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Omaha teen masters music without sight

Posted at 8:34 PM, Dec 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-20 21:47:25-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — 14-year-old Dmitrii Shaposhnikov loves music. He has a real passion for jazz. When he had a chance to sit down and play for us it was fitting he chose "Hit the Road, Jack," a song made famous by Ray Charles.

Like Charles, Shaposhnikov is blind.

A smile came over his face as Shaposhnikov told us, "I like piano because I'm so sensitive to music, and when I hear piano it makes me really happy."

Shaposhnikov's teacher at the Omaha Conservatory of Music, Stacey Barelos, says he is able to hear the music better than others, "that's something that musicians struggle with always, listening, getting out of your head."

He typically learns music by rote. He listens to Barelos and then copies it. "He has perfect pitch, and he memorizes music almost instantly so in a lot of ways he's easier to teach than some other sighted students," Barelos said.

The two learn together. They're studying music braille. It may take many sheets of music braille to convey the same information that someone would find on typical sheet music. "On the music staff there's a place for every key that's on the piano, but you can't do it that way with music braille so you have to orientate yourself by octaves," Barelos said. Shaposhnikov will sometimes need to read the music in braille and then play it since he can't do both with his hands at once.

Recently, thanks to a grant, the teacher and student traveled to New York to learn at a Lighthouse Guild music school for people with vision loss. They learned more about music braille, and they learned about new technology including software that allows him to compose. In the past, Barelos has needed to notate his compositions for competitions. While he loves working with Barelos, he's excited that the new software gives him a bit more independence in exploring his music.