A Partnership with Vision
|From the left: John Castillo from the Perkins School for the Blind, jazz musician Lisa Hilton and Berklee student Noe Socha after a recent performance at Café 939.|
In 2003, when Chi Kim '06 was a first-semester student, he encountered many of the challenges that entering students face. He was an international student struggling to find his way around Boston, to navigate the Berklee environment, and to learn music technology. But for Kim the experience was even more challenging; he lost his sight at age three because of an accident during a heart surgery. Like so many of us, Kim was thrown into the Berklee waters and forced to sink or swim. He swam like an Olympian, choosing a double major in contemporary writing and production and songwriting. After graduation, he headed to New York City to work as a composer and producer. During his off time, he earned a master's degree at New York University in music technology.
Fast-forward to 2011, and Assistant Professor Chi Kim now teaches in the Assistive Music Technology Lab for Blind and Visually Impaired students at Berklee. He is providing blind musicians with the tools and technology needed to succeed at the college and in the music industry at large.
Following a 2009 Berklee summit for blind musicians, Bob Mulvey, the associate director of the Counseling and Advising Center, songwriting Chair Jack Perricone, and Associate Vice President for Special Programs Rob Rose presented a proposal for visually impaired students. The event tapped the expertise of Berklee alumnus Mike Mandel and was presented to President Roger H. Brown, who then fast-tracked the pilot program. In the summer of 2010, the program entered the pilot phase.
The trial phase was hosted during the Five-Week Summer Performance Program with two current Berklee students who are visually impaired and two students from the Watertown, MA-based Perkins School for the Blind. Berklee has a history of full- and part-time attendance by Perkins students as well as offering internships for the college's music therapy students at Perkins. The college tapped the school's expertise in blind education to assist with the development of Berklee's program.
|Assistant Professor Chi Kim coaches student Natalia Sulca in Berklee's Assistive Music Technology Lab for Blind and Visually Impaired Students.|
Developed by Kim, the curriculum is devoted to music technology taught both separately and integrated with Berklee's core music theory and ear training programs. To enhance students' capability in a sighted world, some basic Braille music notation has been incorporated into the program, though few blind musicians view Braille as necessary to their music success. With comprehensive knowledge of today's technology and the support system at Berklee, a blind student can create and perform music at the highest levels. That capability translates into successful careers in music.
What started as a pilot program is now an ongoing lab that is available to full-time students during Berklee's popular Five-Week Sumer Performance Program for musicians who are 15 and older. Last summer, Tina Fiorentino sought a summer program for her son Rocco. She said when she Googled "summer music camp for blind musicians," Berklee was the only search result. "So many programs questioned how they could accommodate a blind student, the Berklee staff embraced an individual with visual challenges," says Fiorentino.
At the end of the sessions, Rocco was awarded a full scholarship for the 2012 Five-Week session and is seriously considering Berklee as his choice for college.
Berklee's blind population is growing, and the college enrolled 10 full-time students in the fall 2011 semester. Word has gotten out that Berklee is an environment where blind musicians can thrive and grow. In September, the duo of Noe Socha, a blues harmonica and guitar player from Italy and vocalist John Castillo from the Perkins School opened for renowned jazz composer and pianist Lisa Hilton at Café 939. The experience prompted Socha to say, "Berklee is opening doors for blind students to work with world-class musicians in a professional setting."
A generous grant from the Grousbeck Family Foundation has enabled the program to expand and provide an official bridge between Perkins and Berklee. The college has recently solidified the partnership with an agreement for Berklee to provide expertise and staffing for the Perkins School's new Internet radio station housed in its new Grousbeck Center for Students and Technology. Matt Carlson '11, a former DJ for Berklee's BIRN radio station, was recently hired as the Perkins station's lead engineer and trainer and is getting the station up and running. Berklee faculty member Kim will coach Perkins students in using music technology to create and record their own music for airplay. It will just be a matter of time before Perkins Internet Radio establishes its presence in cyberspace.