During an embattled American economy that even takes the highest educated and physically able people down into the abyss of perpetual unemployment, it automatically conjures worry for the most vulnerable; mainly those with disabilities. For those who are visually-impaired, you have to wonder exactly what jobs are out there for them lately when the job market is beyond limited and bias is still prevalent in some job markets…with many employers still making it an uncomfortable reality. That’s why it’s heartening when a certain career niche can successfully open for those afflicted with a disability who otherwise possess special skills that would go to waste in a prosperous career field. For the blind, one of many niches they do well is in the field of music–with piano tuning growing into strong emphasis.
I wrote an article here last year that reminded us and fellow musicians of how the blind seem able to tap into their imaginations more effectively than those who can see and focus too much on the outside world. When you already have an innate sense of music and can focus on nurturing it in your musical imagination, amazing things can happen. We’ve already seen plenty evidence of that during the 20th century with everybody from jazz pianist Art Tatum right on down to Stevie Wonder and Diane Schuur just to name three. But they were all lucky enough to attend prestigious music schools to help them get ahead.
What about blind people who come from families who can’t afford college or perhaps missed out on a scholarship? A university up in Vancouver, Washington seems to be amending that situation, even though you obviously still need substantial funds to attend there. However, considering it’s more affordable than most colleges, it’s a glimmer of hope up in the NW United States where the economy has been wreaking havoc on both the disabled and capable. Rather than the blind having to apply for jobs working at a computer voice-activated computer terminal in an office already riddled with downsizing, this university is making real careers happen by teaching the blind how to do piano tuning.
Just like the Creative Class in America who seem to be making better inroads in a down economy (hello internet freelance writers), you’re bound to find other obscure career fields that are also unusually profitable in a time when you wouldn’t think anything else is. Hearing the term “piano tuner” probably conjures someone sitting on a street corner holding a sign saying they’ll tune your piano for food. When it comes to the piano, though, you’ll find that people want to hear it more than ever now, especially a real one that sounds in tune.
Chances are you’ll find a real piano (a grand, spinet or studio) in more households than you think might have digital ones. Even if those residents could be cutting back on tuning their acoustic pianos because of cost, there’s still a strong demand for tuners in other places such as music stores and for local performing artists. With such a strong market, it makes the above university in Vancouver (called The School of Piano Technology for the Blind) all the more worth the expense when their job placement rate is so high.
You can’t say that about any other college in the country right now; no, not even community colleges that are now close to standing room only for people taking brush-up courses thinking it’ll lead to better chances of landing a job.
With piano tuning, you generally don’t need brush-up courses–or direct musical skill for that matter.
A lot of musicians probably are afraid to admit it (thinking it insensitive), but I figure that many wouldn’t hesitate being blind just so they can easier tap into a furtive musical imagination that those who can see can’t always tap in to. I usually figure that such a wish of blindness would only be temporary so those musicians can still experience the visualizations of the world around them. What they don’t know is that the blind ultimately seem to have to nurture that inner imagination as much as any other skill. Whether some of the blind have true musical skill or not, they certainly don’t need to make an audition tape at School of Piano Technology for the Blind as they would at Julliard.
As the university doesn’t hesitate to point out, they don’t subscribe to the notion that the blind have a special ability to hear musical tones better than ones who can see. They claim that not all that many pass their hearing test needed to learn piano tuning efficiently. That may be where the dividing line is between musical skill and the more technical skill of hearing the pitch of a note processed through the ear and mind of the blind. Nevertheless, those who pass the hearing test go on to progress quite successfully and have a proven track record of getting employment after graduating without fail.
In times when working directly for a business or corporation means certain downsizing, going into business on your own as a piano tuner may be the next big discovery in the ever-shrinking list of careers that have any sense of long life. Along with statistics of late that shows the blind as chronically and unfairly unemployed, this Vancouver school may just end up being inundated with applicants this year if more media beyond this article picks up on this story. And you may just see one of their graduates coming to your home to tune your acoustic grand piano that you use to obliterate the stresses of the current world.
Yes, if colleges like these can exist, then we’ll assume that other colleges are still out there dotting America that may just provide assured careers for others with disabilities deserving to be employed as much as anybody else. The ultimate utopian dream would be to have an accessible college in every state that provides distinct training in a career field that wouldn’t have a chance of being usurped by illegal immigrants or outsourced to India.
While the media may try to drive the insinuation that such an idea is doomed, those colleges probably are out there, hidden like little glistening city light jewels across this country. They may eventually prove that we won’t necessarily end up in an America where a small handful of careers are the only careers left to enjoy working in for an entire life…