I Should Have Moved, Blindness or Otherwise

A week ago, after a concert called Collage at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the Greensboro News and Record published the following letter to the editor.

Singer who didn’t move moved me
On Sept. 9, I attended and enjoyed the Collage concert at the UNC-Greensboro Auditorium.
In one of the last pieces, each of the people in a 100-plus member chorus moved laterally from left to right and back and forth in time to the music. One member, a man, fourth from the left in the top row, didn’t move, and I thought, “What a klutz.” He sang with gusto in unison with the rest of the chorus but didn’t move.
After we left the auditorium, I saw the immobile singer walking outside. On one arm he held the hand of a young lady. In his other hand was a white cane, which he kept probing, testing the ground for changes in the terrain.
Perhaps some readers of this letter were in the audience and noticed and may, like me, have been critical of this still chorus member, and may change their view on realizing he is blind. It sure changed mine. No klutz, all guts.
Richard J. Rosen

I was standing towards the edge of the back row of the risers singing at this concert, and, as the only blind person on stage, I’m pretty sure this was me. (Also, I got to see my girlfriend after the show, so all of the details checked out)

I know that Mr. Rosen meant well, and appreciate what I think may have been his point — that it is unfair to make assumptions about or judge people without all of the facts. However, I am very dismayed to think that his expectations of me changed so drastically once he knew that I am blind. Before he knew, he thought that I had done a bad job; he saw that I was wrong. But, since I’m blind, not only was I forgiven for my error, I became a hero for making the error in the first place. I magically converted a failure into a success, and all I had to do was to look more disabled.

There is a problem that I and every other blind person I know has had to face: low expectations. For whatever reason, the assumption is that, because I am blind, I shouldn’t be on stage, performing in sold-out concerts of classical music. The fact that I am is so amazing to most people that it doesn’t matter if I’m even good.

But the thing is, I am good. I want to be good. I practice and strive and dream to be good. If I get a medal for showing up, why would I even bother putting in the effort to move laterally in time? I’ve done a sizable number of impressive things so far in my life. I’d like those to mean something. When I get rewarded for doing a mediocre job just because it surprises you that I am capable of doing a mediocre job at that thing, how do I know that the good things I do are good? It devalues every complement I ever get.

But mostly, I teach — and may some day parent — blind children, and I absolutely, under no circumstances, want them to think they can get away with being mediocre. They can be and will be and are extraordinary people with incredible achievements in areas and disciplines which interest them. When a blind kid is the best in their class or the best at their job or the best on a stage, I want that recognition to mean something. They should never have to wonder whether you’re just astonished they made it there at all.

I don’t know how to fix this problem, but I do know that it is a problem, and I hope it gets fixed, which is why I wrote this response.

Blindness no excuse for ‘being a klutz’
Mr. Rosen, I am the “immobile singer” whom you saw perform at UNC-Greensboro’s Collage Concert. You wrote about me and my blindness. I appreciate your assessment of my performance as having required guts, but, let me assure you, it did not.
I am a senior, graduating in the spring with a degree in choral music education; the winner of a national singing competition; the musical director of several well-reviewed musical theater productions; and an award-winning and internationally performed composer. Singing on stage that evening was not brave or impressive of me — it’s what I do. I failed to join the rest of the ensemble in dancing that night because I was tired and because I forgot, and I’m sorry that it was noticeable and that it detracted from anyone’s experience.
And you’re right; I looked like a klutz. However, as a professional musician who in every way imaginable belonged on that stage, I don’t want you to lower your standards or expectations of me because I have a disability.
If you want to find me impressive (and you should, I’m great), my professional biography is available from my website at www.shanedittmar.com.
I wasn’t being brave that evening. I was just being a klutz.