COLUMBUS- It all began when Carol Agler, music education and therapy director at the OSU School for the Blind, found some band instruments in a room at the Columbus school. A couple students asked if they could play horns during a school play. Of course they could, she said. This gave someone the idea of creating a School for the Blind Marching Band to play at halftime for the OSU School for the Deaf's football team; the School for the Blind's property is adjacent to the School for the Deaf.
Agler said the band works like this: A sighted assistant guides a blind musician through marching steps as the musician plays his or her part while marching to rhythm. The musician must memorize the steps and, for obvious reasons, all the music. She said the OSU School for the Blind Marching Panthers, which still may be the only of its kind in the world, had nine members when it was newly formed in 2005, two of whom were very reluctant. "The next year, everyone wanted to be in the band," said Agler. There were no tryouts; anyone who wanted to join was invited and Agler helped them bring their musical skills up to snuff. "This is such an opportunity to demonstrate what blind students can do," she said. "So many have perfect pitch. They are incredible musicians."
It didn't take long for the unique band to gain fame and this New Year's Day it will perform at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. But, before that, the band will appear next month in Millersport's annual Sweet Corn Festival Parade. There will be 34 marchers, plus guides and directors, said Agler.M
acy McClain had a simple reason to play flute and piccolo in the band. "I thought it would be really cool," she said. And, she wasn't disappointed, as she prepares for her trip to the West Coast. She said she used to play stringed instruments, "but my hands were too small for the strings," said McClain. Being a flautist was more her speed. She's played flute for nine years and piccolo for three.
For those who wonder, yes, the OSU Marching Panthers do "Script Ohio" during field performances, however; it's spelled on the field in Braille points, with the musicians representing the "dots" in the written English based on touchraised dots in specific positions represent letters.
Agler credits much of the band's success to Band Director Dan Kelley, who is blind. He's the school's technology teacher but also has a musical education degree. She said he naturally took to the position and inspires the musicians to excel.
All people from musicians' relatives and siblings, to retired music teachers and OSU students are guides.
Agler said the twomi le Mi l le r spor t Swe et Corn Festival Parade is the longest in which the band has participated. It'll be a good warm-up to the Tournament of Roses Parade, she said, which is nearly six.
Photos by Scott Rawdon