In 2009, the Gold Medal in the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was won (actually shared) by a 20-yr. old Japanese pianist who is blind, Nobuyuki Tsujii. Although there have been many blind pianists in jazz and popular music (Art Tatum, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles), this was the first time that a blind pianist won top prize at a major international competition.
Clearly, Mr. Tsujii didn’t learn to play the keyboard or learn music the way most of us do. When playing with an orchestra, he listens to the conductor’s breathing cues, he feels the edges of the keyboard before beginning to play to orient his hands, and he learns new pieces through listening and memorization, rather than reading notes.
Most of us take vision for granted and don’t think too much about it in connection with reading a score or playing our instrument. But pianist and Alexander Technique teacher Kay Hooper has thought about vision a great deal. In her blog, Uncommon Sense Pedagogy, she has a recent 5-part series “To Look or Not to Look” about how the brain processes vision and what this has to do with movement. You may want to check it out. (And for pianists, she also has a wonderful 5-part series on “arm weight” – which, as it turns out, doesn’t exist and is a total misnomer. )