of (Image: Rachel Starritt)

In a gymnasium. On the high of a mountain climbing wall. Even in the course of a race observe with a automobile doing burn-outs round me.

These are all of the locations I’ve performed piano – and that is simply in a single music video.

It was to advertise the 2016 Paralympics and I used to be featured within the video alongside a bunch of different folks with disabilities. We recorded the observe – primarily based on Sammy Davis Junior’s music, Sure I Can – in Abbey Street Studios and the entire course of was intense, however electrical.

As a blind pianist, I’ve performed in locations I by no means would’ve even dreamed of. These are the moments I cherish – after I can simply do the factor I like. That is after I really feel my most at peace.

I have been blind since beginning, with some gentle notion till two years outdated.

I may apparently see gentle and darkish, however that finally disappeared and now I’m utterly blind. I do not even keep in mind what the expertise was wish to have sight, as I’m so used to dwelling life as a blind particular person.

For that motive, I’ve discovered to depend on my different senses.

The primary time I ever heard a piano being performed was after I was six years outdated and sitting in a college meeting. I did not actually know what it was however I simply keep in mind feeling so drawn to it.

I informed my dad and mom that I needed to study so I began casual classes and practiced on the keyboard we had at house.

In these early days, I performed by ear and by the age of 9, I had accomplished grade 5 of piano. This merely signifies that I may play items, in addition to had an intensive information of scales, arpeggios, studying music (braille, not sight, in my case) and aural exams.

That is when my trainer informed me I had potential, so urged I apply for the Royal Welsh Faculty of Music and Drama (RWCMD). I used to be nervous, however I knew it might be the perfect place for me to get even higher at one thing I beloved to do.

A young Rachel Starrit playing piano in front of King Charles

I have been capable of play in entrance of royalty (Image: Rachel Starritt)

I did a classical sonatina for my audition, then I used to be examined on my technical and aural abilities. Certain sufficient, I used to be accepted and I used to be so blissful – particularly as a result of I used to be launched to Alison Bowring, a piano trainer I would study a lot from that I now name her my ‘piano mum’.

She’s nonetheless my trainer at the moment. I am simply so grateful for every little thing she’s taught me through the years.

As a blind musician, I require a excessive stage of help to journey to musical venues for performances and workshops. Venues are typically unfamiliar and there is not time to get used to new environments.

When it comes to truly enjoying piano, I study new items by listening to totally different recordings of the identical music so I can hear the totally different interpretations. Then Alison goes over the small print of the rating – so the expressions, what the composer desires and why they have been pondering in that sure means.

Rachel Starritt

I would all the time had such a diligent means of training piano and attempting to get issues good (Image: Rachel Starritt)

Then we’ll study hand placements individually, relying on the complexity of the piece. On the finish of the lesson, I am going to document every little thing I’ve discovered so I can pay attention again to the notes and preserve training all of it.

I attended classes at RWCMD each Saturday, the place I discovered about braille music, in addition to classes in improvisation and musicianship. I did choir and performed with different folks too. I beloved each second of enjoying piano and could not wait to be there each weekend.

I attended the North London Piano Faculty for 5 consecutive summers, then took a yr out after ending my A-levels to work on my independence abilities – determining routes round RWCMD, the place I would begin my undergraduate diploma a yr later.

It is via college that I did a seven-month erasmus in Barcelona earlier than finishing a masters too.

Throughout my research, I acquired my Asperger’s prognosis, which enabled me to get help from the Nationwide Autistic Society (NAS) to reside independently in scholar lodging after getting back from Spain.

Getting this prognosis made a lot sense. I would all the time had such a diligent means of training piano and attempting to get issues good. Greater than something, I feel it truly helps hone my abilities higher as a result of it makes me such a perfectionist.

My Asperger’s can present further issues although, as I discover it troublesome to prepare myself sufficiently to make preparations like lodge bookings, packing my suitcase, transport between motels and venues. At present I depend on my dad and mom to supply this help, which isn’t preferrred going ahead.

Within the years after graduating, I’ve finished a lot I am pleased with.

Rachel Starritt

I actually get pleasure from enjoying jazz too, the place I can use my improvisation abilities (Image: Rachel Starritt)

I am a part of a jazz trio that I began at college with a few classmates. We have performed in jazz cafes earlier than, the place we improvise songs from the early twentieth century like Bye Bye Blackbird or Softly As In A Morning Dawn. We additionally carried out on the Brecon Jazz festivals in 2020 and 2021.

That is after I usually really feel probably the most alive as a result of it is energetic and the gang will get into it too.

On the opposite finish of the spectrum, I’ve performed classical recitals in revered locations like London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields church. You would hear a pin drop via an occasional cough, with a whole bunch of individuals sitting within the huge area with excessive ceilings.

On the finish of this explicit recital, I requested the viewers for a suggestion on a bit of music for me to play. I heard somebody shout out Cwm Rhondda – a preferred Welsh hymn – so I began enjoying it, however placing my very own distinctive spin on it.

I used some gospel and jazz parts to remodel the improvisation from a hymn into a completely totally different temper.

Not too long ago, I used to be a part of the True Colours competition in Japan, which was a two-part reside live performance that showcased folks with disabilities in an unforgettable live performance. It was a unbelievable expertise.

In addition to the fun of getting my hair and make-up finished by a group of pros and carrying a beautiful royal blue costume, I used to be carrying a headset so I used to be listening alongside and loving it. When it got here to my efficiency, I did a giant band piece with a few of my associates from the 2016 Rio Paralympic advert – like Tony Dee, the Australian singer in a wheelchair and Alvin Regulation, a drummer with no arms.

I did a solo piece – Chopin’s revolutionary etude – then I performed a duet with Adrian Anantawan, a violinist with one arm. Afterwards got here the finale, once we have been all on stage to challenge the essential message of incapacity via Stand By Me, which was a lot enjoyable.

Sooner or later, I wish to proceed enjoying classical recitals, however would additionally wish to develop concerto repertoire with totally different orchestras. I actually get pleasure from enjoying jazz too, the place I can use my improvisation abilities.

I am very fortunate that I’ve my piano mum, Alison, and my dad and mom by my facet – they’re probably the most supportive folks I may ever ask for in my life.

So long as I am behind a piano, I do know I am going to have the boldness to go anyplace and do something I need on the earth.

To study extra in regards to the True Colours Pageant, go to their web site right here.

Do you could have a narrative you’d wish to share? Get in contact by emailing James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk.

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