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Learning by ear, playing from the heart – meet B.J.

September 21, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Wendy Gabrek


The Modern Conservatory of Music in Alliston, owned by Louise Martin, has a new piano teacher with special qualifications.

Patrick Brown, or B.J. as he’s affectionately known, is losing his sight due to complications at birth that led to Hydrocephalus, a condition where fluid builds up on the brain.

“As B.J. spent a lot of time in the hospital as a child, we used music to sooth him,” said B.J.’s mom. “He would question the neurosurgeons, ‘Do you know what type of music this is?’, ‘Do you know this artist?’”

Since his days in the hospital, B.J. has fine-tuned his skills, and can now name the title of any popular song, within the first few bars.

Clinically blind, B.J. has been playing the piano since he was 4 years old. Taught by his then nine-year-old siste Shaunasea, who is still his loyal advocate, B.J. started with Mary Had a Little Lamb, and hasn’t stopped learning to play – completely by ear – ever since.

“We took B.J. to meet his sister’s piano teacher, but we weren’t sure what his capabilities would be initially,” B.J.’s mom told The Times. “Not only was he able to play, musically he was better than his sister and she was already at competition level. He just got it.”

After recently moving to Alliston from Brampton, B.J. was introduced to Louise Martin. He was looking for an opportunity, and Louise recognized his skills.

Also the owner of Huronia Arts Academy in Barrie, Louise has been an active musician – playing and teaching the violin in the community for more than 20 years.

“Recently, I was contacted by TVO about a very special young man who has faced many challenges in his life,” said Louise. “His dream is to teach young children to play the piano. Together with TVO, we shot most of the episode of a show called ‘Employable Me’. Its premise is to place adults with special needs into the work environment. The specific episode is to air (later this month).”

Each episode of Employable Me features two individuals from the Greater Toronto Area or Montreal who want nothing more than to find steady employment. Each is living with vision loss or a neurological condition such as Tourette’s, Asperger’s, Down syndrome, or ADHD.

“It isn’t always easy, but each job seeker is determined to find their passion. B.J. will be offering 15-minute lessons for just five dollars to start,” Louise said. “The usual rate is $25 per half hour, but we want to give B.J. a chance to build his clientele in Alliston.”

B.J. learned to teach piano and read music through active study. An avid reader of theological materials and computer technology books – although he needs to hold his books very close to his eyes. B.J. also took a Piano Pedagogy Course through his former teacher. His studies continue through private lesson.

B.J. has had four students to date, and has taught in Toronto at a youth centre. His students range in age from five to 12, and B.J. says he looks forward to taking on adult clients.

With access to Modern Conservatory’s repertoire of professional instruments, B.J. will be offering flexible hours from 2–8:30 p.m., and is currently taking on new students.

“I know people learn in different ways,” said B.J. “Some are visual, some learn through hearing.”

B.J. says that his own special needs help him to identify with others, recognizing people’s uniqueness, and working with and through any shortcomings they may possess.

Also unique to B.J. is his communication style, and every parent or caregiver will get an electronic update after each lesson, with notes on the students’ progression, sent from his iPad.

With more than 10 teachers working between both music school, Louise is excited to welcome B.J., and is planning a community barbecue for Saturday, September 29 (rain date Sept. 30) from 4–6 p.m. at the Alliston location (blue house, across from Bistro 77 and adjacent the train tracks).

For more information about the Modern Conservatory of Music Alliston or to book lessons with B.J., visit them at 78 Victoria Street E., or call 705-435-0161


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