Blindness can't stop Emma McCready, a seventh-grader at Talent Middle School, from pursuing her passion for music. Today she will make that point again as she marches and plays her piccolo with the Talent Middle School marchingband in the Pear Blossom Festival parade.
"I'm so excited!" said Emma, who will play and march with the band this year with guidance from one of her bandmates.
Street fair: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at The Commons
Runs: 7 a.m. (5-kilometer), 8 a.m. (1-mile), 8:20 a.m. (10-mile) and 8:30 a.m. (2-mile), in front of City Hall
Parade: 11 a.m. Saturday, begins at the intersection of Court Street and Central Avenue
Pear a Fare: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at The Commons
She has been unable to see for most of her life, but has worked hard to keep her disability from preventing her from doing the activities she loves. At school she walks with a cane, but she has learned to move without one to free her hands and play in the parade.
"Emma is just delightful and smart — the first kid to memorize the song kind of smart," said Marianne Robison, band and choir teacher at Talent Middle School. She noted that not only does Emma read Braille music, but also has "perfect pitch," which is the ability to hear, identify and match notes accurately.
Robison said before she met Emma, she had heard from others that she would soon forget that she was blind. She said that proved to be true, so much so that she almost missed the significance of Emma marching in the parade.
"It did escape me how special this is until the last minute," said Robison.
Emma's classmates also seem to forget about her disability, Robison said, and she's become part of a close-knit group of band members.
"It's just Emma; that's just what she does," said Robison.
When Emma first joined the marching band, she learned songs by listening and memorizing, and later learned to read Braille music at the suggestion of Robison.
Emma said learning music by Braille has its challenges. Since she cannot play and read the music at the same time, she has to learn and memorize the songs using Braille before playing them.
Robison, who has led many marching bands through the Pear Blossom Festival Parade, said students typically do not march in the parade until they are in the seventh grade. However, last year Robison allowed Emma to help carry the banner in order to get a feel for the parade route.
"Playing and marching is a little harder because there's a lot more to focus on," said Emma.
Robison stressed to her students that they would all encounter issues they would have to overcome. Emma's stemmed from the nervousness at being led by another student in the parade while playing.
"The most rewarding thing is getting them out of their comfort zone and telling them with confidence, 'You're going to be great,'" said Robison.
Emma said it was very important for her to be able to perform in the parade.
"In middle school band you only get three shots at it," she said. "I want to make the most of band."
She describes her time in band as "my happy place."
"I wish it was all day, every day," she said.
The group held extra practices this week in preparation for the parade, which Emma said she particularly enjoyed.
"I just did not want it to end," she said. "This is one of the best weeks of my life."
Emma started out at Talent Middle School playing the flute. Now she's the only piccolo player in the group.
"It's easier to march with," she said. "And they're so cute."
While some might associate Emma's musical talents with her blindness, Robison disagrees.
"She's gifted musically simply because she's gifted musically," Robison said.
For Emma, the extra effort to succeed has been entirely worth it.
"It's music; I don't really know how to explain it," said Emma. "If I didn't have music, I don't know what I'd do with myself. It's my life."
Shannon Houston is a Southern Oregon University intern. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.