Born with Blindness and Musical Gifts

VICKI I. SMILES FROM THE PIANO BENCH during a break in her performance at Lutheran Medical Center on May 16. PHOTO BY NATALIE KERR

Vicki was born with blindness, but the minute her fingers first touched piano keys, the sound of the music became her favorite form of communicating with the world. 

“I’ve loved being able to share music,” Vicki said. “I really don’t know strangers. People are always coming up to me and  talking to me or sometimes people just sit and listen and maybe I don’t even know they’re there. But I’ve loved it.” 

Vicki began as a volunteer piano player at Lutheran Medical Center in 2019. She is soft spoken and gentle, often reaching down to scratch her guide dog, Madras, between the ears as he snores quietly at her feet. She plays in the lobby for around two hours on Thursday afternoons, unless she gets caught up in the music, and then she’ll play for even longer. 

Vicki mostly plays hymns and contemporary gospel, but will play anything that catches her interest. Learning music as a child was different for her from a seeing person, and often different piano teachers had different approaches to teaching her. She relies on her memory for much of her playing, but also uses braille sheet music at times. 

“I had a really, really good teacher that just just taught me, kind of by ear, I learned a lot of things by rote,” Vicki said. “Then I had a teacher that made me play everything I learned in every key before I could leave it alone. It was pretty strange, but it has served me well.” 

She has been interested in music since she was a toddler, which is what prompted Vicki’s parents to start her in piano lessons. Her mother was also a pianist, but Vicki thinks most of her musical talent comes from an innate musicianship that allows her to immediately understand and take to new instruments. She has played piano for several churches and at events, and in her free time plays accordion, flute, melodica, saxophone and guitar. 

Vicki has come to Lutheran several times when family members got sick, and she knows that everyone at the hospital is usually dealing with heavy challenges. But in her personal experience, music has helped her cope. 

“During COVID [my mom] was not well, and so she couldn’t really hear us, but she could hear the music,” Vicki said. “We all had to wear masks and all that, and so at that time, I started playing melodica because it was simple and she could hear it. That let me communicate with my mom.” 

Vicki hopes that her piano music can help bring other people comfort and peace during what can otherwise be a very difficult time. 

“People need music,” Vicki added. 

A small crowd formed around Vicki as she played through the afternoon, a smattering of applause filling the lobby after each song. During one of her pieces, a man walking with an I.V. pole approached me, looking fondly at the piano.

“You know what that woman is?” He asked. The answer followed promptly. “She is a blessing to this place.” 

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