Unseen Music


I am an unapologetic Buckeye,  born and raised in Ohio — and when I bleed, I bleed scarlet and grey.  So, like thousands of other fans across the country, on January 1, 2010, I was watching the Rose Parade taking place in Pasadena, California in anticipation of the Rose Bowl, where the Ohio State University “Bucks” would soon be the champions.

During the parade, I heard the announcer say, “And now, the Ohio State School for the Blind Marching Band!” I had to stop what I was doing and take a look at that!  Walking down the parade route was a small marching band (35 players), playing perfectly timed music and marching in perfect step with one another.  I was thrilled to learn that the OSSB has the ONLY marching band in the United States comprised of blind and visually impaired individuals.  Seeing them march that day inspired me and made me want to learn more about their music program and how they learn not only their music but their marching routines.

Carol Agler joined OSSB in 1998 as the first music teacher there in 13 years.  She discovered musical instruments in storage and developed a dream to build a music program at the school.  As the small brass band became a pep band and then a small jazz band, she watched the talented students’ progress musically and intellectually.  Technology teacher Dan Kelly, who also played the trumpet, would lend his expertise to the musical projects and soon the jazz band was playing for small programs outside of the school.

In 2005, the Ohio School for the Deaf decided to begin a football program.  The players could not hear their opponents’ bands playing during the halftime shows but they could feel the beat of the bass drum and the vibration of the ground while the band was playing.  They could certainly see the excitement of the crowd during the bands’ performances as well, so the superintendent of the School for the Deaf asked Ms. Agler if the band would consider playing for the home football games.  The rest, as they say, is history!

The next summer, Ms. Agler and Mr. Kelly held their first band camp!  They wanted the music to reach even the players on the team who could not hear it but had to “feel” the music, so they choose Come on Feel the Noise and the 1812 Overture.  Agler decided the band should march, and that they could if she could get enough sighted volunteers to march with them.  So in matching blazers, the volunteers walk beside these talented players and one is never sure who is leading who.

The highest honor of the Ohio State University Marching Band is when they spell out O-H-I-O on the field during halftime, and they chose that one person to dot the “i” in the word Ohio.  Agler and Kelly decided to spell Ohio in Braille and continue the tradition of dotting the “i”.  This is truly a sight to behold.  The OSSB has now even become a regular part of the OSU marching band camp each year.

Dan Kelly, who was born blind, has become the conductor of the marching band.  While many of the band members have perfect pitch, they use software called SmartMusic that allows them to hear their parts individually.  Many read their parts in Braille music, and Mr. Kelly uses a program called Lime to create the Braille music for his band.

One of the students was overheard to say, “Being able to play an instrument makes you somebody.”  I heartily agree.  I look to these students and teachers as inspiration.  Daily they thrive, doing what they love to do.  For music transcends what is seen or heard.  It is not simply ink on a piece of paper or even a group of dots grouped together under our fingers.  Music is the language of our hearts and our souls.  It is the language of love, of education, of life!  These teachers and students have found it, they have learned it, and they should inspire each of us to find it every day with renewed vigor and dedication.

For more information about the Ohio State School for the Blind, visit:   http://www.ossb.oh.gov/MusicInstruction.php

Click here to watch the ESPN video Guided By Music.

Doug McComas
Music advocate, church choir director, pianist, vocalist, private music teacher, sacred choral editor at J.W. Pepper, supporter of Pepper's southeastern US customers from our store in Georgia

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.