Blind Pianist Scores Big With Musical Career
Music prodigy Rachel Starritt doesn’t let her inability to read music stand in her way – in fact, the blind teenager says it helps her interpretation.
She got grade eight piano aged 14, passed A-level music aged 15 and now Rachel Starritt dreams of a career performing on the international stage.
Not bad going for a teenager who was born blind and has never read a note of music – except in Braille.
Rachel, 18, from Brackla, Bridgend, learned to touch read Braille music but found it got in the way of her playing. She now learns entire concertos by ear, taking just a few weeks to perfect a piece for performance or competitions.
The teenager, who does classes at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff at weekends, hopes to study music there after finishing her other A-levels this summer.
Taught to play a few notes by a friend her own age when she was five, Rachel progressed so fast her parents Clyde and Andrea took her for piano lessons at Cardiff’s Forte school when she was six.
But within three years she had passed grade five with distinction and outgrown the classes.
“Forte suggested I auditioned for the RWCMD Saturday school. I went there when I was 10,” recalls Rachel.
From there she passed grade seven aged 13 and grade eight aged 14, doing grade seven clarinet in her spare time.
“I played the clarinet too, but I always preferred the piano,” the talented teenager explains. “The piano is part of my soul. It’s an extension of me.”
As reading music was never an option, Rachel learned Braille music, passing A-level music aged 15. But she says following Braille scores by touch gets in the way as she can’t read it and play at the same time.
Instead the Adele fan prefers to learn music by ear, listening carefully to recordings to work out exactly what to play and when.
“I might have a week working out the fingerings and the structure,” she explains. “In some ways visual impairment has helped.
“The advantage is my hearing became more acute as well as my sense of pitch.
“Not having to read and follow music also means you can concentrate more on what you’re playing and how you’re playing it. That makes you more creative. You play with your whole body.”
Rachel, who was born 16 weeks premature weighing just one and a half pounds, has perfect pitch. So rare is it, it’s believed that only around one in 10,000 people has the ability to correctly classify a note simply by hearing it.
She’s taken part in research to find out why a high proportion of blind, premature babies go on to develop perfect pitch, but believes her hearing simply developed more to compensate for her lack of sight.
“I am very excited about the future.”