I am excited to share my interview with Stephanie Pieck, a pianist, teacher, and an NLS patron. Stephanie received her bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Ithaca College and maintains a private music studio in New York.
Q) How old were you when you started playing the piano? What motivated you to start playing?
A) When I was three-years old, my family bought me a piano after noticing my frustrations with a toy piano that had only a few notes. Finding a teacher willing to take on a blind 3-year-old was not easy but we found one and I studied with her for nine years.
Q) Tell us about the people and services that were crucial to your growth as a blind music student.
A) I had an organ teacher who knew absolutely no braille music but was adamant that I learn. Rather than trust that I’d do this on my own or leave the teaching to others, she taught herself the code, then taught it to me. Throughout high school, I brailled all my own orchestral and choral music.
Another huge influence was an inmate who transcribed children’s books for me.* When I was about ten, he sent one of my letters back with a note that he had underlined all my mistakes in red. He told me to have my mother show me where they were and refused to answer my letter until I’d rewritten it perfectly. This was very irritating at the time, but I learned more about the importance of good-quality braille “penmanship” from him than anyone else.
*A number of prisons across the US offer programs that teach and train inmates to transcribe print books and music into braille for the blind.
The NLS Braille music collection was crucial once I got to college and realized all my teenage goofing off and refusal to apply myself to learning to read braille notation fluently had serious consequences. Partway through freshman year, I “sight-read” part of a Haydn sonata so badly that my piano professor wondered whether I’d even gotten the correct score. Well, that got me fired up. I ordered anything I could get my hands on and played it. I got most of the way through Hindemith’s “Elementary Musicianship” as well as Bartok’s “Mikrokosmos”. Those books are very dry, but if you can make yourself read and play through them, it’s like musical boot camp.
Q) What motivated you to continue practicing and choose music as your profession?
A) I actually wanted to study psychology. An adult who should have known better told me I couldn’t do psychology since I couldn’t see facial expressions. I was young and didn’t know better, either, so I studied music instead. The funny thing is that I end up using more psychology in teaching and preparing for my own performances than anything else I learned at college. So I’m getting to do two things that deeply interest me—trying to understand the mind, and making music.
Now that I’ve switched careers somewhat and work in a non-music setting, I really appreciate the chances I have to teach and practice and perform. Music is so precious and can be a gift to so many. I love sharing it, especially with groups that often get overlooked or underserved. I think music is one of the greatest community service tools there is.
Please read the second half of this interview in next week’s blog.