Pianist, NLS Making Beautiful Music Together

Jazz pianist Justin Kauflin is quick to laugh and down to earth, taking his national success in stride, especially for a 28-year-old musician. Kauflin has a CD of his original music coming out in January, is currently promoting a documentary film about his friendship with noted jazz trumpeter Clark Terry and has toured with the likes of Quincy Jones, who also signed him to his production company.

Jazz pianist Justin Kauflin performed on Wednesday at the Coolidge Auditorium. Photo by Mark Layman.

Jazz pianist Justin Kauflin performed on Wednesday at the Coolidge Auditorium. Photo by Mark Layman.

While Kauflin’s accomplishments are noteworthy, his rise to acclaim hasn’t been without difficulty. The young musician suffered from low vision his entire childhood and became completely blind by age 11 due to a rare eye disease. Despite these circumstances, he showed musical promise as early as 2 years old, playing the piano as soon as he could reach the keys. He also studied the violin.

“I was interested but not dedicated,” Kauflin admitted of his musical education. Still holding his attention were things like basketball, video games and, in general, being a kid.

Once he completely lost his sight, music and the piano became central to his life. He shifted his focus from classical to jazz when he enrolled in the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk, Va., and began performing jazz professionally at age 15 while still in school.

In 2004, Kauflin graduated as valedictorian at the Governor’s School and received a presidential scholarship at William Paterson University in New Jersey, where he received a degree in music. While at WPU, he counted Terry and the late Mulgrew Miller among his mentors – both would also help him realize a full-time career as a jazz pianist.

“They both taught me that who you are as a person comes out in your music,” Kauflin said.

While Miller passed away last year, Kauflin and Terry’s relationship is stronger than ever. The two are featured in the 2014 documentary, “Keep on Keepin’ On,” which has won multiple film festival awards.

On Wednesday, Kauflin took to the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium stage in a special concert presented by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) at the Library of Congress. His was the third concert presented by NLS to highlight the Music Section and its services.

In high school, Kauflin became a patron of NLS. He began borrowing instructional braille music materials but soon moved on to easy and then intermediate piano works in braille by classical composers. By 2007, he had started borrowing more advanced material. Among his favorites then and now are works by Bach and Chopin.

“It’s been a wonderful process,” he said of using NLS. “It enabled me to work on what one should while studying the piano – how to interpret music and make it your own.”

Kauflin is particularly excited about NLS’s Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) app.

“It allows me to sync up my iPhone with braille music scores,” he explained. “I’m thrilled at that because it’s another way of getting music.

“The service NLS provides is invaluable. The difference from before I used the service to now is staggering. There is so much more I can consume.”

Opera Onstage, Drama Offstage

Today marks the anniversary of the opening of the original Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, on Oct. 22, 1883.  This is the hall, no longer in existence, where Enrico Caruso performed “Vesti La Giubba” in “Pagliacci”; where Geraldine Farrar sang “Un Bel Di,” in “Madame Butterfly.”  Thanks to radio broadcasts, it was the […]

Documenting Dance: The Making of “Appalachian Spring”

(The following is an article written by Raymond White, senior music specialist in the Music Division, for the September-October 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.) When “Appalachian Spring” debuted at the Library of Congress on Oct. 30, 1944, the one-act ballet made dance history. Set in […]

Anatomy of the Flute

(The following is a feature on “Technology at the Library” from the September-October 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.)  The Library of Congress holds the largest collection of flutes in the world, due in great measure to the generosity of Ohio physicist and amateur flutist Dayton […]

Pic of the Week: En Pointe

Last week, the Library of Congress opened the exhibition “American Ballet Theatre: Touring the Globe for 75 Years,” which highlights the dance company’s distinguished history and its collection here at the Library. Shortly after the opening, ABT alum Sue Knapp-Steen (1969-1974) stopped by to view the exhibition and reminisce on her time as a professional dancer […]

Junior Fellows Show Off Summer Finds

(The following is an article written by Rosemary Girard, intern in the Library of Congress Office of Communications, for the Library staff newsletter, The Gazette.) After weeks of researching, curating and unearthing some of the Library of Congress’s millions of artifacts, members of the Junior Fellows Program had a chance to present their most interesting […]

America’s Other Anthem

O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain! America! America! God shed his grace on thee And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea! Pikes Peak is one of America’s most famous mountains. Rising more than 14,000 feet, the mountain has been […]

InRetrospect: June 2014 Blogging Edition

The Library of Congress blogosphere helped beat the heat in June with a variety of engaging posts. Here are a sampling: In the Muse: Performing Arts Blog Connecting to Samuel Barber: A Young Musician’s Connection to a Musical Manuscript Music Division intern Rachael Sanguinetti talks about her appreciation of the composer’s works. Inside Adams: Science, […]

Bringing the “Banner” to Light

(The following is an article written by Mark Hartsell, editor of the Library of Congress staff newsletter, The Gazette, in honor of the Star Spangled Banner, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. To commemorate the anniversary, the Library is hosting a concert featuring baritone Thomas Hampson on July 3.) The story of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” for many […]