Blind musician helps others access college course

A blind musician, who overcame a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve a first class honours degree, has drawn on his own experiences to help other visually-impaired musicians get the most from their college course.

Robert Creed, now 23, weighed just 900g at birth and spent months on life support. He lost sight in one eye at the age of one, and in his second eye, twice, at age 16. Doctors initially succeeded in reconnecting a detached retina but it became detached again and further surgery failed.

Despite the challenges, Robert managed to master the button accordion and the tin whistle, as well as composing music since he was a child. For his final year exams in arts and music, he brought together a group of friends and family for a recital of music he had composed, taught, and arranged, and was awarded a first class honours degree at University College Cork.

He was also asked by the college to compose a tune for the George Boole bicentenary commemorations, entitled ‘Slow Air: George Boole’s Prayer Remembered’, which can be heard at https://soundcloud.com/user735764439/george-booles-prayer-remembered.

Robert has now contributed to a UCC handbook entitled Hands on: Feel the Music, compiled by UCC music lecturer Eva McMullan-Glossop, who came up with the idea after struggling to make her teaching accessible to a young visually-impaired woman.

“I felt I didn’t have the tools to make the course accessible to this young woman so, after completing my PhD, I started researching how to do this through a series of workshops,” said Dr McMullan-Glossop.

UCC’s disability support service swung in behind the project, to which Maeve Smith, Robert’s former music teacher and the country’s only braille music specialist, also contributed.

The aim of the handbook is to assist teachers to improve the accessibility of music for blind and visually impaired students, with a strong focus on promoting braille music literacy.

Use of braille has declined in the face of technological advances.

Dr McMullan-Glossop is promoting a tripartite approach including use of braille music, “talk” music, and learning by ear.

Talk music involves writing musical notation through language — using letters to write the notes (C, D, E etc) and using letters to indicate their rhythmic value (such as ‘Q’ for quaver).

Emer Creed, Robert’s mother, is very proud of his achievement and said: “If you consider he couldn’t draw a breath by himself when he was born and he now plays the tin whistle, that is indeed a prayer answered.”

To download the handbook, see www.music.ucc.ie


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