The Playground

The Simply Music blog

Simply Music Student – Jenna

Found in: Simply Music Community

Every week it’s the same. This little girl greets me with a warm hug and then proceeds to feel everything on my body from head to toe.  And I let her. “I’m wearing a green shirt and black boots. Here’s a heart charm on my necklace,” I explain. I take her hand in mine and we travel through the maze of familiar furniture until she reaches my piano. Lessons commence. “Jenna, that was fantastic! You’re doing a great job. Do it again.” I smile as she pushes down the piano keys. Jenna is my ten-year-old, blind, and deaf student. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself teaching such a delightful child (excerpt from A World Where Everyone Plays, released Jan. 2011, Efting Press).


… and it all began with her parents. Her mom was in the back of the room quietly listening to my presentation about Simply Music. She patiently waited to speak with me after all the other parents had left. “I have a wonderful daughter who we’d like to give piano lessons to. She’s blind and deaf and is amazing. Can you teach her?” she asked. She spoke so highly of her. I had taught students in the past who had learning challenges; Autism, ADHD, Asbergers, PDD, selective mutism, and auditory sensory issues. But I had never taught anyone who was blind and deaf. As a matter of fact, I had never known anyone who was blind or deaf. The challenge piqued my interest.

I knew Simply Music was an incredible breakthrough piano method, but the question in mind was not so much about the method as it was about my ability to teach Jenna. Could I deliver the results that we promote through Simply Music – a message that I so believed in, a world where everyone plays?

I’m never one to shy away from “climbing a mountain”. Simply Music has taught me that. I took Jenna on as a student and at first there was a learning curve. For example, I lacked the language to teach her. Through my sighted and hearing students, I took for granted that I used the words “see” and “hear”. It was part of my vocabulary. Now I was being reminded by her parents to use the word “feel”. The kinesthetic sensory gateway was the key to teaching Jenna. And so I adjusted. Though Jenna is considered profoundly deaf, her right ear has a greater capacity to hear sounds thanks to a cochlear implant that she had when she was 2 ½. Knowing that, I teach her from the right side. One of the most favorite things that we do is when she places her fingers on mine and we play a song together. She picks up the rhythm and beat this way.

Jenna really is no different than any of my students apart from her learning challenges. She is a skilled swimmer, an established dancer – dancing with performance groups, and she parallel snow skis. She is incredibly teachable. Her mother warned me that she would be an easy student. Jenna has learned how to sing with Simply Music.  Having listened to her sing “Amazing Grace”, I don’t think there is anything more beautiful. It’s not the voice or sounds that we would normally hear, but the song is sung from the heart. It brings tears to my eyes every time. Her mother was right.  She is an amazing person.

What more can I say about her parents – incredibly supportive, committed to Jenna, and always at piano lessons. They’ve even brought her grandparents, brothers, friends, aunties, and guide dog to class. They’ve given me an education that all my educational theory in graduate school does not even compare to. I’ve learned to appreciate every day through them. There have also been moments of tenderness as we share Jenna’s life struggles and great joy as we celebrate her performances at her recitals. Here are a few words from a mother’s heart:

Most recently, about a year ago, I wanted Jenna to learn about music. Knowing that she has rhythm, and she can “jam” when she dances, I thought she might do well at piano and possibly like it. She’s had two recitals so far, and has loved every minute of it. For Jenna, she is as good as her instructors. We’ve been lucky. Jenny Sanchez at Dance Attack, and Bernadette Ashby with Simply Music, have been exceptional. They have opened up their hearts to a child they have had to teach and train completely differently than other children. This is a gift to us being her mother and father, but most of all, to a little girl named Jenna.

I am a different teacher because of Jenna. It’s a privilege to be a part of her story, to contribute to Jenna in such a way that would allow her to experience her musicianship. Others would say it’s not possible. I say that it’s a world where everyone plays. Jenna is a shining example of this.